The original Nintendo Game Boy was among the most popular electronic gizmos for several years running in the late 80s and early 90s, so naturally, there were a lot of accessories. Not all Game Boy accessories were given Nintendo’s explicit blessing, but the Work Boy was. This tiny mobile keyboard appeared briefly in gaming magazines after debuting at CES 1992. The device never launched, fading into obscurity as quickly as it appeared. Gaming history YouTuber Liam Robertson has gotten his hands on a Work Boy — possibly the last one in the world, and it’s working thanks to that giant Nintendo data leak from a few months back.
The Work Boy was a project from Source Research and Development and produced by Fabtek Inc with direct oversight from Nintendo. It consisted of a full QWERTY keyboard and a software suite to go with it. If the Work Boy had launched, it would have turned the gaming handheld into a rudimentary PDA with functions like currency conversion, an address book, a clock, and a calendar. Just as the device and its software were nearing completion, Nintendo announced its intention to drop the price of the Game Boy. Fabtek, worrying that people wouldn’t buy an accessory that was more expensive than the Game Boy itself, scrapped the project.
That might have been the end of it if not for a series of features in gaming magazines. Liam Robertson started investigating the history of the Work Boy 28 years after its debut. Since Fabtek decided to can the project, you can’t just go out and buy a Work Boy. Luckily, Fabtek founder Frank Ballouz had a prototype still in his possession, possibly the last extant Work Boy in the world.
Robertson was dismayed to learn that the Work Boy, which connected to the Game Boy via an integrated link cable, didn’t do anything when plugged in. As it turns out, there was a cartridge component that ran most of the Work Boy’s software. Without a copy of that, the accessory was forever dead. By happenstance, a massive Nintendo IP leak known as the Gigaleak happened just a few weeks after Robertson got his hands on the Work Boy, and hiding in the many gigabytes of Nintendo history was the Work Boy’s near-final software.
Robertson burned the Work Boy software (v8.87) into a reusable cart and plugged the device in — and it worked. You can see the Work Boy working in the video above. While the functionality is meager by today’s standards, it would have been incredible in the early 90s. Owners could have maintained databases and track other data with a (marginally) portable device. It even supported dialing phone numbers by playing dial tones into the receiver.
You can understand why the Work Boy got the ax — it was bulky, expensive, and the keyboard itself looked hard to use. It would be years before another handheld device would get this kind of functionality. But it would have been fun to see the Work Boy hit the market.