I Miss Television Sets With Character

Total RecallTotal RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

I can describe the television sets I gamed on as a child in intimate detail — the texture of the dials, the dusty ventilation holes, the faded wood paneling. The past three televisions I've had in my living room? A series of increasingly larger black rectangles.

There was a time, not too long ago, when the television sets had character. We weren't just playing The Legend of Zelda. We were playing The Legend of Zelda on a battered RCA with a bent coat hangar sticking out the top, or a screen encased in a piece of wooden furniture in the living room.


My last television-with-character was a 32-inch pre-flat-screen HDTV I purchased for $300 at Walmart. It had no box or remote. There was a giant gash in the plastic housing on the left side. Also, it weighed about 900 pounds. Someone in my family still owns it. They have to. None of them could physically move it.

That poor excuse for an HDTV saw me through the launch of the Xbox 360. It's 4:3 display ratio meant massive black bars on the top and bottom of the screen if I wanted to be all fancy and high-def. That's how I played Geometry Wars for the first time. It's how I played Kameo and King Kong and Gun. It's how I watched my first HD-DVD movies.

It wasn't a year later that massive bastard retired to the bedroom, replaced with a 42-inch Westinghouse LCD television. It was silver or black — possibly both — and had a "W" logo at the bottom. I don't remember where the controls were positioned. I couldn't tell you how many ports it had in the back. It was a rectangle that displayed images, nothing more.

It's been like that ever since. That television was stolen a few years back. I replaced it with... something? I know we replaced it. Then we sold the replacement for money to purchase a bigger Westinghouse — I know this because there's a "W" on the black rectangle hanging in my office. The one in the living room is an LG. I know this because I found the remote while cleaning this morning.


They're like human heads without faces. It's depressing.

I bring this up because during the holiday weekend, after passing up an endless array of black rectangles at ridiculous prices, I happened upon an Amazon listing for Seiki's retro-inspired 22-inch LED television. Not the best brand out there, certainly not the largest size I could get, but just look at it.


It's got curves. It's got dials and knobs that actually function. The one on the side? Volume control. The speakers look like whiskers or something. The whole thing is giving me a very Jetson's vibe.


It's just a 21.5-inch diagonal flat panel inside a plastic housing, yes. It might not have the best screen (though it's quite nice) or the greatest sound (much better than I expected), but it's not just a black rectangle.


And when I look back on playing Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, I won't just remember playing a really bad Sonic the Hedgehog game — I'll remember playing a really bad Sonic the Hedgehog game on the whiskered red rocket television with the silvered knobs. It's part of the experience, rather than a passive object.

I don't need my televisions to be quite this extreme, but I need something. Clever buttons or knobs. A distinctive finish or color scheme. Make it pink. I'm down with pink.


I'm done with buying black rectangles. When the LG in the living room goes, its place will be taken by something special. Something my children can look back on in a couple of details and remember exactly the games they played on it. A television with character.

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