I’ve been pulling my old gaming systems out for the kids to play with and, I have to say, I’m still drawn-in by the simple graphics and innocent gameplay of those old games. And, surprisingly, so are my kids. Of these systems, my Game Boy® stands out as a reminder that making devices to last a long time and have universal appeal can still sell well enough
So, why don’t we make more things like that?
The age of waste
We’ve been tossing value to the curb ever since plastic came on the scene and only now, in the view of melting ice-caps and atmospheric carbon, are we beginning to second-guess that behavior. When phones with gold, tungsten, and cobalt are being thrown away to make room for newer models that cost twice as much and last half as long, it seems we could learn a thing or two from this humble retro toy.
In unpacking this, it’s clear that Game Boy’s secret was two-fold; 1. it used technology that was just good enough to have mass appeal while not being too expensive, and 2. the choice in default games was the first truly addictive game for all ages: Tetris®.
And if you think Candy Crush has a hold on you, I remember actually seeing and stacking imaginary bricks around my friends’ heads and shoulders if I happened to be talking to them within hours of playing that old Russian game.
But more than clinical symptom producing games, it was that the simple electronics, interface, and design of the Game Boy could appeal to everyone—and those simpler options even made the device practically indestructible.
Easily replaceable batteries, lo-tech screen, and interchangeable cartridges made this baby everything one could possibly want for so many people.
Classic will always be in style
The popularity of the Game Boy serves as an example that overcoming your competition doesn’t have to mean sacrificing sustainability. In fact, sustainability might be the answer. My personal Game Boy is going on 30-years old and still packs plenty of playful punches for me and my kids; proving that sustainable is a classic move.
Thankfully, some manufacturers are still aiming for this kind of classicism, as we can see with HPs designs of late. And the idea of permanence is creeping back into the corporate consciousness when it comes to the things we purchase and use. Heck, even reuse is sexy again—so there’s still hope for our future.
Technology is particularly susceptible to this throw-away culture mostly because of the incessant iterations that seem necessary for finally reaching 5G. But even in that, Game Boy has something to say.
Within years of creating the masterpiece we’ve been talking about, Nintendo followed it up with the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance. And, oddly enough, not as many people are waxing nostalgic about those follow-up devices.
It’s not too unlike the persistence of the Motorola Razr®—arguably the most perfect pre-smart cell-phone that ever existed. So popular, in fact, there have been rumblings of bringing it back. I’m not sure about its value today, but my recent playtime with my Game Boy seems to say otherwise.
And whether because those other devices were just a bit too expensive or not as robust, it seems somewhere hidden in the balance between those two factors lies the answer to classic design. So long as sustainability is the tool used to achieve that balance, we might be in for a new line of long-lasting, easy to reuse technology.
Hero Image ©: Hot Hardware (Inset ©: Esquire and MSPowerUser)