What the heck's a Game Dad?

A cheap little handheld games console that plays every game you grew up with and all the ones you never got the chance to play. It has a proper D-pad and buttons and a good bright screen, and sometimes it has one or two analog joysticks as well.

It fits in your pocket and its whole job is playing videogames, that's it. Because its whole job is videogames, it'll never pester you about updates or interrupt you to give you another thing to look at. It costs about $60, or a little bit less if you're patient, or some more if you want a fancier one.

When you have some time to wait and nothing to do, you can pull this out, turn it on, choose a game and play it, and it'll play exactly like it did when you were playing the real cartridge or disc. When you're interrupted, you can press a button that'll save the exact state of the game for you to pick it up later, even if the game in question didn't originally let you do that. When you're done, you can turn it off - all the way off - and put it back in your pocket.

Here's my Game Dad. It's an Anbernic RG353V. This is a fancy one, which costs about $120; you can pay about $140 and get one tomorrow, or you can pay about $70 if you're patient and check for secondhand ones. It has two analog sticks, so it can play PlayStation games really nicely. It's also great at playing classic PC games that have been modified to work well with its controls; its screen is bright enough that I can play Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 in my hammock on a sunny day. It has a HDMI port at the top, so I can plug it into the TV and play Resident Evil 2 on the big screen, and a USB port so I can use a more appropriate PlayStation controller while this thing is plugged in. Then I can unplug all that stuff and play the same save file while I'm waiting for the dentist. It even has Bluetooth and wifi.

Here's my daughter's Game Dad, which she calls her Game Gem because it's translucent purple. This one is an Anbernic RG35XX. It doesn't have the analog sticks, nor the Bluetooth or wifi. Its CPU isn't quite as powerful, so it's not great for N64 or PlayStation games, or PC ports. But these are only $60 brand new, and for every other console before those I just mentioned, its performance is identical to my fancier Game Dad which cost twice the money. The screen is just as good, the battery still lasts all day, and its D-pad and buttons work just as well as they do on mine.

Here's my spouse's Game Dad. It's the same as mine, but we use them for different games.

We all happened to get Anbernic machines, but this isn't a company-specific fanboy site; there are lots of companies making similar things, and some are even cheaper.

I started this website because these little machines have brought this house enjoyment far in excess of what they cost, and they've given me all sorts of things to think about. They're constantly bringing up new ideas, about the world in which they work as much as the Game Dads themselves, and I thought I'd write out some of these ideas and put them up here in case you might find them useful.

The first thing I want to tell you is that my RG353V became a Game Dad the first time I referred to it out loud - I hadn't even opened the package yet, I just said "My RG353V's here!" but when I got to "G" I knew that this sentence was going to taste bad. My spouse let me say the whole thing, and watched me wrinkle my nose at the horror of what I'd just said - immediately, and to my great relief, she labelled it the Game Dad, and that stuck so well that I registered this web address.

Defining a Game Dad

A Game Dad is any cheap, pocketable game console intended or used primarily or exclusively for emulation or homebrew games.

Things that are definitely and obviously Game Dads: A Miyoo Mini is a Game Dad. An Anbernic RG405 is a Game Dad. A Retroid Pocket is a Game Dad.

Grey areas: A hacked PSP can become a Game Dad. An unmodified Game Boy isn't a Game Dad because it's already a Game Boy, but you can get flash carts and run indie games from itch.io on them, so they've got some Dad Credentials. A PlayDate isn't a Game Dad, but it's certainly Game Dad Adjacent, and welcome to hang out and call itself a Crank Dad if it wants to.

Not Dad: A Steam Deck is too big and expensive to be a Game Dad, even though it can be used for the same things that a Game Dad is used for. A computer isn't a Game Dad, because it can't fit in your pocket. A phone is never a Game Dad, because Game Dads are machines of unalloyed distraction-free joy, and phones are horrible mithering little pesterboxes.

About this site

There are loads of websites that review various Game Dad and Game Dad Adjacent devices, and give guides on how to install custom operating systems or whatnot; I don't want to do that, because it's already been done better than I could. I wanted to concentrate more on how the Game Dad fits into your life and affects the other stuff around it; Game Dad versus surveillance capitalism and exploitative technology, Game Dad as family bonding machine, Game Dad as avenue for indie game exploration.

On a minor technical note, as of 2024 this site will focus on Game Dads that can't emulate PlayStation 2 or more complex systems - right now these machines exist, but they're still too expensive to have the ZX-Spectrum-like Sheer Cheapness Power of the Game Dad. This might change within the next few years, and that'd be great 'cause I wanna play Resi 4 in my hammock.

Folk who don't have a Game Dad might want to check out the Getting Started page. If you've ordered one already and you're waiting for it to get here, check out the Game Dad Meta page, which honestly is the reason I started this site. Once you're done fiddling around with curating your game collection and fussing with the settings, you might want to check out some game recommendations, because that's why you bought one of these in the first place, right?

I'll update this site whenever I have something new to say about the Game Dad; new stuff will be featured on the What's New page. I'm not holding myself to any kind of schedule, and I expect to be fairly lazy about this, so check back a couple times a year maybe.