Dot matrix memories: Why the Game Boy reminds me of the good times

Game Boy 30 years old | Greg's story

I was just talking to my cousin recently about how simple things were when we were younger. I grew up in what I’ve considered a small town all my life. Merced, California. However, after moving to the Midwest, I’ve learned what small town¬†really¬†is.

We chat every so often via text, sharing laughs that mostly come in the form of dad jokes and puns (obviously why he’s one of my favorite family members). In our conversation last night, he mentioned how difficult adulting can be. Kids, responsibilities, and all of the things that come with it. We both admitted that, yeah, we would trade quite a bit just to have some of those minimal childhood worries in a heartbeat. The one thing I wouldn’t change, though, are the fun times I have stored in the old brain bank. Most of those, unsurprisingly, were times when I had my Game Boy in tow.

Nintendo Power

The first Game Boy I had wasn’t new out of the package. I remember an older cousin having one he no longer played anymore. Even with the small scratch across the screen, I was happy to even obtain the handheld after countless bouts of begging him for it.

Without any games, I would stare at the screen and examine the console over and over again. At that age, I didn’t know what “Dot Matrix with Stereo Sound” meant. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to own my first game and see a Nintendo logo instead of a black bar load on to the screen when I turned it on. And who could forget that iconic coin pa-ting!

It’s all coming back to me now

One of my first games ever was Kirby’s Dream Land 2. I still vividly remember the day I went to the store with my grandma who has since passed. She was always willing to hear me out even with the slew of grandkids around her. I’d beg and plead to go halfsies on a game, pulling together my wad of birthday and car wash money.

I can still remember her white fuzzy curls and large-framed sunglasses staring at the road as we drove down to the local Sears store. (Yes, I’m as surprised as you are that the brick-and-mortar store lasted as long as it did.) Although memories like these come in flashes, I picture her smiling and her asking, “Are you sure that’s the one you want?” replaying in my head.

Game Boy 30 years old | Kirby's Dream Land 2 | Greg's story

Although this might just seem like a story about getting games and that’s it, there is personal meaning to it.

At this age, I no longer have grandparents. I’m 33 years old and lost both my remaining grandparents in adulthood. I have written about my other grandmother before, her being the one to get me my first Resident Evil title. However, as I sit here and write this, I can’t help but feel grateful for the times for having a grandparent that understood that some kids just like video games. And I appreciate her for that.

On the road again

I will say that I did play Kirby’s Dream Land 2 from start to finish. It was one of the first games that I had completed as a kid. But much like anyone with video games, when you finish one, it’s time to hunt for the next one!

Growing up, there were a lot of places to play video games even if you couldn’t outright buy one. Places like Blockbuster and my local rental store allowed you to rent games, even Game Boy cartridges. I would scrounge up what money I could to get a cheap rental for a day or so. Gearing up for a trip with my dad, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

The first time I can remember playing Mega Man, ever, was on Game Boy. My dad was going to bring me along for a trip to San Francisco, a city I had never been to as a kid. All I really cared about was getting a game and being along for the ride with my dad.

I sat around alongside my dad for the majority of the day, watching as he put on a leukemia/lymphoma shirt and talked with a bunch of people. I didn’t really know what was going on; I think I was more so glad just to be there. And, cool, a free shirt. As I grew older, I began to understand more as to why my dad was there.

During my childhood, my father was diagnosed with leukemia, often staying for extended periods of time in Palo Alto, California for treatment at Stanford. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I was riding with my dad to a leukemia and lymphoma run where he was captain for one of those teams. Did I know that at the time? No. But when I think back about sitting and playing my Game Boy while I peered out the window at this foreign city, and over at my dad as he drove, I’m utterly glad that memory has been solidified in the old noggin.

Handheld nostalgia

The Game Boy isn’t much to look at by today’s standards. Nintendo consoles now are sleek, slim, and offer more than just tiny black dots on a yellowish screen for graphics. There’s one thing they will surely never be able to do though. They won’t ever take the place of my first experience owning the Nintendo experience on the go, nor will they ever be able to replace the times when life was a lot simpler and all I had to worry about was a fresh set of batteries and the next game I was going to get.

Greg Bargas
A console gamer gone rogue. Collector of retro games, pun and dad joke enthusiast. My spotify playlists are out of control. Rocket League anyone?