As we enter the final quarter of the year, the thoughts of many turn towards Christmas, and the annual quandary of what gifts to get for our loved ones.
For parents of young children, the run up can be a nightmare, as the sheer range of toys, games and gizmos is enough to make the head spin like a Spirograph cog, and the eyes cross like engaged light sabres. And, if you get to the store only to find that this year’s must have toy is sold out, then you head home feeling like Buckaroo has kicked you in the guts.
While momentarily dazzled by the lights and colours of the local store’s toy department, some parents, particularly fathers, submit to a moment of nostalgia, and they buy a toy or game they had as a child.
The mental image of father and son playing on this relic from the past with good-natured competitiveness and roars of laughter, convinces the father that hours of fun lie ahead. Sadly, this is not always the case.
Of course, some games have stood the test of time very well, and are perfect for reliving those childhood memories; Frustration, Mouse Trap and Twister, for example, are all as popular today as they have ever been.
But some games have not fared so well in the march of time and their age shows. In particular I am referring to sporting games such as mechanical golf, table football and racing track sets, all of which may have been great fun back in the day, but which cannot compete with the far more realistic thrills that are to be had on the latest game for the Playbox 3000 console.
I have personal experience of a nostalgia influenced purchase not living up to expectations, but, before I tell you about that, let us rewind to my own childhood for the original game.
My older brother had a magnetic football game, in which plastic players, each with a flat magnet in the base, were moved about the pitch via rods underneath, with a magnet of opposite polarity on the end. My dad sometimes held knockout competitions, drawing names from a hat, and offering a small prize for the eventual winner.
Surprised and delighted
Quite a few Christmases later, and with young sons of my own, I was doing my usual last minute panic shopping in the local department store, when I was surprised and delighted to discover magnetic football sets on sale.
Memories of those knockout tournaments from my childhood conjured up images of great family entertainment, and I envisaged contests being fought out on the dining room table. I had no hesitation in taking one to the checkout, and handing over £16.99.
We had a game or two on Christmas morning. It wasn’t quite the fun I remembered it to be, but that was probably because I had grown up. Anyway I had bought it for the kids not myself, and they would love it.
Well, they liked it, but it was soon put to one side, spurned in favour of something that buzzed and flashed. Still, you know how it is on Christmas morning, with the excitement and so many presents to be tried out.
A few days later I was passing my son’s bedroom and I heard uproarious laughter coming from within. The door was ajar so I poked my head around to see what was causing such hilarity. My son and his friend were sitting on the bedroom floor with the magnetic football set up, and this was the cause of their laughter.
They weren’t playing football though, they had discovered that a good whack of the board from underneath with the control rod would cause the players to shoot high into the air. Over and over they did it, going into fits of laughter with each take-off. I silently withdrew.
I don’t think the game ever saw the light of day again; I certainly never suggested bringing it out. After all, players dribbling the ball around the board would seem pretty tame in comparison to them being launched into space. Magnetic football just couldn’t compete with magnetic high-jumping.
So I would advise caution if you find yourself being lured by the siren of nostalgia this Christmas. Those toys and games you enjoyed as a child, you enjoyed through the eyes of a child, and that child belonged to a different age.
Go with the flow
It is often better to play safe and go with the flow than to take a chance on something that may result in disappointment. For it certainly would be disappointing to see that game on which you spent so much in cash and expectation, sitting neglected by the tree, and your dreams of endless fun lying in tatters like so much torn wrapping paper on the carpet.
And, as you reflect on the folly of your purchase, little Johnny lets out a whoop of delight as he completes another level of the game he is playing on the Playbox 3000.