We’re mid-way through Hanukkah.
The middle point of anything is often time to think about what’s happened so far and what’s still to come. As the parent of a six year old boy and a nine year old girl, I’m using this interlude to reflect on the state of today’s toys.
I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but do toys today just really suck? They do right? Is it just me? I’m not saying all of the toys of my generation were better (well most were…). Yet, unlike my Milton Bradley StarBird Avenger, I cannot imagine my son’s fourth night gift - The Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves - fetching multiple times its original sales price on eBay in years to come.
Granted, the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves was relatively inexpensive. Yet, like so many things today, it feels laughably disposable. It will enjoy a ridiculously short lifespan. So short, that the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves is already a few steps away from the cabinet where all of my son’s toys (or pieces of toys) go to die. That cabinet contains so many bits and fragments of formerly must have gifts that it could be the setting of an epic Director’s Cut version of Toy Story.
Please indulge me for a moment to use this blog to recap what’s really rotten in the state of toy land.
Appliance Like Design. While there is no shortage of Hot Wheels toys on the market, each seems to live in its own world. Break Through Crazy Curves does not feel at all similar to the Hot Wheels Super Spin Carwash my son received for his birthday. Or the Triple Track Twister he got as a gift from his aunt over Thanksgiving. It's almost as if they all come from different companies and meet for the first time on the shelves of Toys-R-Us. A logo is just about all they share. But I guess that is ok because I can't even find the Super Spin Carwash and Triple Track Twister anymore.
However, it's rare that I see my son and his friends integrate toys from different domains. When I was a child, my Britain's soldiers may have towered above the Corgi tank, but that didn't stop me from thinking they were both part of the same battle. A Playskool toy bus likely stood in for a hi-jacked troop transport. I knew they were from different worlds but they were fixtures in my universe of toys. What place does a scary looking Skylander have in the Hot Wheels world? We'll likely never know because of the next point.
Hyper accelerated entropy caused by too many pieces. Little more than a few minutes after assembly (or even during assembly), pieces begin to scatter and disintegrate causing rapid disinterest for the child. The worst offenders — toys with names that have more than two words - Littlelest Pet Shop, Barbie Dream House, Skylanders Trap Team, Star Wars figures. It pains me to say it, but versus the Kenner versions of the late 70s, today’s Star Wars figures are a scant few steps away from a Rube Goldberg contraption. Do kids need fully articulating arms and knees, removable weapons belts, and helmets with visors to truly feel the Force?
For me, losing Han Solo’s blaster was as Obi-Wan said, “a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” It taught me a lesson in how to take care of my things. Losing a blaster these days is like losing the straw to a juice box - there’s always another somewhere.
Instructions. If the box says the toy is for ages six years plus, it should be for ages six years plus. My father can fix anything but I don’t recall needing much of his help to put my toys together. My six year old doesn’t even attempt to build most things. And why should he? The sheer number of parts is overwhelming even for me. I needed a double scotch after working with the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves.
It’s not that the instructions are necessarily hard to follow. It’s more that the surfeit of pieces fit together so poorly (or not at all) that I wonder whether I am doing things right. I would love to just be called when there is a need for batteries.
Longevity. I definitely sound like the curmudgeon here, but they just don’t build toys like they used to. The stomach sinking site of whitish plastic that I have bent too far or pushed too hard is routine. To the environmentalists out there, do not worry about today’s toys. They have already begun breaking down before they even hit the landfills.
Decals. Every toy comes with decals now. And lots of them. Growing up, I viewed decals with a sense of dread and awe. I wanted to apply them PERFECTLY. Often, I did not even want to use them at all as if the act of doing so would take away the newness of the toy. For Legos especially, a decal locked a piece into a permanent role. Putting decals on was serious business.
Now, decals are just like another sheet of stickers from the party store. My son races to apply them with abandon giving little regard to how well they align with the edges of pieces. There are so many included that they are meaningless.
“Groundhog Day Syndrome” - Over 10 years of parenthood, I have assembled many toys. I have searched for, shoved, and manipulated my fair share of plastic. Yet somehow, no matter what I build, I feel like I’m building the same toy over and over again.
Whether it’s the Power Rangers Zord Vehicle or the Spider Man Spiral Blast Web Shooter, pieces seem indistinguishable from one another. Yet, they are not - that would make things too easy in the event of a lost piece.
I am not sure what the next few nights of Hanukah have in store for us. My wife did the shopping this year and some gifts came wrapped from my siblings. But I do know that I went for a ride with the kids this am and we had a great time. I wish I could say that about playing with the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves.
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