Red Is The New Brown: What if The Virtual Boy Had Been A Success?

The following is an article originally published by Abra Kapocus at!

Are you a fan of alternate realities? Well, of course you are. You must be a gamer, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. It’s 1995. Enter the Virtual Boy, one of many maligned pieces of Nintendo history. With its numerous glaring flaws; such as a monochrome black and red display, an epic fail in portability (even though it was marketed as a “handheld system”), its tiny and mediocre game library, and its tendency to leave its users with splitting headaches and seizures, it’s easy to see why Nintendo pulled the plug as soon as it did.

Suppose that this weren’t the case, however. What if the planets aligned in favor of this ill-fated boondoggle? What if, instead of being the tumor on the timeline to 3D effects in games the Virtual Boy was a crucial milestone? What if, instead of serving as a cautionary tale it was able to lead by example? What if I stopped asking so many damn questions and got to the freaking point already?

For such a novel concept, the Virtual Boy sure was wasted with poor execution and timing. It clearly had potential, and if anything the modest success of the 3DS further serves to prove that point. How, you ask? Let me count the similarities. 3D capabilities, somewhat awkward ergonomics, complaints of headaches and eyestrain from looking at it too long — starting to sound familiar? I guess we’re all just numb to the discomfort by now.

Wow, for a second there, I could have sworn I was playing Virtual Virtual Boy!

Imagine, if you will, a stellar launch lineup, one that actually took full advantage of the reflection technology to produce a more convincing illusion of 3D. Forget the stigma of monochrome red. If gamers today can forgive the washed-out grayish-brown mess that many games employ today to overcome technical hurdles with the interplay between light and shadow, surely they should have no problem with seeing nothing but red. If the games are good enough, who knows what your customers will put up with?

So, yeah, let’s say this was the case. Instead of being suckered in by gritty brown realism in later generations, the gaming public adopts the surreal, ironic, ultra-retro charm of red and black. The Virtual Boy rakes in just shy of Wii-level record summer profits. Meanwhile, the N64 development team begins to notice their funds shrink, allocated almost exclusively to the advancement of the Virtual Boy. The dev team begins to question what they’ve been doing with their lives and start to abandon the project in droves. How could such an asinine piece of cannon fodder, meant only to stall for time, sell so well? It wasn’t supposed to be this popular. Eventually, after years of work the whole project is inexplicably shut down with nary a peep or press conference.

Months down the line news alerts start popping up everywhere decrying the outbreaks of massive migraine and seizure epidemics all over the globe. All fingers point to the rise in popularity of the Virtual Boy. Pharmaceutical company profits soar due to massive sales of seizure and headache medication. Laser surgery clinics are booked solid as lines begin to circle all the way around the parking lot. Those in some circles theorize that these are clear signs of a collusion between Nintendo and the pharmaceutical industry.

Incidentally, Reynold’s Wrap also sees a modest spike in profits.

Well, they’re right, but not in the way they think. Facing more lawsuits than the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office, and more parental outrage than Doom, Grand Theft Auto, and Mortal Kombat combined, Nintendo is forced to come up with a workaround. With their recent financial windfall, the pharmaceutical industry teams up with Nintendo to create a special laser treatment aimed at mitigating the negative effects of prolonged Virtual Boy viewing. As part of a worldwide class-action lawsuit, all Virtual Boy owners receive this treatment at half price with a special promotional coupon redeemable at the Lasik center of their choice.

Two years later Nintendo spearheads the advent of the Virtual Boy Lite. Seeking to eliminate the hassle of a bulky set of goggles on a stand, they shrink the size of the eyepiece to be no larger and not much more intrusive than a Viewmaster. In addition, this new model comes with a head strap to keep the unit affixed to the user’s head, so as to maximize mobility. The new model also boasts twice as much image clarity as the original, as well as RGB sliders on the side to change the LED output color from red to whatever the user desired.

Rare as they may be, this is one problem duct tape cannot fix.

Unfortunately, this incarnation’s new ergonomic features carry with them a hidden curse, as cities all over the world experience a dramatic rise in foot-traffic related fatalities. Among these include construction site accidents, falling down open manholes, and vehicular collisions, all of which are the most common. Virtual Boy Lite users become so enamored with their entertainment that they are unable to pull themselves away from it during their commutes to work and school. As it fits so comfortably on their heads, it almost becomes a second skin. They begin to lose their grips on reality.

