By John Marlowe
I keep hearing how bad shopping for Christmas toys is going to be this year. It seems the supply chain is backed up. Consider that a good thing. The reason toys are in short supply is not only because the toys can’t get here, it’s because kids really don’t want toys in the first place.
That’s right. Toys are obsolete. [sniff]I say this because I think toys have a specific definition: Toys are something children play “with.” Today’s toys are something children prefer to play “on” –– that’s as in: online, on Playstation, on the smart phone.
What happened to toys that required input from the child’s mind? We’ve replaced them with visual imagery originating in the minds of electronic game designers.
We’ve taken imagination out of toys.
Please don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of imagination in the electronic games industry. The problem I see is that the imagination is coming from the wrong place. Manufacturers are expanding their creativity and resourcefulness, while our children are just practicing rote memory skills in order to get to the next “level” of play.
To achieve celebrity status in electronic gaming, it is better to know where the best cache of weaponry is located in Call of Duty or how to create the best touchdown dance in Madden NFL ’21.
The long-term consequence of that is that we are creating a whole generation of children soldiers, who are marching to someone else’s drumbeat. Our military, in fact, actively recruits young people with expert electronic gaming skills, because our modern electronic weaponry requires many of the same skills learned while playing high-tech games.
Okay, maybe the world needs more people who can fire an electronic missile strike from Florida, and have it light up a bad guy in a far-away desert. We also need, I believe, more people who know how to critically think about whether that’s a good idea in the first place.
Under the guise of “leisure,” we are creating a whole subclass of electronic “laborers,” in a world that should rely more on people who can think through things on their own.
Santa’s workshop still has the ability to make toys that stimulate a child’s imagination. We just don’t ask for them. Santa is a businessman. He has to keep in mind what his customers want, otherwise he could be stuck with millions of red toy wagons, EZ Bake Ovens, and No. 13 gauge Slinky wire gathering dust in his North Pole storage unit.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe kids will find ways to cultivate their imaginations while still marching lockstep with other gaming drones.
My friend –– we’ll call her Jenny –– for instance, found a way to exercise her imagination as a child. For her entire childhood, Jenny got a new dolly from Santa every year for Christmas. They were cute, and chatty and cherubic. The problem is, my friend really wasn’t. As the only girl in a family of four, Jenny wanted to be a sharpshooter like her brothers.
Each time Christmas rolled around, she ended all of her letters to Santa with, “. . . and please, sir, stop bringing me a doll.” Nevertheless, without fail, a doll with Jenny’s name on it appeared under the tree. She was so upset, because it appeared that Santa wasn’t listening to her. Who likes to be ignored?
So along about her ninth Christmas, Jenny had a plan. She lined up her clan of dollies on the fence out back, and with her Daisy BB Gun, shot the heads off them all.
When Dad got home, and saw the kewpie carnage in the backyard, the message got through to Santa. Jenny never again received a doll for Christmas, although counseling made Santa’s list a few times.
The last two years have forced us to come together again as families. We’ve had to use our imaginations to create new workplaces, new schools, and new ways to entertain ourselves. It seems like now may be the perfect time to bring imagination back to the toys in our children’s play.
This supply chain shortage may be a gift in disguise. If something we asked for doesn’t arrive, maybe that’s our chance to cultivate our children’s imagination once more. And when we end our letters to Santa asking him to “bring surprises,” keeping our heads might just be one of them.
John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.
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