What Developers Can Learn from the Father of the Game Boy

Creators have a tendency to look to new frameworks to open new opportunities. It is the exact opposite to Yokoi's philosophy "withered technology, with lateral thinking".

10 months ago

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Gunpei Yokoi is the visionary creator of the Game Boy. Creators have a tendency to look to new frameworks, new shiny tools that stimulate the imagination and open new opportunities, then apply them to existing problems. It is the exact opposite to Yokoy's philosophy. He summed it up as: "withered technology, with lateral thinking".

Image originally made by Nano Thoughts

Back when technology was focused on creating premium experiences, he had a vision for a low powered device. It'd have no colors, run on an ancient CPU, require battery changes every 10 hours. You'd play it during breaks, on your commute, in the bathroom. It was a wild contrast with the premium experiences at the arcade or on home consoles, where you'd be sitting comfortably with your friends and enjoying beautiful games.

As Tina Seelig from Stanford explains: creativity is a methodology. Yokoi's take is similar to the idea that constraints breed innovation, but it goes further. Withered technology isn't about settling for the outdated; it's about finding hidden treasures in what's already available.

Once you let go of the constant need to chasing the best and latest, five new upsides become obvious:

Affordability: Skip the cost of learning new tech. Yokoi's approach cuts costs without sacrificing innovation.

Reliability: Old tech has endured the test of time. It's a sturdy foundation to build upon, avoiding the glitches of the new.

Green: Embracing withered hardware contributes to sustainability by reducing electronic waste.

Familiarity: Yokoi's Game Boy took cues from a calculator. Similarly, draw inspiration from unexpected but familiar sources to craft unique and engaging apps.

Simplicity: Fewer moving parts means less cognitive load, and a more focused experience. User-friendly interfaces win hearts.

.kkrieger is a 96kb fps

Working with well understood limitations is a way to avoid surprises and leverage something you already excel at. It's how TheProdukkt made a full FPS game in 96kb, or Furbies gradually spoke better English simply because they had more uptime (fooling kids into thinking their constant care was the reason why they got smarter).

Rather than a clinical take on development, find ways to remove convention. In the worst case, you can always fall back to it!


Published 10 months ago