Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
No? You should. It’s one of my fondest gaming memories.
I bought myself a PC for university by working summer jobs including assembling promotional B*Witched and Boyzone pens for Top of the Pops magazine. Of course, as soon as I got to university, it soon became depressingly obvious that PC was a badge of abject nerdery and if I wanted to impress people I should have bought a console instead.
Never one to admit defeat in any challenge vaguely involving technology, I turned to what was then the extremely murky world of emulation. Of course, back then there was no hope of emulating something contemporary like a PlayStation or N64, but older Nintendo and Sega fare was perfectly plausible, so long as you could master the almost wilfully obtuse required to do so.
I will spare you the details of exactly what went into achieving it, because I don’t want Ian Nintendo showing up at my door, but obviously I bought all the original cartridges and donated my life savings to destitute IP lawyers. But what I will say is that, rather than me and the friend who I dragged down this hole with me retreading plumber and hedgehog classics of yesteryear – because that was too recent past to hold any retro appeal at that point – we sought out whatever New we could manage. Which, basically, was the GameBoy Color.
Clearly, the top-down, baby-JRPG adventures of Ash and Pikachu were designed for a tiny resolution of 160×144 pixels on 4cm screen which, at best, could show about 1.5 different colours at once. But there was something illicit, something thrilling in forcing this miniature thing onto a 14″ 800×600 CRT monitor (jeepers crikey, that thing was huge), not to mention using savestates to scum our way past fights gone bad. And, of course, the pokeymans and the gotta-catching thereof got its hooks into us, just as it was a designed to do.
He watched me play the whole game on that monitor, and somehow this tiny, blocky people and the static outlines of the titular battling creatures took on an epic quality. Felling a gym owner, catching one of the rarest and deadliest beasts, buying the skills that cut down trees or moved boulders in order to access new parts of the map… It felt like the truest adventure, despite its mechanical nature and maddeningly constant random fights against the same rats and pigeons.
As soon as I had finished, he started playing, and I watched it all again. We wouldn’t have done that on a Gameboy; hell, I’m not sure either of it would even have played it by ourselves on a Gameboy. But something about that perverse hybridisation of a portable game with the most immovable gaming platform cast a spell I’ll never forget.