“The time I was able to spend playing video games as a child was extremely precious to me precisely because it was so limited.”


The Elusive Video Game

Growing up, video games were not a big part of my life. It’s true I loved playing them and played them every chance I was able to. However, my parents were, for lack of a better term, old-school in their parenting style. Both of my parents are very active people who enjoy physical fitness and playing sports, and they tried their darnedest to pass this on to my siblings and me. In my parent’s view, playing outside was the best way a kid could spend their time, as it encouraged us to be active and socialize with other kids in the neighborhood. From my current vantage point, I understand that forcing us to play outside also gave my parents some much needed space while allowing them time to get things done around the house without having to worry about kids being constantly underfoot.

This is not to say that my childhood was spent entirely outdoors. I have fond memories of playing indoors as well. I was blessed to have a variety of exciting and fun toys to play with as a kid. There were action figures of all shapes and sizes, from such staple 80s cartoon fare as Thundercats to Silverhawks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Ghostbusters, Transformers to He-Man. I also preferred building and playing with Playmobil sets over their Lego counterparts due to the former being much easier to assemble. And the best part is that all of these toys were portable and easily able to be brought outside to continue playing with outside.

The Family Computer

But as a child my time and opportunity to play video games was much more limited. For one thing, the only gaming device we owned was a desktop PC that was shared by the entire family. If you grew up with siblings, then you can understand how frustrating it can be to have to share one computer between five people. To avoid constant bickering over whose turn it was to use the computer, my parents established a one-hour time limit for gaming on the computer. One reason for this, of course, was to ensure that my brother, sister, and I had equal access to the shared family computer. With the benefit of hindsight and adulthood, this makes perfect sense. But as a child, it felt extremely unfair and only made me want to spend more time playing video games.

And while I could always continue playing with action figures and Playmobil sets anywhere I fancied, the video games I played on the computer were not portable and could not be accessed anywhere else. This made my childhood gaming experience an extremely regulated and limited one. I got my one hour a day allotted time in front of the computer, and the rest of the day was spent in make-believe worlds populated by Playmobil figures and action figures.

THe Nintendo Game Boy

Sometime in my late elementary school years, the gods of gaming brought about a revolution: portable gaming for the masses. I’m talking about the original Game Boy, of course, in all its pea soup pixelated glory. For me at least, the Game Boy was nothing short of a revelation: Gaming you could take with you, anywhere you went. I’m not sure if kids growing up today will ever truly know just how revelatory the Game Boy was for its time. For the first time, you weren’t beholden to a specific gaming location. You could carry it around with you, even take it with you in your pocket or backpack. And since the device ran on AA batteries instead of an internal battery, you could continue to game on the device as long as you had enough back up batteries on hand.

And the games, oh the games! There were so many of them, and so many great titles on the little system! I became particularly enthralled with Kirby’s Dream Land, Super Mario Land, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Pok√©mon Yellow, and Wario Land just to name a few. And despite the fact that my siblings and I had to share one device between the three of us, it did allow the monotony of long car trips to be broken up and infused with short bursts of gaming. It also helped that the device was virtually indestructible, as I can remember both dropping it accidentally and not-so-accidentally throwing it at a sibling when it was their turn to play.

Of course, the Game Boy is rather primitive when compared to its contemporaries. Thankfully, that did not matter to me since, as a kid, I had no access to the Game Gear or the Lynx. The pixelated graphics might not have been anything to write home about, but they were enough to keep me engaged. The extremely limited display of four shades of green (or gray, depending on how you look at it) also did not dampen my enjoyment of the games on the system. Sure, it was no NES or SNES, but as I didn’t own those consoles at the time, I had to get my gaming fix with what was readily available to me. The chiptune soundtracks were catchy and really did serve to immerse me deeper in the game (especially when I could use my Walkman’s headphones to hear them in stereo sound!).

A Nostalgic Take

Nostalgia definitely plays its part in my fond remembrances of the Game Boy, as I don’t think today’s kids would choose to play the original Game Boy in a world where the Nintendo Switch exists. Those of us who grew up gaming on the device were able to forgive the limited graphical capabilities of the device and got used to viewing games through a pea-green lens because the engaging gameplay more than made up for the system’s shortcomings. Especially in families like mine, where the only other alternative was a family computer located in a cold basement with a one-hour imposed time limit, the Game Boy offered a taste of freedom in portable form. The only thing better would have been a Game Boy for each of my siblings and I, but in my family, that would not happen for several years.

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