The Game Boy Advance SP reminded me that curation matters: if you have everything, you appreciate nothing

With the release of the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance apps for Nintendo Switch Online, I decided it was high time I plugged a hole in my personal collection and picked up a Game Boy Advance SP. The reason? Curation.

I used to own a Game Boy Advance SP back in the day, but in less enlightened times I found myself trading it in for something newer and more “exciting”. I kept most of my games, though — which I’m glad about, as I have a few that can be a bit pricy these days! — and still had my old Game Boy Colour and several DSes, so it wasn’t as if I couldn’t play these games if I wanted to.

Game Boy Advance SP launch event

But there was something eminently likeable about the Game Boy Advance SP that I really missed. Its small, comfortable form factor. Its folding clamshell design. The satisfying feel of clicking a cartridge into its slot, and the endearing way that original Game Boy games stuck out of the slot because they’re much bigger than Game Boy Advance carts. And those feelings are just as much a part of the curation process as the collecting of the games themselves.

I went back and forth over whether or not I needed that Game Boy Advance SP. After all, as previously noted, I already had a Game Boy Colour, which could play all original Game Boy games, and several Nintendo DS models, most of which could play Game Boy Advance games. Not only that, but I also have several retro gaming handhelds, upon which I have loaded complete libraries for several generations of games consoles — including Game Boy, Game Boy Colour and Game Boy Advance. So I could most certainly already play these games.

But since picking up that Game Boy Advance SP, I feel vindicated in my decision. Now, instead of being confronted with a vast list of ROMs and not really knowing where to start other than the well-known titles that immediately spring to mind, I have the opportunity to curate my own unique collection of games for these platforms, and enjoy them in a way that feels right.

Dita von Teese with a Game Boy Advance SP

I pick up the games that I personally think sound interesting, which include both well-known titles and less appreciated games from over the years. And, of course, a particularly major part of this is the opportunity to grab games that are never, ever going to get a rerelease on modern platforms, such as licensed games. And the Game Boy played host to some great licensed games such as Robocop and several Batman titles.

By starting with a small and gradually expanding selection of games, I feel like I’m appreciating these games more. By not being confronted with a vast selection of games to pick from, I feel like I have the time and the inclination to explore individual titles in more detail. And, as a result, I’m enjoying the experience of exploring the Game Boy, Game Boy Colour and Game Boy Advance libraries a lot more as a result.

Nintendo comes in for a lot of criticism in terms of how slowly it trickles out releases for its Nintendo Switch Online retro gaming apps, as well as the selection of games on offer. But in essence, they’re doing pretty much the same thing I am with my Game Boy Advance SP.

Rather than bombarding everyone with a complete library of games immediately, which will lead to no-one really appreciating anything for more than five minutes at a time, they are providing people with the opportunity to explore a smaller, curated selection in detail, then gradually building on that selection over time.

This is also why I’m so vehemently against initiatives like Game Pass. While the arguments that Game Pass is “consumer friendly” make a lot of sense, the way the service is implemented right now just provides too much choice at once — and to make matters worse, you’re not in control of what curation there is, as games are added to and leave the service all the time.

A man with a large nostril playing on a Game Boy Advance SP

The same is true for video streaming services or “unlimited” subscriptions to things like comics and eBooks; in recent years, I’ve found myself deliberately eschewing these in favour of specifically picking up individual things that I like. And I’ve been having a better experience as a result.

When confronted with an absurd number of possibilities, it takes an inordinately huge amount of self-control to dedicate yourself to a single experience long enough to truly appreciate it, because there’s always the feeling that you might be having a better time if you’re playing something else that is readily available.

And not many people these days have that self-control, thanks to the ADHD nature of a lot of online media, designed to be viewed for a few seconds at a time and completely forgotten about moments later.

That concerns me. Video games, both classic and modern, deserve to have a lifespan longer than your average TikTok video or Tinder profile view. That includes retro handheld experiences such as those found on the Game Boy Advance SP, which are inherently designed to be more friendly to short play sessions. And, by deliberately building up my collection a little bit at a time and experiencing them on one of the original devices designed to play them, I feel like I’m more inclined to feel that appreciation.

So I think I made the right decision in buying that Game Boy Advance SP. Sure, the screen is a lot dimmer and worse than I remember — so I’m going to mod in a nice modern IPS screen and refurbish the battered case while I’m on — but the experience of curating a collection and appreciating each and every title in that collection is proving very much worthwhile. I recommend the experience if you haven’t tried it!

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Pete Davison
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