In August of 1995, I was on the cusp of turning 14. President Clinton was only a few months away from engaging in “intimate relations” with Monica Lewinsky and “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men was at the apex of the Billboard Top 20. I was probably on my third or fourth playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, still trying to find all of those key holes in Super Mario World , and life was good. I’m sure I felt like nothing in the world of video games could possibly get any better; that is, until I opened my latest issue of Nintendo Power and learned about the Virtual Boy.
I was completely hooked by the television show VR.5 and saddened by its hasty cancellation. The outward appearance of the Virtual Boy looked very similar to machinery seen in that show, which meant the Virtual Boy not only appealed to my inner video game geek, but my inner crappy sci-fi show geek as well. The prospect of actual 3D games left me sleepless at night, excited by the idea of Hyrule being a completely three dimensional and immersive world. Battles with Gannon would be even more epic than before, which was a feat I would have thought to be impossible prior to learning about the Virtual boy. The hefty $180 price tag meant I would likely be waiting until Christmas to get my chubby little hands on a pair of those table-top goggles, but I learned to be patient at an early age and this little piece of seemingly space age technology seemed worth the wait.
A couple of days after the Virtual Boy launched, I overheard a boy at school mentioning that his dad got him one for his birthday. This boy was a “friend” (my definition of friend back then was simply someone who didn’t verbally or physically assault me at school), so that day after school and homework, I rode my Huffy 10-speed the mile or so to his house. The entire ride, I was fantasizing about the amount of technological awesomeness I was about to witness. Essentially, I thought I was about to witness the beginnings of the “holodecks” featured on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Once I reached my destination, I knocked on his door to see if I could try it out. He obliged me, and what proceeded was two or three hours of, what is even to this date, the most skull-splitting video game experience of my life.
The Virtual Boy’s 3D gaming experience was completely rendered in retina-searing red LED lights. Nintendo’s team of
engineers chose red for a few reasons: it was easy to see, red LEDs were the cheapest, and they were the most energy efficient. Obviously they had only the best of intentions when selecting the display method, but the idea was poor in execution. The display was so intense and hard to look at, that all Virtual Boy games had a setting players could enable which would automatically pause the game every ten or fifteen minutes to avoid eye strain. As if these blazing red lights weren’t bad enough, there was the actual design of the unit to consider. Even though the Virtual Boy was fashioned to look like a über high tech pair of virtual reality goggles, they in fact were intended to be used in a stationary position. This usually meant sitting at the dining room table and leaning into the goggles, which was never a comfortable way to play a video game, even with the most ideal table and chair set up.
I never even bothered to ask for a Virtual Boy for Christmas. A very poor choice of display medium coupled with a design that forced players to sit hunched over as they played ultimately made the Virtual Boy a flop in nearly record time — just under a year. Perhaps bundling the Virtual Boy with an extra large bottle of Tylenol would have increased its longevity, but I think ultimately the it was destined for failure from the beginning. Sure, who doesn’t want to play 3D games, but at what cost? Scoliosis, migraines, and retinal damage were just too high of a price to pay. Hopefully the creative minds at Nintendo learned from all of their mistakes and will make the 3DS as amazing as the world is expecting it to be, because I am already tossing and turning from the anticipation, with visions of a three dimensional Hyrule dancing in my head.