An elegant solution for knowing if you’re playing a terrible video game.

More lawsuits abound. How does Nintendo respond? Why, by including a leaflet of condescending safety guidelines in the packaging of all future Virtual Boy Lites.

You may be wondering where Sony and Sega are in all of this, and you would be right in doing so. Let us assume the origin story of the Playstation still occurs in this timeline, though it’s unclear if Nintendo would further pursue disc-based media at this time, given the rousing success of the Virtual Boy Lite. So let’s just say the same story unfolds, only with dreams of creating a disc-based home console virtual entertainment system called Dreamstation.

Essentially, the Dreamstation attempts to copy the Virtual Boy’s concept, with the exceptions of not only being in full color, but in a grand-scale home console. It comes pre-packaged with its own VR helmet that plugs straight into the console. The helmet would deliver crisp, full-color true 3D images and high fidelity sound that no one had ever seen or heard before in video games. In addition to visual and auditory information, the discs would also store various olfactory information which would be fed into the helmet and transmitted straight to the nose via air vents, which are able to simulate various smells.

The Dreamstation is marred with crippling problems. Aside from the negative press it receives for riding on the coattails of Nintendo, the unit itself is insanely expensive at $1099.99 a pop. The hardware itself is an absolute behemoth, and because of the included VR helmet the box itself is the size of a 50 inch projection TV. It only includes one helmet, a second of which costs roughly $299.99 alone. Users experience frequent breakdowns in immersion due to constantly bumping into their furniture, and hyper-extending the cords on the helmets until they’re disconnected. The console itself is as heavy as a lead brick to avoid damage during play for this very reason, and as a result shelf space for the Dreamstation in stores is extremely limited. Also, the smell sensors rarely work, if ever.

How could such reckless decisions be made? Clearly someone high up at Sony is so overcome with irrational rage at Nintendo’s betrayal of their original partnership, he’s willing to look past all of these horrific flaws in blind one-upmanship. So, given the outrageous price tag of this console, guess how many people buy it. Only 13,000 worldwide. It doesn’t even last 9 months, and its library is only 6 games long. It is considered at the time to be the most costly business venture ever in the game industry, and it nearly bankrupts the entirety of Sony, forcing them to completely abandon their video game department.

As for Sega? Well…

Trust me, you really don’t wanna know.

It seems the future of gaming hinges completely on virtual simulations, a market which, for seven years Nintendo will dominate. This is especially the case after releasing the Nintendo Escape in 2004, a home console which functions similarly to the Sony Dreamstation but with significantly less bulk, expense, or unnecessary features. There are still key problems at launch with immersion in regards to the helmet connection, but that is quickly solved with the release of a wireless headset peripheral, and a hefty price cut in 2005.

Seven years after the release of the Escape, Microsoft, a newcomer in the console games race, has been secretly experimenting with dream technology. It develops a gaming entertainment platform that takes the shape of a dream while its user sleeps. They call it the X-Mind. It would be the last E3 press conference in recorded history.

The release of the X-Mind carries with it a fatal unintended consequence. For one third of the world’s population these dreams never stop. The electronic stimulation causes critical disturbances in the brain that keeps them asleep forever, trapped inside their augmented dreams. Some are forcibly disconnected, which often proves fatal. Those who aren’t killed by the separation are reduced to vegetative states. Most other users become addicted. Society begins to prefer their electronically augmented dreams over day to day life, while basic functions of civilization suffer from neglect and abuse.

The electronic fantasies produced by the X-Mind are so immersive, so engaging, so addicting that people stop showing up for work. Infrastructure crumbles. Currency and economic systems the world over collapse under their own weight. Nations at war operate to their logical extremes and completely destroy one another. The worse things get, the more people want to play their X-Minds just to make the pain go away. X-Mind users succumb to apathy, weakness, and starvation. Those still able raid drug stores for sleeping pills just to get their fix. Those immune to the X-Mind’s intoxicating simulations are few and far between, much less than the bare minimum of genetic diversity to stave off human extinction. In time humanity dies out with nary a whisper.

So, you see, the Virtual Boy is a blight upon humanity whether success or failure. If it’s not one of the worst-selling, shortest lifespan consoles ever released, it is a plague that infects everything it touches, granting birth to a legion of copycats that softly destroy humanity by completely detaching them from reality. All things considered, I think it’s for the best that events panned out the way they did.

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