I spent about an hour at Toys R’ Us last weekend, picking up an early Christmas gift for dear old mom (seriously) and just wandering the isle of what was my most favorite store when I was a kid. Toys seem pretty much the same, though the names, brands, and amount of technology that goes into them has changed. However, there are some toys that have pretty much remained unchanged over time, and I’m not talking about those franchises like Transformers, G.I. Joe, and certain equines that never seem to go away. I’m talking about toys that have literally been around since kids were invented.
In certain versions of the Achilles myth, his mother disguises him as a girl in order to keep him from becoming involved in the Trojan War, but his identity is revealed when he instinctively picks up a spear and shield Odysseus had cleverly placed amongst women’s apparel and jewelry while disguised as a merchant. So is the instinct to play with weapons so deeply ingrained in male children, that to this day, they are still some of the most popular toys for children.
All manner of weapons are still playthings, but guns are the most current, and I don’t know a guy who didn’t “play guns” as a kid. The “enemies” change over time and social climate, but the game is the same; shoot the crap out of “bad guys”. The guns didn’t even have to be guns, either. I’m guilty of using everything from actual toy guns to a gun-shaped stick in my youth, and so are quite a few people I’ve talked to.
There are a million varieties of toy guns out there; cowboy guns, laser guns, realistic guns, cap guns, ridiculous noise guns, movie-based guns, Laser Tag variants, Airsoft guns, and Nerf guns, to name a few. Kids play with all of them.
Maybe it was a way to teach youngsters about the animals that would play a part in their lives as adults, or maybe it is just our natural fascination with what lived around us, but toy critters were probably one of the first things to be carved out of a block of wood and given to kids. Now there is such a variety of toy animals in so many different forms it boggles the mind. From stiff, plastic farm animals and squeaky octopuses (correct), to crazy mechanical creatures, the menagerie is endless.
A sub class to this is Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs have some sort of mystical quality to them; they’re huge, scary lizards, and they were real.
As far as we know.
I’ve seen a lot of dinosaur toys come and go. I loved dinosaurs as a kid. Dino-Riders was probably one of my favorite, and as you can see from the picture above, it looks like the franchise was re-invented, in a kinder, gentler way. More power claws, fewer missile pods, but the concept is pretty similar if you ask me.
No toy is more iconic than the ol’ basic building block. Most early toys were created to help children learn valuable skills, and building things using the most basic of shapes was, and still is, a pretty valuable skill. In some versions, letters are added to promote alphabet learning, and some block sets use more diverse shapes and colors, but not much has changed with the block.
Perhaps the most significant change are the more complex block toys that have come out over the years, such as Lego and Mega Blocks. As complicated as these franchises may get, they still owe their beginnings to those square blocks that “stuck” together.
Since the invention of the wheel, toy vehicles have been ever popular. Perhaps not in such a fashion as the current toy car scene, but like the other toys mentioned above, toy vehicles may have been an introduction to important tools later in life. I think toy cars still are an important introduction to important tools later in life, tools that will be a huge, but necessary, annoyance the entirety of a lifetime.
This fact that cars are a pain in the butt doesn’t quash our absolute obsession, though, and grown men, alongside children, love collecting the toy versions.
A long time ago it was okay to think a woman’s purpose in life was to take care of children (including the adult ones). While it might be uncouth and pretty sexist to think this now, it was pretty much the reality until about 100 years ago. A popular toy for girls, dolls, were meant to get little girls ready for a lifetime of taking care of other little people, though an argument can be made they were for companionship too. Dolls today pretty much do the same thing, except they are more realistic. I can’t imagine how much fun it can be to change a pretend baby’s pretend poopy diaper, but apparently it is pretty darn exciting judging by the amount of pooping and peeing dolls that have come out over the years.
I suppose action figures could be a variant of dolls. While little girls were learning how to take care of the babies in their future, little boys were making little guys fight battles that would probably be a part of their future. The modern action figure is way more complicated than the tin soldier of old, but even the simple toy soldier lives on. I think I’ve even seen ninja versions.