April 21st 1989: Game Boy released


Game Boy, released in 1989


On this day in 1989, the original Game Boy was released in Japan. It was later released in North America in August and in Europe in September 1990. The device was one of the first handheld gaming consoles, making it a groundbreaking invention that revolutionised the concept of videogames by allowing for them to be played on-the-go. The Game Boy was relatively cheap compared to rivals on the market (costing ¥12,500 at launch) and was a huge success, selling almost 120 million units. The designers of the console, the same team who gave us the Game & Watch series, ensured the device handled in a similar way to the familiar Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) with its eight-way D-pad controller and four buttons.



Super Mario Land screenshot


Some of the most popular original Game Boy games included: Super Mario Land, which sold over 18 million copies; Tetris, which sold 35 million copies; and the first Pokémon games, released in 1996.



Tetris screenshot


Nintendo continues to produce handheld game consoles and the popularity of the Mario and Pokémon franchises endures.



Pokemon Red screenshot


The most recent handheld was the Nintendo 3DS, which features touch screen control and 3D graphics; technology only dreamed of in 1989. Nintendo has struggled in recent years to keep up with competitors, and sales of the 3DS and the latest home console the WiiU have been under expectations. I am a loyal Nintendo fan, owning every handheld console since the Game Boy Colour, but I can see why they are having problems. Personally I love the 3DS, but I can understand that the novelty of handheld gaming which was so successful in 1989 is being overshadowed by mobile gaming. Anyone with a smartphone can now play games on-the-go without the need to buy an expensive separate console; the face of the videogame industry has changed drastically from 1989. However this is not the place to overly lament Nintendo’s plight, but to celebrate the 25th birthday of the Game Boy. No matter where Nintendo stand now, they have historically been an incredibly successful and innovative company. So happy birthday Game Boy, thanks for the hours I spent as a kid and still as an adult trying to save the princess and catch em’ all!



Nintendo 3DS, released in 2011

25 years ago today


April 9th 1492: Medici dies


Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449 – 1492)


On this day in 1492 the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, died aged 43. The Medici family had run the largest Florentine bank, the Medici Bank, for some time, but eventually came to rule the republic itself. Lorenzo de’ Medici was one of the central figures of the Italian Renaissance as a leading statesman from Florence, a city which was the hub of the cultural movement. A primary legacy of the Renaissance is its astounding art, and Medici was well-known in Florence for making considerable contributions to the art world. The famed artist Leonardo da Vinci even held a place in the Medici court, and Michelangelo was a family friend.



Tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici in Sagrestia Nuova, San Lorenzo, Florence (source: http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/m/michelan/1sculptu/medici/index.html)


However Lorenzo did not rule unopposed: he faced challenges in Florence, from the Pazzi familly; from the Vatican, who excommunicated Lorenzo; and from the King of Naples who went to war with Florence. When Medici died, Florence mourned their leader, and eventually the fragile peace he had established with fellow city states fell apart. I must admit, once again my knowledge of Renaissance Florence comes primarily from playing the Assassin’s Creed games, in which Lorenzo de’ Medici is a central character. Clearly, some artistic liberties are taken with certain characters (especially the Borgias), which I have written about before. However I would still recommend these games, especially Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood. As you roam around the Italian countryside and cities killing Templars, you can read about the locations and characters in their historical context. Then at least you can feel you’re doing something educational while playing videogames!

March 12th 1507: Cesare Borgia dies


Cesare Borgia (1475 – 1507)

On this day in 1507, the Italian nobleman Cesare Borgia died aged 31. His parents were Rodrigo Borgia (who went on to become Pope Alexander VI 1492) and his mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei. Cesare’s siblings were Lucrezia, Giovanni and Gioffre. Due to his high birth and rank Cesare Borgia held multiple prominent positions throughout his life, including positions as Duke of Valentinois, Vatican cardinal, and general of the church’s armies. Often portrayed as a vicious man notorious for womanising and cruelty, Borgia was hungry for power and had numerous people assassinated to secure his position.



Pope Alexander VI (1431 – 1503)


After his father’s death he lost the protection of the Vatican and was arrested for refusing to cooperate with the new Pope. Spending some years evading papal forces, Borgia was eventually killed trying to storm a castle in Viana, Spain. Cesare Borgia features heavily in Niccolò Machiavelli’s famous 1532 work ‘The Prince’ which discusses the nature of political power. Machiavelli admired Borgia, and in ‘The Prince’ advised politicians to follow his example. Perhaps due to this infamy, Cesare Borgia has been a popular figure in fiction. He is one of the characters of the TV series ‘The Borgias’ and is one of the main antagonists of the videogame ‘Assassin’s Creed II’. I have to admit that I first came across the Borgias through playing the latter. As a history nerd, that game remains one of my favourites. Aside from the amazing gameplay, you genuinely do learn things about the period of the Italian Renaissance. Of course you have to take these things with a pinch of salt – I highly doubt the real Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI, was a Templar who found the magical Apple of Eden and wielded it on a staff on a rampage in the Sistine Chapel. However I would still recommend these games to history fans – Cesare Borgia is featured heavily in all his evil glory.

“Here lies in little earth one who was feared by all, who held peace and war in his hand”
– inscription on Borgia’s tomb in Viana (which has since been demolished and his remains moved by bishops who were horrified by his sins)

November 29th 1972: Pong released


On this day in 1972, the game Pong was released by Atari Incorporated, and went on to become the first commercially successful video game. Pong is one of the earliest arcade video games. The aim is to defeat the opponent in a simulated table tennis game. After its release, other companies began trying to make similar games, forcing Atari and other companies to innovate. Thus the video game industry was born. The video game industry is now one of the most profitable industries in the world is still on the rise. The release of Pong should therefore be considered an important milestone for the entertainment industry.