Liam Robertson, a video game historian, has created a new video about the Game Boy WorkBoy for the Game History Secrets series. In the video, which is hosted on Did You Know Gaming’s YouTube channel, Robertson details the history of the device and his attempts to get his months-long quest to locate one. In a tweet, Robertson described the video as his “strange labour of love.”
WorkBoy, like the Game Boy Camera or the Game Boy Pocket Sonar, is one of many pragmatically-geared accessories to accompany Nintendo’s Game Boy. Over the years, these accessories and add-ons for the popular handheld have grown in obscurity, but WorkBoy has proven to be one of the more difficult items to track down as it has “consistently eluded collectors around the world,” for nearly thirty years, according to Robertson.
WorkBoy is an officially licensed Nintendo product created by Fabtek that functions like a small personal computer thanks to a suite of PDA-style applications that included things like a clock, an appointment book, and a calendar. In terms of design, it is essentially a keyboard that doubles as a stand for a connected Game Boy.
Frank Ballouz, one of the initial founders of Fabtek, explained why the device is so rare during an interview in which he showcases his personal WorkBoy. His WorkBoy, which he believes it to be the last one left, is a prototype that he held onto as a keepsake when the WorkBoy project came to an end. Ballouz did not have a Game Boy, so he sent it to Robertson to use.
Robertson plugged the device into a Game Boy, mirroring the way it was shown to function in older videos, but it didn’t seem to work. Robertson soon learned that WorkBoy required a game cartridge to function, which was not a fact he had encountered in any of his research up to that point. A massive breach of Nintendo Data occurred earlier in 2020, though, and it seemed possible to Robertson that the requisite software could have been among the files discovered in the leak.
His theory proved correct, although he had mixed results running an 8.87 build of the software via emulator, because the software was built to the specific qualities of the WorkBoy which contains an internal clock and memory. Once Robertson wrote the leaked software to a blank cartridge, though, everything appeared to function as intended.
WorkBoy’s applications are simple in appearance, but their existence is novel. Nintendo has long since moved past WorkBoy, and many of the features offered by the old add-on are commonplace on Nintendo hardware today. The company has also established a history of producing novel hardware to accompany its products.