'Is that a Game Boy?' Navigating simple questions as a socially awkward adult


What is your name? What is your quest?

The other day I was sitting in the lunch room alone, playing on my 3DS. I was having a go at the current Pokémon Safari in Pokémon Shuffle, trying to capture the last ‘mon I needed from the event. In walks one of the graduate students who works in the lab, a conventionally attractive woman about my age. “Is that a Game Boy?” she asks.

It should be an easy yes-or-no question, right? But me being me, I was instead thrown into an intense inner dialogue about how best to answer it. I considered a litany of responses before settling on what is probably one of the weaker choices.

The obvious answer is “No.” It’s technically correct. The Nintendo 3DS is not a Game Boy. I could have said that and been done with it.

But then I considered the spirit behind the question. Maybe she was asking “Is that a dedicated handheld video game console produced by Nintendo?” Well if that’s the case, then the answer is “Yes.” I was kind of playing a Game Boy in that sense.

There’s nuance to it. If I had been playing a PlayStation Vita and was asked the same question, the correct response would definitely be “No.” If I had been playing a Game Boy Advance, I probably would have said “Yes.” But I had my 3DS out, which apparently exists in the filing cabinet that is my brain in some sort of in-between state of Game Boyhood. It’s not a Game Boy, not yet a Game Man.

I could tell her about the features. “This is like a Game Boy but it has two screens, one of them is touch-sensitive and the other displays stereoscopic 3D.” I considered this, but hesitated when it came to thinking about StreetPass. I love StreetPass, but it’s difficult to explain to an outsider without getting extreme eyebrow raises. She probably doesn’t want to hear about StreetPass.

I could tell her about the history. How the DS launched in 2004 as the “third pillar” of Nintendo systems. How it was experimental and weird but wasn’t marketed as a replacement for the Game Boy line, though it ended up as Nintendo’s premier handheld device. This answers the question adequately, but was perhaps too in-depth.

I could tell her about the games. It has Mario, just like the Game Boy did. It has Pokémon, just like the Game Boy did. It has Zelda, just like the Game Boy did. Of course, all are updated to today’s standards. Maybe this was the tack to take.

I was hesitant to mention earlier that the question came from an attractive woman. It isn’t meant to be a value judgment, but it is relevant to the story. Here I am, a 30-year-old man, happily married, and I still maintain some stupid twinge from my teenage years that makes me overthink things when dealing with the beautiful people of the world.

I don’t suffer from the anxiety of always wondering, “What if this person sitting next to me on this plane is ‘the one’?” like I used to when I was a geeky adolescent, unlucky in love. But I still find myself second (and third and fourth) guessing whether I should say precisely what comes to mind at any given moment or if I need to modify how I express things for the sake of the audience.

So after a few seconds of thinking that felt like minutes, I finally came up with a response. Something that explains thoroughly the 3DS’s place in Nintendo canon without getting too bogged down in the details. Here it goes. “It’s sort of like a Game Boy.” Nailed it.

“Oh, cool,” she said. “I had a Game Boy when I was a kid.” And that was the end of the conversation.