Here’s my secret shame as an ’80s kid and ’90s teen: I have never owned a game console. I was too young for the Atari 2600 and my dad wouldn’t let us have a Nintendo or a Sega because he worked for IBM and wanted us to play their educational games instead. A gaming system would also mean we would have to buy another television set and games.
My school friends never understood why I wasn’t interested in playing Oregon Trail on computer lab day at school. When you can die of dysentery or your oxen can drown every afternoon or weekend, going to the computer lab once every couple months was less than exciting.
The computer itself wasn’t too bad. We had a decent keyboard and good mouse for controlling the characters on the screen. Unfortunately, the computer didn’t have quite enough memory so it was frustrating when the games we tried to play froze up. The other thing was how long it took to boot up the games when we turned on the computer.
When we would go over to our friends’ houses though, every house where there was a boy ten years old or older, there was a Nintendo. I don’t think I knew anyone with a Sega. Of my female friends, the only ones who had game consoles in their homes had at least one brother.
One day, my best friend and I went to the mall. I had the money I saved from babysitting in my purse. I decided it was time to get a game system of some kind and I chose a Game Boy because it was portable. I would be able to play with it upstairs in my bedroom or downstairs while watching television. I didn’t have a television in my room until I graduated college in 2001.
I would have taken a Game Boy in any color, but the one that was available at that particular Electronics Boutique was yellow. I was just excited to have something in my hands to play the games I had been hearing about and seeing commercials for constantly on Nickelodeon and MTV.
In hindsight, I’m wondering about my logic in buying the Game Boy at a mall store where it was probably insanely expensive. Why didn’t I go to KMart, Walmart, or Target where it probably cost way less? Especially KMart, where I was working at the time and would have been able to get an employee discount?
Because I worked at a KMart, I knew what a royal pain it was to find the employee who worked in the Electronics department and had a key. The Electronics Boutique employee was confined to their specific storefront. I also thought if I bought it close to the house, I might have been driven back to the store to return it. The mall wasn’t quite as close, so I stood a shot at being able to keep the mini game system.
My plan worked and I was able to keep the Game Boy. There was a small store in my local shopping center called Microplay. We could buy, sell, or trade games there. I tended toward puzzle games like Tetris, but I also enjoyed some games with cartoon characters like Animaniacs and Looney Tunes.
Fairly early in the pandemic, I was looking through my closet for old toys. I saw my Game Boy case and wondered if I put fresh batteries in it, would I be able to play my games like before?
I opened the battery hatch and found the old batteries had exploded. I thought I’d taken them out when I put it away. Once I got the old batteries out and swept out the dried battery gunk, I put in a fresh pair of double AA’s.
I have been near-sighted since I was ten years old, so one of the first accessories I purchased “back in the day” for my Game Boy was the Light Boy magnifying light-up screen. I found it was difficult to make Mario jump and go the way he needs to go when I can’t even see him on the screen. After two attempts at trying to figure out where Mario was on the dark background in Six Golden Coins, I pulled the cartridge out and tried a different game.
I played a round of Super Mario Land and got him through the first level, but soon reverted to my faithful standby, Tetris. Tetris has seen me through many bouts of writers’ block, but for the purposes of this article, I considered it research.
This afternoon, I played Tetris Blast for a while. I remember Tetris being my favorite game but I don’t remember playing Tetris Blast very often back then. I think I’m going to switch back and forth between the two Tetris games with some Super Mario Land in between. It was good to get back to some old-fashioned game play and not be bombarded with ads between levels, but I’ll be looking to upgrade when one is available.