With Halloween and Bonfire Night out of the way, we find ourselves at the top of that long slide that will take us straight down to Christmas. Blanket festive TV ads, packed shopping malls and the switching on of town centre lights are some of the sights that will enthral us as we hurtle towards the great prezzie-fest that waits at the bottom. 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 sabers. 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 toys or games they themselves had as children. 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.
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.
It was the day of the FA Cup final and this year it was the turn of my father to host the event, inviting a few friends around to watch the game on television and laying on beer and sandwiches. The pre-match build-up was its usual mix of interesting and boring pieces and, during one of the latter, my father suggested having an FA Cup tournament of our own on the magnetic football game we owned. My older brother went into the bedroom to seek it, returning with a large flat box bearing the name Toogood & Jones along the side.
Basically the game consisted of a hardboard playing pitch that was raised from the ground on sucker tipped legs. On the field of play were small plastic players, two per side, each standing atop a flat magnetic base. To move these plastic players, the human players were each equipped with two long plastic rods, on the ends of which were magnets of opposite polarity to those on the plastic players. The human player then moved his plastic players by placing the magnets on his rods onto the underside of the pitch and creating a connection. The game was set up and names were drawn from a hat and, with the kitchen timer requisitioned and set to five minutes for a game, the contest got under way.
I did not last very long in the tournament. My co-ordination wasn’t too well developed back then, and I was kicking into a beery wind for the whole game. My over-eager manipulation of the magnets caused them to become disconnected frequently, causing my team to put in a lacklustre performance. My older brother fared much better, however, getting through to the final and winning it. It was a hard-fought game, but with only seconds to go my brother’s opponent made the fatal mistake of taking a swig from his bottle of beer. Seeing he was temporarily a man down my brother skated past the static defender and slid the ball into the net. Victory and a small cash prize were his. During my childhood I played all kinds of table football games and I considered magnetic football to be one of the best because of the pace and movement it allowed.
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. The memories of that knockout tournament from my childhood conjured up images of great family entertainment as contests were 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 if you whacked the board from underneath with the control rod, the player would 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 could not 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. 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 torn wrapping paper on the carpet. And as you sit reflecting 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.