Fueled by nostalgia and longing for a simpler time, hardware tinkerers are injecting new life into the iconic handheld game console.
The Game Boy lived a long life. From its launch in 1989 until its discontinuation in 2008, Nintendo’s handheld gaming device sold hundreds of millions of units. It went through seven different design iterations, six of which were sold in the US. And because the system was propped up by Nintendo’s thousands-deep library of titles, the Game Boy remains one of the top-selling videogame consoles of all time.
But for a gang of modders and hackers on the internet, these machines aren’t something to be left in the past. Rather, these underpowered, inexpensive toys are canvases for creativity and experimentation. Groups of hackers who congregate on the r/Gameboy subreddit, on Discord, on Instagram, and across YouTube have been dragging Nintendo’s tiny, world-beating machine into the 2020s by creating a cottage industry of parts, custom components, and prebuilt modified Game Boys along the way.
Today’s Game Boy modding scene largely sprang up in response to Nintendo’s own conservative tendencies. Always intent on making its game systems affordable and efficient, the Kyoto, Japan-based company has a long history of keeping its consumer products technologically behind the curve in an effort to hold costs down. Nintendo engineer and Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi famously relied on a philosophy of “lateral thinking with withered technology.” In short, Yokoi preferred to find how far older, cheaper tech could be stretched to still provide hours of Pokémon-catching, Goomba-stomping fun.