In the late 1980s, video games consisted of one of three options: 300-pound arcade consoles; bulky home systems that connected to a television; or computer games running on a PC. The word “portable” could not reasonably be used to describe any of these options. If you played video games in the 1980s you played them tethered to a decidedly non-portable device.
That all changed in early 1989 when Nintendo launched the original Game Boy to much fanfare and a massive TV advertising campaign. Finally, video games could escape the wood-paneled confines of the family room and travel anywhere. All you needed was a Game Boy, four AA batteries, and your favorite game cartridge for up to 15 hours of unconnected, truly-portable, handheld entertainment. It was… game changing.
Interestingly, adults were the true early adopters of video games. Sure, parents bought boatloads (literal boatloads) of Game Boys for their kids, but they also bought the devices for themselves. Nintendo made no secret of marketing directly to this key demographic.
Boing Boing has helpfully reminded me of this with their recent post featuring this 1991 Nintendo commercial asking adult players if they had “had their fun today?” There’s not a kid in sight, and the music, art direction, and talent are decidedly un-juvenile.
Commercials like this successfully portrayed the Game Boy as a welcome distraction during inevitable down time. Stuck in an airport, a cab, a doctor’s waiting room? Sure, you can read a six-month-old copy of Highlights. Or, you can enjoy an addicting game of Tetris in all its 2-bit glory. Advantage, Game Boy.
The commercial boasts a bold, quirky style that epitomizes the neon 90s. It’s the multimedia equivalent of Koosh Balls and Jelly shoes. And it worked. Nintendo sold 118 million Game Boys worldwide, and Tetris became one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time.
We’re spoiled now, with powerful, high-resolution, portable gaming devices in our pockets, 24/7. With 2.3 billion gamers around the world, and mobile making up 50% of the market, the answer to “have you had your fun today?” is almost certainly, “yes.”