The Game Boy Advance: A Personal Retrospective

I think almost everyone has an object that defined their childhood. If you haven’t already, I’d bet you could choose one. Mine is, without a doubt, the Gameboy Advance. I can guarantee you that during my ownership of my original GBA I logged many hundreds of hours on it. Pokemon Sapphire and Fire Red, a Link to the Past, Golden Sun. The list of titles go on, but each title was an entire experience unto itself. Each title represents a cataloged chunk of memory in my head and brings back sounds, sights, and even the unrelated smells that surrounded me while I played certain games. The mere sight of a white Gameboy Advance can send me into a nostalgic trip.

I did indeed own such a white GBA when I was a child but according to my Aunt Cindy a 10 year old me said it would be alright if it was given to a young cousin who would like one. Apparently past me is much more generous than present me. I’d always assumed that the device was sold at a garage sale without my knowing. Alas I had no memory of giving away this prized possession, this fact only relearned by me once the device was fruitlessly searched for nearly a decade later.

Once I’d realized I no longer owned my white GBA, I felt like a part of my childhood was missing. I scoured every local GameStop searching for one only to be greeted by plentiful hideous purple models. I settled for one of these a few years back and picked up a copy of Emerald as well. This too was a disappointing compromise, as Sapphire was my first Pokemon game but there were no copies to be found.

So I popped the paltry Emerald cartridge into the purple Gameboy Advance, which was clearly unappreciated and abused by its former owner — made clear by gashes in its sides and plentiful scuffs on the plastic display cover. Hearing the music of the intro begin was wonderful and I immediately felt I was going to relive this game in all its glory, Sapphire or no. But then I realized one of the funny things about nostalgia: things are almost always better in memory than in reality once you revisit them.

This had nothing to do with the game itself, but the Gameboy Advance. And not this Gameboy Advance, but all of them. As a kid, not having a backlit display wasn’t even something that I considered. I don’t think I was really capable of understanding that it was a drawback, it just was what it was. Trying to play on the Gameboy Advance’s unlit, reflective display now? A nightmare.

This hindrance rendered the game essentially unplayable in nearly all conceivable settings on account of not even being able to see the game. This left me wanting, so I began searching for a GBA with a backlit display. I found there is a way to take the screen from a Gameboy Advance SP and use it to replace the display of a standard Gameboy Advance. The technique required soldering and I hadn’t done that before, nor did I have the necessary tools, so I looked for a modded GBA I could buy outright. These too were available, but the price was somewhat too high to be justifiable.

As it turns out the company that manufactured the display for the GBA SP discontinued it a year or two ago, leaving the available number of these very low and the price, as simple economics dictates, somewhat high.

I felt disheartened. I knew scarcity would increase and the likelihood of me getting my hands on would would ever decrease. But this is, apparently, what girlfriends are for.

Mine bought me just such a backlit, white Gameboy Advance for Christmas. The one she got me even has the old plastic display cover with a glass, and thus far less scratch-able, glass one.

Once I unboxed the thing and realized what I was holding I ran, after thanking her profusely, to the bin underneath our bed containing a copy of Sapphire I’d picked up a couple years back. I quickly popped the translucent blue cartridge into the back of the glimmering white GBA, turned up the volume and flipped the power switch.

Finally. My years long quest. Ended.

Previous attempts to play through Emerald or Sapphire on the purple GBA or emulators didn’t last very long. Neither option provided the full experience. With my backlit GBA I haven’t been able to stop playing. I want to bring the thing with me everywhere I go even if I know there’s a 95% chance I won’t be able to use it.

While a slightly updated but outdated device like this may seem like a silly purchase, I know this is something I’ll keep with me and hold dear for the rest of my life. It’s a completely useable and perfectly preserved relic from my childhood. On Christmas day none of the newest gadgets I want would’ve given me half the rush.

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