A photo of a family huddled around a Game Boy from 1989 has been circulating the internet for more than a decade as a meme known as ‘Game Boy Mom.’ Now a YouTuber has discovered that the family hails from Prince Albert, Sask.
U.S. YouTuber set out to find the story behind a meme
Samanda Brace · CBC News
A photo of a family huddled around a Game Boy from 1989 has been circulating the internet for more than a decade as a meme known as ‘Game Boy Mom.’ Now a YouTuber has discovered that the family hails from Prince Albert, Sask., about 130 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
“We couldn’t be more proud that [the YouTuber] really put justice to our memory,” said Scott Wolford. He’s one of the now-grown children pictured in the image, which captures the nostalgia of a mom playing Super Mario Land on a Nintendo Game Boy, surrounded by children.
“[It was] just an innocent, ‘here’s my mom and a cute photo,’ and it blew up, like millions of views in a matter of weeks, and we just didn’t expect that,” said Wolford.
“We knew it was popular. Just no one really knew who we were.”
That changed this week when American YouTuber Sakura Stardust posted the story behind the photo. She was able to trace the image back to the 2012 Reddit post where Wolford originally shared the photo. Stardust said people have described the meme as a Norman Rockwell or Renaissance painting.
“Mom in general loved spending lots of time with her kids and Nintendo happened to be one of those things. She was our best player for Super Mario Land,” said Wolford in the video.
Watch Sakura Stardust’s video here:
Story behind the photo
Stardust revealed that the ‘Game Boy Mom’ was Debra Tooley, a mother of four who loves horses, designs cakes and was the only one who could beat a particularly hard level in Super Mario Land for Wolford, his sister Jenna, and his cousins Dean and Dustin Millis.
“They’d bring it over to me and say, ‘OK, Auntie Debbie or Mom, get us past this level,” said Tooley.
“They were watching to see how I did it so they could recreate that.… There were lots of times that day where they’d bring it to me to get past it, but eventually they figured it out.”
Tooley said the shot was taken by her sister, Janet, who had a good eye for taking photos.
“It wasn’t until Sakura and Scott sort of got together on this project that I realized how popular it was…. It’s like all over the world in other languages and stuff. So it just blew me away,” said Tooley.
Power of nostalgia
In the video, Wolford lifted the curtain about the beloved ‘Game Boy Mom’ and described how proud he was of her.
“Mom is such a kind and gentle soul. She is so intelligent and extremely talented. We are really proud of who she is and she inspires her children and grandchildren every day. The world is a better place with her here,” said Wolford.
Watching the video, Tooley said she was blown away by hearing how her son saw her. As a single parent to four children, she said she had moments of doubt as her children grew up about how much she was able to give to them.
Listen to Wolford and Tooley being interviewed on the Morning Edition by host Stefani Langenegger:
The Morning Edition – Sask10:53‘GameBoy Mom’ photo traced to Saskatchewan after more than a decade of memes
Featured VideoA photo from 1989 has been shared and reshared across the internet, becoming a meme and spawning fan art. A YouTuber set out to find the woman known as GameBoy Mom on Reddit. Turns out, she’s from Saskatchewan. We meet her and her son.
“But it is really humbling and heartwarming to hear that they can remember the good things and put aside your mistakes and the things that you could have done better,” she said.
“So yeah, it gets me very emotional.”
The family is now trying to recreate the photo as adults. Wolford said trying to get the cousins and siblings together isn’t an easy task, as they live all over the country.
He is raising money through a GoFundMe and merch of the meme to reunite his family, and use the power of nostalgia to donate money to a Children’s Wish Foundation.
In the meantime, they are enjoying seeing their story brought to life by an American YouTuber. Both Tooley and Wolford said the finished video brought them to tears, as it reflected their love for each other but also the love people had for their photo and the memories it evoked for them playing games with their own families.
“When they say a picture speaks 1,000 words, this one really does,” said Wolford.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samanda Brace (she/her) is a Current Affairs Associate Producer where she gathers stories mainly for CBC radio’s The Morning Edition. She has been with CBC Saskatchewan since 2014.