Toys have been around for as long as parents needed a way to distract and entertain their kids. From the bone toys of the Native Americans, to the wooden toys of the Colonists, to the action figures of today; their meanings have not changed, just the complexity, maybe.When teaching at the museum, one of the segments that gets the most cheers is playing with toys or a game. Sure dressing up in colonial garb, or going rowing our dugout canoe is fun for students, but they love the toys.
The toys are nothing special, they are very simple; a wooden ball & cup, a spinning wooden whirligig, or Jacob’s Ladder. Students from first to eighth grade run around the room wanting to try all three toys, trading off to get one they have not tried or holding on to their favorite. When time is up and I ask who will trade their toys today for one of these, I am always surprised how many offer up their Playstation or Xbox. The toys are so simple, the same movements over and over, and then it hit me!
These repetitive motions aren’t so old fashion- so was Super Mario Bros when I was a kid. I would sit and hit the same button over and over to try to get to the castle to not save Princess Peach, she was always in another castle ultimately extending the game. I would play Mario, Zelda, Kung Fu, and Punch Out for hours at a time, getting better at jumping and beating the enemies on the screen with time and practice. Toys, like the ball & cup or the ring & pin, were made to teach kids patience, and in a way so did those early video games. In fact, the ring an pin game, made from deer bones, is one that took me almost a year to get consistently better at it. If not for the receptive practice on my old Nintendo, I might not have the drive to get better at the bone toy.
It’s not just the actions of the toys that have carried through to modern times, so have the materials. I am always surprised to see how many “old timey toys” are still out on the market today. When I visit the New York Toy Fair in February, I am surprised how many toys are still simple. Sure there are toys that light up and spin around, but wooden toys are still being made today. There are whole sections of the event that are full wooden toys, cloth dolls, and card based games. In fact one of the biggest surprises this year is that DC Collectibles are going back to simple wooden block toys. They are introducing a new line of action figures made of simple painted wooden pieces. These action figures are very cool and easily made giving them that old time look, with modern characters.
After looking at the modern toys and the old toys we have the museum, I wonder how much have toys and games really changed over the years?