Lazy Luddite Log

28.2.10

Collections

During childhood my brother Lukas and I collected three different brands of toy. And while now we may regard them as collections to preserve carefully, back then they were very much toys for playing with. And another word for ‘imaginative play’ is storytelling. In this post I will consider how well the three different kinds of toys facilitated storytelling.

Legoland Space

The oldest toys we got into were the space-specialized Lego sets. In the 80s these toys lacked any prescribed story or character information. All you got was what was suggested by the toy designs themselves. As a result we had to invent a story all by ourselves and inspiration came from an entirely different source.

At the time we had some illustrated non-fiction books for children by the UK publishers Rigby-Usborne on every topic from dinosaurs to future predictions. In the books dedicated to the future there were some interesting images including mining the asteroids for minerals and pirate vessels attacking commercial spacecraft.

From these sorts of images we developed a story involving a Space Patrol versus a much smaller set of space criminals. Different colours of astronaut were designated different functions – white for technicians, red for military, yellow for miners. Our Lego was an exclusively indoor toy but there were plenty of ways of adapting furniture to imaginative ends. I cannot remember much of the storylines but I do remember that a big brown beanbag makes a fantastic asteroid!

Star Wars Action Figures

The original Star Wars movies blew our minds and likewise we got a thrill from getting Star Wars figures (I can even remember fondly the smell of fresh action-figures on my birthday). The interesting thing however is that we never used the Star Wars story in playing with those figures and I wonder why. The fact that our collection lacked key human characters may be a factor. The fact that the vehicles we had for them were generics rather than specific to Star Wars may have helped too. I also suspect that we felt that the story as described in the movies was too big and too complete for us to try and mess with (this never stopped the development of a huge non-canonical Star Wars universe that I now know exists).

What we did do was to imagine a remote and lush world on which several alien castaways were separately stranded. These heroes were played by Cantina Creatures (who always looked better in your imagination). Each had unique skills adapted to particular habitats. Greedo (who got to keep his original name) became amphibious and lived in the fish pond (in fact the toy sometimes stayed in there overnight). Walrus-Mon became Treetor who lived in a forest treehouse. Snaggletooth became a burrowing dweller of caverns. These and others banded together across the planet once it was invaded by a force of conquering marauders (played by assorted masked Imperial figures).

There was a kind of moral theme to this play – the side of good was diverse and possessed complimentary talents while the side of evil was regimented and uniform. These toys were robust so could be played with outdoors and every part of the yard corresponded to some part of that imagined planet. I think my fondest toy recollections are of these and the settings we made for them.

Transformers

Originally – even as a upper primary school kid – I felt that Transformers were a bit far-fetched and silly but then we saw the cartoon made to promote them and were hooked. Here was a fully developed set of characters and even the toy packages provided personality descriptions and vital statistics. In the cartoon we were presented with convenient episodic story-telling to which we could insert our own. There was a simplistic formula we could use over and over which included the following elements:

* Humans develop some new energy source that the evil Decepticons try to exploit and the Autobots have to stop them.

* Story starts with the accidental discovery of the Decepticon plan by a small group of Autobots who have to quickly get away to report to the others – exciting chase ensues.

* Autobots plan how they intend to thwart the Deception plan.

* There is a final confrontation between the massed forces of both sides. At this time some new or rarely employed characters come into play to help decide the final outcome.


It was a lot of fun but I think it lacked something compared with the older toys we played with. Too much of the storytelling work was done for us by the toy company. I now look on my Transformers as the best toys I have because of their clever design and novel appearance rather than because of the story they are supposed to tell.

And as nifty as they are I would never put them in a fishpond overnight – only Greedo is that cool!

Cross-posted here.

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1 Comments:

  • I'm copying and pasting comments to this same post from LiveJournal (complete with messy formatting text). See below...

    From: aeduna
    Date: March 3rd, 2010 01:53 pm (local)
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    I think we had all three of the Cantina Creatures figurines too. I think that they often got made into crossover adventures with the battlestar galactica toys to help break out of the problem with the Star Wars plots being pretty much set :)
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    From: originaluddite
    Date: March 3rd, 2010 03:46 pm (local)
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    Ah so you think that is a problem too. See I know there is all that Expanded Universe stuff but somehow even as a kid I was standoffish.

    As time went on we expanded the 'castaways' side with aliens that were _intended_ to be good by the makers - like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Numb. The group also had cool generic vehicles that I remember were packaged as for use with "Star Wars or GI Joe" action figures (given a similar size). One was an eight-wheel drive futuristic truck thing and another was a floating futuristic gun-boat.

    Battlestar Galactica! Talk about a blast from the past. I recently looked on YouTube at toy ads for those and also for Buck Rogers figures. Scary but fun to watch.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 09 May, 2017  

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