However, it is not entirely correct to blame the Game Boys green screen on the idea that there were simply no better alternatives available at the time. After all, the Atari Lynx handheld gaming device was released the same year, and its screen supported full-color graphics. Nor can you say that Nintendo was not aware of the existence of that technology. The creators of the Handy Game device (which eventually became the Atari Lynx) tried to buy their technology for Nintendo (as well as other major gaming companies), so of course Nintendo knew there were more advanced alternatives out there that offered far more power and more advanced visuals.
However, there is a big difference between “power” and “practicality”, and understanding the difference between these concepts is the key to understanding the philosophy behind Game Boys’ green screen.
See, Game Boy designer Gunpei Yokoi and other key members of the Game Boy design team were all about keeping things cheap and practical. I know it sounds like something companies say when they want to justify maximizing their profits and screwing over consumers in the process, but that was not the case here.
In fact, the Game Boy team rightly recognized that handheld gaming devices from that era needed to be simple in order to be consumer-friendly. After all, the Game Gear and Atari Lynx may have been more technologically advanced, but their base cost was particularly expensive. More importantly, these handheld devices required multiple batteries and “boasted” battery life that was cruel even by the standards of the time. It’s also hard to call the Game Boy a cheap console with a straight face. Many original Game Boys still work today, and there is always the famous story of Game Boy who reportedly survived a bombing during the Gulf War. Those things were built to last.
More importantly, Yokoi was a strong supporter of a design philosophy commonly known as “Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology.” Basically, he believed that Nintendo was often better placed to find new ways to use older, cheaper, and more proven technology than they were trying to deal with the expensive growth pains by inventing new technology. His belief in that case was not always popular (Game Boy was even mocked internally at Nintendo for its weak power and simple design concepts), but they obviously worked in Game Boy’s favor. For that matter, Nintendo still uses elements of that design philosophy to this day.
All of this helps explain why Game Boys designers did not even try to offer full-color graphics, but why did they settle for the strange green screen? Well, there are really two good answers to that question.