Game Boy camera pictures look primitive — and that’s refreshing

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Towards the end of the life of the Game Boy player, Nintendo added a camera attachment. Photo: Solopress
Toward the end of the Game Boy's life, Nintendo added a camera attachment. Photo: Solopress

We turned up our noses at the first digital pictures because they didn’t look as good as film. The camera added to the Nintendo Game Boy in 1998 certainly didn’t make the case for a digital future.

The bulbous attachment recorded a fuzzy, postage-stamp-size, black-and-white image. That’s black and white with no gray shades in between.

If you wanted to share your photo, you could purchase a separate printing device that plugged into the Game Boy and spit out a tiny print. The printer took a little roll of paper and looked like one of those small credit-card-processing machines that spit out a receipt.

Today, several megapixels later, the look of the Game Boy camera is refreshingly vintage.

Various objects shot with a Game Boy camera. Photo: Paul Houle/tapir.org
Various objects shot with a Game Boy camera. Photo: Paul Houle/tapir.org

While apps and filters can make your pictures look like they were made with a plastic Diana, shot on Kodachrome or even make them appear like an old tintype — complete with faux scratches and emulsion drips — you will have to hunt down an old Game Boy, the camera attachment and printer for that unique look.

Start with eBay. You can find the whole package for around $120 or, with a little shopping, you can buy the individual components a little cheaper. For less than $20, there are dozens of models for what was called a “pocket camera” (I’ve got my eye on the atomic purple one). Printers can be found for as low as $4 and as high as $99, with many prices in between. An extra box of paper, containing three rolls, approaches $30.

There’s a Flickr group devoted to the Game Boy camera; some of its members push the technical limitations of the camera to produce artful images.

Shapes and lines standout in the contrasty pictures made with the Game Boy camera. Photo: Paul Houle/ tapir.org
Shapes and lines stand out in the contrasty pictures made with the Game Boy camera. Photo: Paul Houle/ tapir.org

YouTube tutorials abound, including one below. My favorite source of inspiration is a website from 1999, whose author seemed to embrace the Game Boy Camera and could keenly identify lights and scenes to get the most out of the camera.

With the camera plugged in, a menu screen gives the user three options: Shoot, View or Play.

Shoot mode has a few functions, like a self-timer, time-lapse and magic. Yes, magic. Click on this, and you can choose tricks like mirror imaging, a montage, panorama or “Game Face,” a collection of four shots that allows the user to put his face in the camera’s game.

The camera stores up to 30 pictures, though another company produced a Mega Memory Card for the Game Boy Camera that created more storage. There are options to doodle on pictures or place stamps, like fangs or goofy ears.

The Game Boy and camera can be plugged into a computer and images can be transferred over into a bitmap image format.