What is a Game Dad?

I refer you to the question in the title. It’s not GamerDad, or The Game Dad Blog, or Board Gamer Dad, or Video Gaming Dad, or the Youtube channel GameDad. It’s a GameDad, as opposed to a GameBoy.

A Game Dad is a frankly awesome idea! It’s any portable, pocket-sized game-playing device that has a focus on emulation. I myself would say it needs physical controls, not a touchscreen, to control well, but that’s not part of the “official” spec given by Dan over at gamedad.club. It looks like site owner Dan agrees with me to an extent.

Game Dad is not a brand name. No company yet calls their device a Game Dad, it’s more an adjective that you can apply to things. Two special cases: A Steam Deck is not a Game Dad because it’s not pocket-sized. A smartphone is not a Game Dad because it’s not dedicated to playing games. Game Dads shouldn’t be something you do work on, or will pester you while you play. Game Dads don’t host apps. Game Dads don’t try to feel you algorithmic bullshit. Most Game Dads, when you turn them off, they don’t go to sleep. They turn off.

The picture here, from the site’s header, might help to fix the idea in your head. Notice that unlike a Gameboy it has four buttons and dual analog sticks, but it otherwise looks a lot like a Gameboy.

Lots of companies make Game Dads, or Game Dad-adjacent devices, and you should be able to get a pretty good one for around $70. That will typically get you something capable of playing up to PS1-era games. N64 games are a little more challenging since its processor was weirder. But as the site says, the best Game Dad is the one that plays the games you want to play. Dan’s site is full of advice and opinions, and all of them are good. The one he has personally is an Anbernic RG353V/RG353VS. Both run Linux, but the V version also has an Android partition and a touchscreen, two features that Dan considers inessential to Gamular Dadiness, and lowers the price by $20 to about $78, but the more expensive one also has more RAM and built-in storage, if those things matter.

Please ignore that the page says that it “let you fondle admiringly,” the device is not emotionally needy.

At this moment a lot of the interest in retro gaming circles is in FPGA devices like the Analogue Pocket, which will be more expensive than this. This isn’t a device for complete cycle-accurate recreations, it’s for inexpensive, pretty-nice emulation for good-enough gaming fun.

By the way, Dan is on Mastodon as @ifixcoinops@retro.social. Yes, I’m still using Mastodon. You should too! I’m on Bluesky because I feel like I have to be, but I’m on Mastodon because I want to be.