Self-indulgence inbound

Prepared by Joe

The Boy

Long ago there existed a man. Except he wasn’t a man, he is actually what the IRS would classify as a ‘dependant’ or what coal mining companies in the 1800s would classify as a ‘meaningful source of cheap labor’. For now, let’s call him a boy. Let’s call him Joe.



Joe was coal-less and tax-free until 2013 when he turned 18 (As far as they know) and had a strange, but not unique life for a middle-class suburban… guy growing up in the mid-90s – early 2000s metro Detroit area. He was a product of the New Millenium, and as such he was into the very worst things of all time: Creed, baggy clothing, green-colored ketchup, overly extreme and radical marketing, and Baseball. Counter to that, also the very best things of all time: Creed, Malcolm in the Middle, Bionicle, and (of course) Video Games.

Creed Weathered album cover

Hello, we finally meet again. It’s been a while, where should we begin?

We tend to look at our lives in hindsight, looking at things that shaped us as a person and left the most impact, and usually not much more. Of course, he remembers the hours he spent in 2001 with his first ‘personal’ console (That also happened to be a handheld): the Gameboy Color. Of COURSE, he remembers beating Spyro 2 for PS1 in 2002 And of COURSE, he remembers the entire Summer of 2004 playing Super Smash Bros Melee on GameCube with his friends. He even remembers 2003 when he was…grounded from all Video Games for playing them too much and not practicing his pitching technique (little did they know he was near-sighted).

As a kid, if you asked him, these memories put themselves with some of the most impressionable aspects of those years, including 2001… Of course, there were other, more important things, like switching schools, deaths in the family, births in the family, and puberty, amongst other things. And less important things, like the 2000 United States election, an economic recession afterward, and the rise and downfall of, but yeah…let’s keep this one simple. For its only in hindsight 20 years later that revealed, not a new memory, but a recontextualization of a passing one that will become one of the most important in the world of Video Games and tech.

To Myself, 20 Years From Now

As alluded to before, I’ve owned handhelds/consoles before (amazing, wow!). In fact, my first handheld was an Atomic Purple Gameboy Color in 2001. It was a little bit past its time but it greased my gamer-gunked wheels. At least under the glow of a worm light. I spent hours of my life stomping…koopas in Super Mario Bros Deluxe. I got grounded from it constantly. I also traded Pokemon Red (with my save stuck in Viridian Forest with Charizard) for Galaga. So yeah, I was very stupid.

Gameboy Color in Atomic Purple

My “almost” original GBC in Atomic Purp

I loved the damn thing, but I wouldn’t say it’s my most important handheld. It was 2001 at the time, and the dim screen was becoming less convenient. Mind you, a single year at this time makes a huge difference for both technology and being a kid. I had my fun with the console and the lack of new releases for it (that were affordable for my family) made the hype for it run a bit dry. By then… well all my friends were playing on the new and exciting Gameboy Advance. Wuah wuah 🎺

That’s not to say I was a snooty, ungrateful, envy-filled troll, but I kinda was low-key. But really I wasn’t, video games were not encouraged in my household and so I perished at the thought of a new console.

But Then I Got a New Console

A Spring of 2003 hit.

At this point, the Gameboy Advance was almost old news. It had Kirby, Pokemon, Zelda, Big Mutha Truckas and still enveloped the handheld cultural zeitgeist with its dumb accessories. And, somehow STILL released without a native way to light the damn thing. Watching friends play was like “Wow, that thing you did there, I think that was good. Very nice. Cool”. I was jealous but never asked for one.

And then I didn’t have to.

Alluded to before, I grew up kind of poor (relative to the average single-family household poor), and everything I owned was used: clothes, furniture, shoes, my Gameboy, anything game-related, and a bunch of stuff I can’t remember because I took it for granted. It was a big surprise when my Mom of all people came into my bedroom to drop the biggest news of the Summer. “Son, your Grandma is de-” Just kidding, she actually told me about an ad she saw of a new Gameboy that is coming out soon that flipped like a cell phone.

I had no idea what she was talking about and thought she was confused and might have early-onset dementia. But yeah, so she told me about it and I was like “Oh that’s cool” “Yeah and it comes out soon” “Oh really?” “And I ordered one for you” and I swear I shit my pants. It was a Gameboy Advance SP and I found out about its existence and found out I was getting one within 20 seconds. Making my Mom officially cooler than yours. Very cool. I really didn’t realize the significance of this until much later.

Blue Gameboy Advance SP packaging

I don’t know much about the events surrounding its purchase, but I know for certain my Dad wasn’t happy about it since we couldn’t afford it at the time. But sometimes, bad times are just times that are bad. It was worth it to them to see me happy, and I was.

It took two painful weeks for it to come in, and I asked every day if it was delivered. Everything reminded me of it, I see a fool using a flip phone I go, “Hey is that the Gameboy SP?” Because of course, I didn’t know what the damned thing looked like. And then I did. 

It came in a fine and crisp box with a manual and… stuff. I don’t remember, I threw it out before I learned smelly people on Reddit collect these and pay money for them. It was the default blue one and it had a feature that simply blew away my nugget-sized brain: It had a light. Worm lights are a thing of the past baby. I can play anywhere, untethered, free to do absolutely nothing because I had no games.

