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Gaming Culture

I Missed Out on the GBA

New console fever has struck gaming twitter. The excitement of pre orders for the new consoles have people fervently trying to secure one through any number of online retailers. It’s been a mess but an enjoyable one to watch if you’re not part of the frenzy. I simply have no need for a next gen console; I have a good computer and I don’t need one for my job. Until the dust settles on the next gen systems, my PS4, Switch, and PC will be just fine. Out of my two current systems, the only one I bought in the launch window was the Switch. It felt like a safe bet because the tech was new and exciting, I didn’t have to rely on it for any streaming or online stuff, and I like Mario. The new console generation has me thinking back to the big hardware misses I’ve made in the past. I really really whiffed it and I missed out on probably the greatest console generation ever.

My first console was a Game Boy Pocket. My house was very strict when it came to video games and TV but somehow the Game Boy was given a pass. I’m not exactly sure what my parent’s reasoning was given that I wasn’t allowed to own a TV console and a Game Boy would be seemingly harder to supervise my playtime over. Nevertheless I was smitten. I played Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins and Pokemon Red across many days and hours, replaying levels and fighting the Elite 4 over and over. We also took tons of road trips when I was young so it was the perfect way to pass the time (somehow this didn’t trigger my car sickness the way reading did). Eventually I was able to upgrade to a Game Boy Color and I added games like Pokemon Silver and Zelda Oracle of Ages to that aforementioned rotating game list. Needless to say but I was pretty content even if I did continually bug my parents about getting a “real” console.

When the Game Boy Advance came along, I was puzzled. I was only about 9 (at most 10) by the time my friends started getting the GBA. I had never encountered a new console cycle before, were they expecting me to get an entirely new system? I had everything I needed in this turquoise Color, why would I upgrade? I decided that I didn’t need a GBA and had no intent to purchase (ask my parents for) a new one in the future. This decision baffles me and it won’t be the last time I did this growing up (for some reason I decided that I didn’t need an iPod for multiple years). This wasn’t one made of constraints; I grew up very well off, the kind of wealthy where you refer to yourselves as “middle class” yet have plenty of money for vacations. I had no fear of this setting my family back. There is also the possibility that I simply didn’t want to have to create an entirely new sales pitch to my parents (my parents were frugal and didn’t value or want more video games in the house), but my memory says that that wasn’t the case. I also grew up as a socially awkward and anxious kid, surely I would have at least some inkling of trying to keep up with the social trends to fit in. This would leave me completely behind and outside the conversation and I would miss out on playing games with my friends. Even with those factors, I stuck to my strange decision making guns.

Gameboy Advance SP
Look at that beautiful piece of hardware

Now in hindsight, this was a huge mistake. The GBA has one of the best and largest video game libraries ever. I completely missed out on third generation Pokemon, Advanced Wars, Fire Emblem, Golden Sun, and the Sonic Advance games (I was/am a huge Sonic fan). My regret was pretty instantaneous as I would go over to my friends houses and see all the awesome GBA games they had. What really hurt was the arrival of the Game Boy Advance SP. That system is still one of my favorites design wise, a perfectly sized handheld that folded and the first version to have a backlit screen. My god is that thing beautiful. I felt serious FOMO; here I was stuck with my Game Boy Color and a dim Worm Light.

I never relented though; for some reason I was incredibly dedicated to staying with my decision. When I look back on it, I think I just wasn’t ready to put aside the memories I had with my Game Boy Color. All of that would seemingly go away if I upgraded; even if it was backwards compatible I doubt I would have played those games. The familiarity would disappear and I would have to learn new systems and worlds with no guarantee that I would like them. There’s also something to be said for the therapeutic effects that the repetition had on me. As someone with anxiety, repeating levels and replaying games brought me comfort. I could revisit levels I like, play through them and receive the same level of satisfaction each time. It was reliable in a way that was not guaranteed with something new.

Gameboy Color
My beautiful Game Boy Color in all of it’s glory

I’ve gone back and played some GBA games over the years, but I’ll never be a part of the conversation the way others who had owned a GBA are. That’s ok though, I don’t have to be in with everything. As new consoles approach, I don’t feel that same protectiveness. I’m not going to buy one right away because I don’t see a need for it, not out of some protection for my PS4. It’s a healthy mindset to have; these are very expensive toys that are being launched in the middle of a pandemic. There are much more important things to purchase or worry about. It’s a little sad though that I don’t feel as threatened by a new generation. I don’t think that’s an indictment of the system but rather pointing to my own shift in mindset. It’s not as precious and something that was formerly indispensable has become the opposite. I probably won’t love a system the way I did about my Game Boy Color. The Game Boy Advance on the other hand, will always be my white whale.

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