Five Things I Personally Learned From Pictures of Old LCD Games

By Aaron Matteson in Five Things, Humor, Lists!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

Handheld LCD Games -- where the artful rendering of the game's title on the front of the machine is more entertaining than the actual game.
So the title of this post doesn't exactly have the "reach-through-your-monitor-and-slap-you-in-the-face" zing that comes with describing a universal experience.  We did learn things collectively from video games, and it's always a nostalgic and almost uplifting experience to explore the impression that gaming has left on all of us over the years.  You may mention the noise that occurs in The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past when a guard notices you (something like a fat coin purse being thrown into a shrub), and someone's face will light up.  Or you'll speak with disgust about that one Goldeneye multiplayer match when you were killed by a crouching Oddjob slapping you, and someone will groan in sympathy.  It's a wonderful affirmation: we are not alone.  The awe of being young and discovering gaming lives on in us as a community.

This article, however, is not about that sharing of a beautiful communal memory. This article is about my personal reactions to goofy LCD handheld games that I found images of on Google.

To be clear -- I have not played these games. I believe that from cursorily looking at these games I have learned much of what they can impart. And there are certainly things to be learned (and, indeed, fondly remembered) concerning this oft-overlooked form of video game.

Will you follow me down this road, oh reader?

1.) The instruments of war are horrific -- and yet compelling.



This game was later turned into a film titled "Das Boot."


This picture came up early in my search, and exemplifies a mainstay of LCD gaming: submarines. Something about the exploits of people under the sea working in cramped quarters and handling volatile ordnance really appeals to LCD game developers. Maybe they saw The Hunt for Red October at an impressionable time in their lives. Maybe it's some kind of Jungian inherited cultural memory involving the sinking of the Lusitania. Whatever it is, subs and basic handheld gaming are a match made in nautical warfare heaven.

Also: depth charges. I have very little conception of how these actually work in real life, but from the video games (many of them LCD games like the one pictured above) my understanding is that they are little exploding barrels you can toss underwater. I wonder how accurate that is.


2.) Games take different shapes depending on how they are viewed.


All the excitement of football without little things like color or actual moving objects.

If you're in an actual football game as a player, you have one experience of the sport. You know first-hand the tactics, the tension, the rush of it all. You feel the thud of human impact and you breathe the cold autumn air.

If you're watching the game on TV, it's another experience. You have the commentary of sportscasters to guide your understanding. You watch with an all-encompassing view of the field, seeing each feint and juke from the perspective of a mighty, football-loving hawk soaring above the stadium.

If you play a football LCD game, you are probably more focuses on avoiding other little blinking grey dudes who are coming at you. Many LCD games also focus on field goals, because that's simpler to depict than, say, trying to animate a shotgun-formation hail mary with a device that shows a half a frame a second.


3.) Packaging is important.



Robots! Action! Translucent black-and-white shit!

There are so many shooting trucks in this small space that it actually shattered my understanding of time as linear and retroactively exploded my five-year-old brain. The "Generation 2" note at the top is a nice touch as well, implying that these are the young, hip, loose cannon Transformers, not those lame old Generation 1 Transformers.


4.) Each part of a large family plays some role in the dynamic.



Hey! I know these guys!

While it's easy for me to disparage LCD games as simple, one-note distractions and nothing more, obviously they were important in their own right considering the long progression of handheld games to their current state. And here we even have a counter-narrative taking place: as opposed to the original Donkey Kong, which depicted Donkey Kong as a maiden-snatching monster, this Game & Watch title features Kong cruelly imprisoned by a -- what is that, a poacher with a bell? And his son DK, Jr. must free his dad from the evil humans. It's a nice turnabout, and undermines the argument that these games are purely mindless. The family that is gaming includes many different members, all of them important in some way or other.


5.) A handheld LCD game can give you nightmares.



Fear incarnate.

​Do some of you find this as disturbing as I do? I think it has to do with the fact that the hockey-masked assailant is choosing not to use a knife but instead to brutally barefoot-kick his victims to death.

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