From Gameboys to Smartphones – How Mobile Gaming Exploded the Industry

Original Nintendo Gameboy image

Original Nintendo Gameboy image

After graduating high school I had one goal for that summer before entering my freshman year of college. I wanted to take all the earnings from my part-time job and buy something that I knew would be essential to surviving those first months of higher education. While my friends were saving up for cars, textbooks, or a mini-fridge for their dorm, I just wanted a Game Boy. An ex-boyfriend’s younger brother had one and unfortunately during our brief, tumultuous period of dating I’d become addicted to Tetris.

Retro Handheld Video Games

However, the Game Boy wasn’t my first experience with a handheld electronic game. In the early 1980s my brothers received handheld games from Mattel that worked with a single red LED dot. Games like Simon and Merlin soon followed. However, none of them compared to the Game Boy.

Sure, it had 4 colors that were all grayscale and the screen was smaller than the one on my first cellphone, but it was a Game Boy. I no longer had to wait for someone at the arcade in the mall to run out of quarters for a turn on a favorite video game because now I had new favorites, and they were all in the palm of my hand. I can still hear the onomatopoeic Tetris theme song in my head and remember the rush I’d feel each time I gained a new level. Before I knew it, I was addicted!

And I wasn’t the only one who had that problem. Professional skateboarder Bam Margera confessed, “I got addicted to Tetris, playing it in my basement. I was missing all these airplane flights over it. After the fourth one that I missed, I realized I needed to get rid of this thing – so ever since then, I don’t play video games any more.” While l didn’t give them up completely, the distraction of my freshman year of college did help me re-prioritize the importance of video games – or in this case, their lack of importance.

A Quick History of Popular Handheld Gaming Devices

As other games came on the market, I tried them out as well. However, I took them in stride and was careful not to let them take up too much of my free time. Here are some of the ones I recall standing out over the others.

  • Sega Game Gear – While this wasn’t the first handheld game with a colorized screen, it was certainly a favorite among my friends, primarily because it was a portable variation of the Master System.
  • Game Boy Color – All the fun of the original with fancy upgrades. It not only sported a color screen but also had an outside shell that was colorized as well.
  • Nintendo DS – Unlike previous handheld video games, the DS boasted two screens. It also had a microphone and the bottom screen was touch-sensitive. But best of all,  But best of all, WiFi allowed users to connect with a group of friends.
  • PSP – Also known as the PlayStation Portable, this was Sony’s answer to the Nintendo DS. In an attempt to one-up their competition, they offered a larger viewing screen and the option to connect to both PlayStation 3 and the Internet. Their coup de grace was the release of video discs of popular movies and television programs that users could watch on the handheld device.

While other video game manufacturers like Tiger and Bandai released their own handheld gaming devices, the industry wouldn’t be worth a mention if not for Nintendo and Sony. Regardless of all the other devices that come on the market, their newer and better versions are right around the corner.

Mobile Gaming Accessories

Accessories for handheld gaming are almost an industry in itself. Customized skins that alter the outside appearance of the device, pointing devices for touch screens, and carrying cases are some popular items among gamers. However, some other accessories are things people purchase without thinking of them as something gaming-related. For instance, an iTunes Jukebox only plays music, but any gamer worth his Level 3 Staff of Dexterity can tell you that gaming and music go together like peanut butter and jelly which is why it’s important to have something to provide background music.

Gaming is one industry that’s growing at the speed of light and it shows no sign of slowing down. As 3D and other innovative technologies become available, gaming developers are finding ways to incorporate them into video games platforms whether it’s a handheld device or a static console. What’s next for the world of gaming? Only the future can tell!


Freelance author Becky James-Muth has spent her fair share of time playing video games. She and her career firefighter husband have two teenage sons, so a lot of those games are based on things stereotyped with males, from moments in military history to zombie apocalypses. Last summer she used tips from to turn the family room into a dedicated boys’ club where they can hang out. Although she’s been known to crash the man cave to watch a Denver Broncos football game or two, Becky’s free time is spent on hobbies like knitting and watching chick flicks with her golden retriever.


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