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Two TVs show players playing Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands while Venture Bros. plays on the top TV Photo: Ryan Gilliam/Polygon

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My living room still has 3 TVs, but I have regrets

Elden Ring gets a lot harder when Moon Knight is right there

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

A year ago I shocked the world with a deep truth: Two TVs in one room are better than one; and a third TV is better still. And I’m back for more. No, I’m not here to discuss the addition of a fourth TV to my living room (not yet, at least, dear reader). But I am here to share the truth of the three-TVs lifestyle — and how it has, at times, made me question my decision to do it at all.

While three television sets in a single room is clearly the next evolutionary step for our species, maybe humans aren’t ready for that kind of power just yet. Maybe, when Icarus flew too close to the sun, it wasn’t the wings of Daedalus that were flawed, but Icarus himself. (It was both.)

To catch you up, my wife and I have perfected the modern living room. In our home is a single entertainment center with two large TVs mounted on the wall next to each other, and a slightly smaller TV centered above and between them. The small TV is hooked up to a modest soundbar, and we have what feels like 3,000 remotes scattered around us at any time. Each of the TVs has a built-in Roku, and we typically use them like so: I play a game on my TV (the left), my wife plays a game on her TV (the right), and we watch a show or movie together (top). It’s the Triforce of living room entertainment.

The left TV shows Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the right TV shows The Witcher 3, the top TV shows Mike Birbiglia’s Thank God for Jokes Photo: Ryan Gilliam/Polygon

But living with this beautiful setup hasn’t always been perfect, and I’m humble enough to admit my mistakes. This is especially true in cases, like this one, where the error is in human attention spans, not my own design. I’ve defended myself from criticisms about how cacophonous my setup must be, or how annoying the remote situation is — all fair points, put out into the world by cowardly voices too afraid to embrace the TTTVVV lifestyle themselves. But it’s time to break bread with you on this, internet: Do we really need three TVs?

In the past two years, I’ve noticed my attention span waning. Sure, I’ve watched and rewatched many shows while playing and replaying games. And I’ve done it at a rate that’s far faster than average, as I’m always killing two birds with one stone. But I’ve often questioned how much I’ve been able to enjoy these shows that are on in the background, and I’ve definitely ridden off a cliff or two in Elden Ring because I was too engrossed in what was on the third TV.

Perhaps it’s age, or just the constant prattle of information from a million different sources, but at times I feel overloaded. I often enjoy the moments when I’m alone in the living room, and I can just put on a game and ingest its story without anything else going on. I can focus on a single thing for just a few hours and enjoy it as a whole piece, not something broken up and smashed together, like a kid getting a spritz of each kind of soda from the gas station fountain.

But this isn’t just a three-TV problem. I was looking at my phone while watching movies with my dad 15 years ago. I was Googling irrelevant nonsense that popped into my brain when I only had two TVs. I added multiple monitors for work and school years ago, all in the name of “productivity,” despite mostly using the second monitor to watch YouTube videos while I play Destiny. It’s an attention span issue, and not one that I invented. My setup is simply an extension of that mindset, and I’ve already begun to find ways to push back against it.

Over the past few months, I’ve started to evaluate which games and shows I really care about experiencing without distraction. When I’m playing a game for review, or I’m just interested in its story, I won’t also watch something on the top TV. If my wife is playing a game on the other TV, she might put in headphones and listen to a podcast. Or I’ll play a less brain-intensive game while we watch a show together, eventually swapping to something I actually want to focus on once I’m alone.

The left TV is blank. The right TV shows Elden Ring while the top TV shows Moon Knight Photo: Ryan Gilliam/Polygon

I’ll pair playing old games with watching new shows, or I’ll rewatch a show I can quote every episode of while playing something new. When I can, I’ll watch an anticipated movie in the theater to force myself not to look at my phone, like an asshole, or give running commentary out loud, also like an asshole. I watched Moon Knight without playing anything in the background — just me, Oscar Isaac, and IMDb open on my phone, as God intended. And I had a great time. But I also watched every episode of Hell’s Kitchen last year while replaying Breath of the Wild and watching my wife play The Witcher 3 for the 50th time. Both of those experiences are beautiful to me. One isn’t possible without multiple TVs, but both are possible with my setup.

When I told my wife how much I enjoyed watching Moon Knight without distraction, I shared that sometimes I wondered if three TVs was the way to go. “Yeah, but it’s awesome, and you know it,” she told me. And she’s right. I don’t need a more modest setup; I just need to be adaptable with how much of the setup I’m using. We’re all distracted by something, and that’s OK. There’s no right or wrong way to absorb media that you care about. I can insist that you have to keep your eyes glued to the screen while watching The Shining, one of my favorites, but if you enjoyed watching it in the background, what’s the difference? This isn’t school; there won’t be a test following the screening.

Icarus is burning even with the right set of wings. What could’ve saved Icarus — and what can save all of us — is the self-control to moderate our own ambition.