And Then I Got Games

Well I lied, I had Kirby’s Dream Land, Spiderman 2, Mario Deluxe, and Galaga (lmao) but nothing that really gave purpose to my shiny new handheld. One Funcoland trip and a $15 budget later, I picked up 2 instant classics: Bionicle Matoran Adventures, and Donkey Kong Country.

Donkey Kong Country for Gameboy Advance

The best GBA titles are actually SNES titles

And that’s where my life (my allotted video game playing time) went that Summer. I showed my friends and they thought it was cool I brought it with me everywhere like a cell phone. Until I was gifted a PSP in 2007, this was my SOLE handheld.

Eventually, I bought into more kid fodder like Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku, Spyro SuperPack, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Pokémon Red again. And then I sold it. As you can see, my taste in games was like that of any plebeian 7-year-old With no girlfriend and by then I was buying things purely because of the label.

Joe's Gameboy Advance collection

My actual game collection

Except for a Link to the Past. I stole that from one of my friends. It was from their moving sale and I never saw them again is what I tell myself so I can sleep at night at the ripe age of 28. I never quite forgave myself and the priest at the confession booth is so sick of hearing it he excommunicated me from the church.

The Gameboy That Refused to Die

I think why I had noticed how important this handheld is to me by now because of how much this thing has persisted throughout my entire pre-adult life. And I’m really not joking here. The whole thing.

At one point in 2004, I put the handheld down because I put my big boy bucks together bought a fancy used GameCube, and was too busy smashing bros to Donkey the Kong. Little did my pea brain know at the time that the dumb thing was going to come sprinting back into my life due to my discovery of the Game Boy Advance connector cable.

Gameboy Advance Link Cable for GameCube

I couldn’t find the cable so I “borrowed” this pic from Gamestop

And I used the shit out of that, despite how useless it should in all intents and purposes be. Animal Crossing, Sonic Adventure, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, hours of my life spent on nonsense mini-games that made the main experience marginally better. 

Animal Crossing's GBA Functionality

Animal Crossing’s GBA Functionality

Then I dropped gaming almost altogether in favor of talking to girls. It didn’t last long. When I turned 13 and had the flu, the SP the shitty Spyro game kept me going for 6 hours, immediately proceeding to being broken up with by my girlfriend. It wasn’t too bad. I got to the final level and was cruising until a dumb kid deleted my save immediately after being handed it. Then I dropped gaming altogether (For like a year at most lol).

What’s Old is Still Old

We don’t need all the details of my life between High School and around 2015, but this time I was enthralled with my Nintendo 3DS, and almost wrote an article titled “Joe’s Most Important Handheld” about it, but then the GBA SP came slithering back into mental real estate yet again.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D for Nintendo 3DS

Donkey Kong is the GOAT

When it comes to the golden age of the GBA series, I would actually pin it around 2015 +. Why? That was around the time the YouTube Zeitgeist around retro titles and nostalgia was at its near peak, and many of these classic titles started to become popular again like The Legend Zelda: The Minish Cap, Mario & Luigi Super Star Saga, and Golden Sun.

Mostly due to those 2001 kids growing up and having too much to say about their childhood (stares in the mirror). This was also a period of time when eBay prices for games were…fair and we’re easy to get. With a renewed interest in this nugget from 2003 and a big-boy income, it was time to indulge in what I’ve missed all these years. Except Pokemon.

Gameboy Advance SP screen replacement

Soldering might be required

This was also the birth of the retro modding scene around Gameboys, which is going strong to this day. What started as some rinky-dink duct tape and hot glue stuff you found on Reddit, we now have brighter screen upgrades like the IPS screens, swappable shells, battery upgrades, speakers, and even touch sensors. What a time to be alive.

Gameboy Advance SP playing Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Yes, that’s a Vaati keychain

I melted my childhood Gameboy Color with a soldering iron, but I’ve successfully upgraded my childhood SP with an IPS display and I’m…satisfied. I find that the more original, the better for my tastes. This SP accompanied me on all my camping trips (which I exclusively played A Link to the Past and took me 6 years to beat because of this), to the car wash, in bed (still), and was never put in storage when I finally moved into my own house.

Is This Thing Still Good in 2024…?

What you see is what I’ve owned for over 20 years now, and to this day is the way I still prefer to play Gameboy Advance titles, DESPITE the plethora of multi-use emulation devices out now, I find that my modded GBA SP is enough to give me a comfortable and focused experience that I’ve come to expect since 2003.

Gameboy Advance SP lid

Scratches Add Character

Don’t get me wrong, I love my tweakable Linux and Android doodads that still SOMEHOW get new and fresh releases to keep us on our toes. But for me, the near-infinite amount of games to play just stresses me out, so I welcome the ability to not have to think about what to play.

The console itself is admittedly less ergonomic than the original GBA, but square shape was never a bother for me. The actuation force of the dome switches is minimal and comfortable for me. The screen size after the IPS mod is only 3″, but for a pocketable device for Gameboy titles only, you aren’t missing out on any detail at that size. If it’s fine for a 7-year-old me, it’s fine for an adult, almost 30 me. Idk I just like looking at it.

It really wasn’t until writing this article that I realized how much of an impact this dumb console had on my life. From bringing me into the retro scene, to console mods, and having things to talk about regarding them. Thanks, Mom.

Modded Gameboy Advance SP with games

The Dingus Itself, in its V2 IPS Glory

Do you have an SP? Do you prefer the original GBA? Are you still playing it despite the existence of arguably better devices? Let me know in the comments?!

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