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Thinking About Toys

I’ve been thinking more about games than I have about toys recently, which I intend to remedy right now. Every Tuesday for the last seven weeks, I’ve sat in a room with twelve or so other people talking very seriously about what makes a good toy. I thought I remembered all my toys and knew for sure which were my favorites, but the conversation dredged up fond memories of toys I’d all but forgotten. My blue plastic Cinexin projector, for instance:

My other favorite toys included Magia Borrás, my Exin castle, my venerable STX 4X4 Scalextric, Lego Technic, Star Wars figures and vehicles, Transformers (especially Optimus Prime and a tank/plane triple changer whose name eludes me), and the contents of my toy bucket taken as a whole. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but those are the ones I remember playing with the most.

And they all share at least one of the following characteristics that set them apart from sucky toys:

  • They put you in control
  • They gave you a grown-up ability
  • They allowed you to hide or disguise yourself
  • They lent themselves to the invention of stories
  • They caused something to happen or move
  • They impressed or surprised your friends, mom, or other adults

Which is why, I think, there aren’t that many new toys. Sure, Toys R Us in Times Square is brimming with an amazing assortment of toys, but most of them are just repackaged, rebranded, carefully gendered versions of a dozen or so archetypal toys: the doll, the science/discovery toy, the vehicle, the teddy bear, the puzzle, the art/creative material, the noisemaker, the building block, the board game, the bicycle, the costume, the ball, the tent, the weapon, the “learning” toy, the miniature [insert adult locale or situation], and the videogame.

Which is also why I stuck close to a traditional toy when I started designing.

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