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I've looked all over the Internet to try to find an answer to this, but I can't. I want to know if removing a Nintendo Game Boy game while the console is powered on will do any damage, like rendering the cart and/or console unusable.

I don't think it will cause any damage, seeing as most games have volatile RAM and should go back to normal when inserted into the Game Boy again and powered on, but I'd like an actual source.

Also, I understand that with a standard Game Boy and game, removing the game while the console is on is impossible, due a plastic arm sliding over to cover the game when the power switch is moved. This is assuming I'm using another Game Boy product that doesn't have that feature, such as the Game Boy Color, or an original model modded to remove the arm.

  • Does corrupting save data by removing it while saving count? – Studoku Aug 2 '16 at 2:24
  • @Studoku Good question, but I think corrupted save data is kind of given when the cartridge is removed or the Game Boy (or any other console) is powered off. I'm looking more for an example of something in the cartridge (like the ROM) or something in the Game Boy (like RAM) being corrupted, even in a game with no save storage. – RedEagle2000 Aug 2 '16 at 2:33
  • @Studoku. To be fair, save data corruption can also happen if you turn off the console while the game is saving, even without removing the cartridge. – Nolonar Aug 2 '16 at 7:04
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What's up?

No, not beyond save data corruption.

In fact, the Game Boy's big brother console, the Nintendo 64 had games that planned on using live cart swapping as a feature, to link games (most famously with Banjo Kazooie/Banjo Tooie), but it was scrapped due to other concerns (essentially ram being too volatile for it to work reliably).

There is one caveat: Poorly designed cartridges could be knocked out of commission by corrupted save data alone.

Note also: All of this applies to the OG Game Boy, the Color, the Pocket, the Advance and consoles NES, SNES and N64. From DS onwards, the system is designed specifically to detect cartridge removal and handle it gracefully; and the GC/Wii (U) don't use cartridges anymore.


So... why?

The question is, of course, why do these systems tolerate this at all? The basic reason is that in straightforward terms: There's nothing there to damage. The consoles mentioned above are, in essence, just a circuit board with a processor on it, some ROM chips that provide libraries, some volatile RAM, I/O, and a power supply. There's no OS or persistent storage or really anything else. When a cartridge is plugged in, it's plugged into what essentially works as an expansion slot on this board, providing the bulk of the actual executable code in ROM, as well as anything else the cartridge might need (such as flash or battery RAM memory for save files).

Most of the systems have physical barriers to removing the cartridge (usually the power button engages a lever that inserts itself into a groove in the cartridge, preventing it from being removed (or inserted) while the power is on).

The first console Nintendo shipped without a physical barrier like this was the Game Boy Color, which allows a cartridge to be hot swapped; as far as I recall it detects this situation and gracefully shuts down when this happens. This is likely a feature that wasn't present in the earliest Game Boys or home consoles due to the physical barriers simply being easier to implement; but the proliferation of different-shaped Game Boy cartridges made the existing safeguards ineffectual or counter-productive, and the console was made to detect the situation and handle it instead.

In any case, the simplicity of design means that there's not really anything for pulling out a cartridge to damage in any meaningful way; which is a premium design feature in a product designed to be roughed around by kids.

  • Makes sense to me. Thanks. I think I'll even do it for myself, just for fun. – RedEagle2000 Aug 2 '16 at 15:21
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And to add to what Williham Totland said, a funny experiment showed up some time ago. The guy was hotswapping NES cartridges (mainly Tennins with Super Mario Bros). The thing is that the position of your character in Tennis would set the RAM to a certain state. Hotswapping the cartrdges would keep the RAM state and load it to Super Mario. Weird stuff ensues.

  • And some fun can be had with mis-seated carts; I thought about adding it, but the answer was getting long already. – Williham Totland Aug 2 '16 at 16:54
  • @WillihamTotland Yeah, just type "cartridge tilting" into YouTube. – RedEagle2000 Aug 2 '16 at 18:01

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