Unused Lincoln Logs are strewn across the carpet looking as if the homesteaders who had recently finished this cabin were at a loss for what to do with the additional lumber. The pioneers, a 12″ GI Joe and a Dali-like Mrs. Potatohead survey the land. They tower above their log cabin. A lilliputian structure in no way able to accommodate these giants. No matter. Together, the couple look at their Tinker Toy silo some inches away and begin to make plans for the land. But GI Joe knows they must also think about Indian attacks and cold winters and runs to town, Ma. However, these thoughts are cut short as Evel Knievel, astride his trademark red, white and blue motorcycle, careens through the idyllic scene, knocking over the silo and crashing into the recently finished log cabin. The idyll shattered, GI Joe helps Mrs. Potatohead look for a lost eye. Ahhhh, Christmas.
The preceding scene was just one of hundreds, nay, thousands played out at one time or another when I was growing up. Interactive activities meant building structures from Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys or Legos or all three combined. Worlds were constructed, destroyed, re-imagined, rebuilt. Inhabitants were, more often than not, mostly male – Y-chromosome Land, Testosterone Town – GI Joes, Big Jim, Stretch Armstrong, Evel Knievel, green army men. Knights, cowboys, astronauts. And like an Elizabethan play (long before I knew anything about Shakespeare or Marlowe or Elizabethan), some male figures would assume a female role – princess, damsel in distress, cowgirl. This was imagination at work.
In the dark ages before ::gasp:: the Internet.
Now, it seems, that every toy on the market has some sort of Web site interaction. Come here and pick your avatar! Interact with other avatars! Come and start your on-line adventure! Um…but doesn’t that mean the toy I just unwrapped sits on the floor doing nothing? Who cares? Come see this awesome multimedia marketing interactive devoid of imagination site we set up just for you [insert name here]. Your parents didn’t by those toys for you to actually create something – that would be silly. They bought the toy for the code so you could build something in our virtual world. Virtual play FTW! Imagination PWNED.
Call me old-fashioned (or just get me an Old Fashioned) or fuddy-duddy or whatever, but I thought the purpose of toys was supposed to inspire imagination not direct you to a Web site to engage in play with your mouse and keyboard. My son’s play, as anachronistic as it might be with dinosaurs attacking far larger Buzz Lightyear action figures and Transformers, appears (at least to me) to be far more engaging than sitting slack-jawed in front of a computer while his toys languish around him. But then again, I sit slack-jawed in front of a computer all day long. What do I know?