Shortly after Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays, he gave his only interview on this subject to an American journalist. First question from the journalist: “Is the invisible visible?”
Many children around the world started asking a version of this question in 1998, when Nintendo released the “atomic violet” Game Boy Color. Behind its lilac-tinted translucent plastic shell, the bowels of the console were all arranged to see: button actuators, conductive membranes, a green daughter board with metallic polka dots, a haze of multicolored wires. Holding this Game Boy Color was like holding an x-ray: an assemblage of straight and curved lines, phalanges and vertebrae – not everything, but enough to make you consider the space between knowable and unknowable, palpable and forbidden. When the screen lit up with the little Pikachu surfing, you could observe all of the unfathomable that fed it. The shell was permeable, almost porous; it looked like an invitation to interactivity. Unless you remove it, in which case you will void the warranty.
To be a player is to own game objects and to identify with them in particular. Gamers are “naturally intrigued by the technology and the space inside their consoles,” says Taihei Oomori, artistic director of product design at Sony. When you reveal that space through hazy plastic, he says, you “bring the distance between the player and the game world even closer.”
The Game Boy Color atomic purple was clear, lit internally by the same light we’ve seen it with, superficially satisfying that desire for closeness. But the heart of the machine has never been within reach. The translucent shell is like a magician calling the birthday girl on stage: he seems ready to reveal the secret to her, but all she will get is another illusion.
Over the past 23 years, all of the major gaming hardware manufacturers have released translucent designs. From the crystalline midnight blue PlayStation 2 to the grasshopper green Xbox 360, the exterior of these objects offers an organized window into the machines – and what it means to be a modern gamer.
In 2001, Nintendo launched the Game Boy Advance with a $ 50 million marketing blitz. In a television advertisement Since then, school kids have stormed out of a classroom and parkoured to the local video game store, where their heads all turn into Mario. The slogan: “Who are you?”
“This ad campaign essentially linked personal identity to brand identity,” says Alex Custodio, doctoral student at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University. His book Who are you?, which was released in 2020, is about the Game Boy Advance and the subcultures that have developed around it. “You were what you played,” Custodio says. You were the material you played on. You were the character you played with.
The Advance came in a few translucent flavors including “glacier” and rose. The transparent shell gave players a sense of technical and aesthetic control over their systems, Custodio says, as if they could guess how all those little knots and transistors were rendered. golden sungreen cities or played the heartwarming theme for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Four Swords. But that feeling, she adds, was superficial. “In fact, he doesn’t give you anything he promises,” Custodio says. “It gives you an illusion of mastery, transparency and technical knowledge without actually giving you more insight than if it were the archetype of the black box.” The school kids in the ad didn’t turn into Nintendo versions of themselves. They have evolved into a monoculture of branded mascots.