How Nintendo’s Game Boy inventor philosophy is ripe for these times


2020 was a year of record sales for video game makers as people turned to tech-fueled hijackings during COVID-19 lockdowns. The revenue of the video game industry in 2020 is estimated at go beyond both sport and cinema combined, with experts forecasting strong growth through 2021 fueled by new games and consoles, and an anticipated rush of games IPOs, like Roblox. With a focus on shiny new releases and game-changing technology, one could forget that one of the most popular and best-selling game consoles – the Nintendo Game Boy – was designed based on an entirely different philosophy: lateral thinking with withered technologies.

Adopted by Nintendo game designer Gunpei Yokoi (no relation to the author), the concept is to use cheap and readily available products (withered) technology and combine it with creativity (lateral) think about finding innovative ways to engage users. The Game Boy was considered an innovative product, but the LCD screens used were affordable and already widely used. Instead of looking for cutting edge hardware features, the philosophy was to focus on a new game using cheap and readily available technology. Yokoi’s philosophy is widely credited guiding the development of the Nintendo Game Boy and informing the development of the Wii U and 3DS.

The philosophy of lateral thinking with withered technology is particularly relevant in these disruptive times that demand rapid innovation and a sensitivity to sustainability.

The philosophy is similar in spirit with the Maker Movement – an umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and DIYers, which has become a global phenomenon over the past ten years. Manufacturers tap into the spirit of self-reliance and do-it-yourself to experiment and innovate using popular technologies such as open source software, 3D printing, and robotics.

The Maker Community’s Activities in Response to COVID-19 Demonstrate the Potential of Lateral Thinking with Withered Technologies. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Manufacturers have mobilized to find various solutions ranging from face shields to emergency ventilators by applying and combining existing technology in new ways, leveraging rapid prototyping and an agile manufacturing approach. Some observers consider this activity to be a form of frugal innovation. that could fill the gaps in a rapid and targeted manner to disrupt current incumbents. This could result in inherently sustainable results due to the minimization of costs and resources.

But perhaps this philosophy and its potential adoption point to something deeper.

Anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss used the word do-it-yourself to describe a way of acting in interaction with the environment such as “doing things with whatever is at hand”. The tinkering has been exploited by the theorist of the organization, Karl Weick, in his analysis of the Mann Gulch of 1949 disaster as a source of resilience. Weick puts forward the idea that people who master improvisation and DIY remain creative under pressure, as they are used to working in conditions where goals and structures are not clear. Those who tinker often work with whatever is at hand and can shape them into new combinations and solutions.

This philosophy and its embodiment in the Maker movement could be a manifestation of our deeper desire for resilience. This way of using non-linear, unplanned and indirect ways of thinking gives us the assurance that we might be able to act in the face of an unforeseen event. As Dave Dougherty, founder of the Maker Movement, describes it in a interview with, “It’s not about how good you are. It is about the sense of control and the sense of purpose and setting one’s own direction.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.