The Virtual Boy was a virtual reality, 3-dimensional gaming device made by Nintendo and was in retail between 1995 and 1996. It is widely believed to be Nintendo’s only glaring failure in its history. But the story of the Virtual Boy is the tale of one visionary who tried to alter the course of an entire industry. He failed due to the conservative nature of the games industry, as well as the American public’s reluctance to take a risk accepting a radically different new technology. It also exposed how perfection driven the Japanese business model is (in terms of how the backlash of the Virtual Boy’s failure affected its creator). And finally, the Virtual Boy stands as a great example of a ‘what if?’ moment in history, where we were presented with a potential new lineage of entertainment enjoyed through true virtual space instead of just at a flat, distant screen.
In the mid 1990’s, the US console market was in transition between 2-dimensional, sprite based graphics and 3-dimensional, polygonal graphics. At the same time the portable gaming market was still based on monochromatic displays popularized by the dominant portable gaming device, the Game Boy (Kent 513). There had been little variety outside of the traditional flat, depthless display. But that was about to change with the partnership of Reflections Technology, a company from Massachusetts that invented mirror scanning stereoscopic displays (capable of creating the illusion of 3 dimensions) and an innovative hardware designer, Nintendo’s Gumpei Yokoi (Kent 513).
Gumpei Yokoi: The King of Portable Consoles
Starting off overseeing the assembly line machines that made playing cards at Nintendo, which in 1965 was still just in the playing card business, Yokoi eventually began designing toys in 1970. His first invention was a wooden device that could grasp things at a distance, it was called the ‘Ultra Hand’. (Pollack) . He eventually moved on to design electronic games for the company, specializing in portable games. His milestones included: Game & Watch (1980), a calculator sized liquid crystal display portable video game system with a built in clock; Game Boy (1989), the most successful game system of all time (100 million units sold), which was capable of reading different games off of cartridges instead of having a predetermined amount of content stored on an internal hard drive (Kent 330). By the mid 1990’s Yokoi had developed an excellent reputation at Nintendo
Kent, Steven L. The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon--The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World