The Crayon Snorting Knight and the Square Headed Usurper
20th March 2018
I was having a look around The Entertainer toy shop in Cabot Circus the other day, and it suddenly started to dawn on me just how much money I must have wasted in that place over the years. And on what exactly? Large and small chunks of colourful plastic molded to form branded products. Played with by my kids only for very short periods of time before becoming completely redundant. It's like The Entertainer has been a ruthlessly efficient machine for converting my hard earned money into worthless plastic designed exclusively to drown out my living space over the years ...
And, although there's a lot of new stuff too, it's strange how the same brands of toys hold dominant positions on the shops shelves today that were there when I was a kid. Transformers, Star Wars, Lego, Barbies. I wouldn't be surprised if He-Man made a come back too. Everything seems to have been rebooted these days. After all, sometimes you don't need new shoes, you just need to completely rip the soul from your old ones and stick a different one in its place ... That was a deliberate misspelling by the way. The new Tom & Jerry where they talk or the CGI Thomas The Tank Engine are classic examples of my issues with "reboots" ... The surface elements are there, mostly, but the original soul is completely gone. Terrible.
New as they were in the 80's, all these toys have now clearly been around the block more than a few times for several decades now ... Is that enough to qualify them as traditional toys yet? How much time has to pass for that label to qualify as true? In the face of the digital revolution, has a 3 inch plastic figure of Darth Vader become as traditional as a wooden train? Has Barbie's lack of genitals, irresponsibly thin waist, and unrealistically long stick like pins become as traditional as a spinning top? Or has the concept of traditional when it comes to toys always been a load of nonsense? At any rate, they've certainly taken a firm back seat to IT in kids minds these days. Perhaps when it comes to toys, "traditional" is just another word for "redundant". Perhaps "traditional" is just a middle class word that sounds better than, "Look kid, I know it's crap ... But it's all we had okay. And I need to feel like I'm at least in some way in control of this parenting thing, not you. And there must be something that will get you off that damned phone?"
Nevertheless, the past always continues to be blown out of all proportion in the present. You've got Star Wars films coming from all angles. So much so, that I'm beginning to wonder if it's a tv show, rather than a set of cinema films? And I'm not quite sure how it's come to this, but we actually live in a time where even Take That is now considered a "National Institution"?
I remember when Take That were exclusively manufactured for teenage girls and gay fella's in the 90's who only liked them because they were "fit". It's what they were deliberately manufactured for. Their manufacture was as deliberate as a BRATZ dolls bizarre eyes and blow job lips are today.
It's almost as if because everyone knew that kids dolls traditionally didn't have any genitals, the BRATZ dolls manufacturers spotted a gap in the market ... and deliberately put a giant fanny where their mouth should be. And it worked. It got the desired sales results. Sex sells, even when implied.
Likewise, as band musicians traditionally almost always consisted of the ugly types that could play, it's almost as if Take That's manufacturers spotted a gap in the market back then too ... and flung a bunch of pretty boys that couldn't play together instead. And once again it worked. Sex sells.
Many times it seems success isn't down to actual quality at all. More just plugging a hole in with what you have at the time before someone else does. And if you can plug it in a sexualised way, all the better ... There's a reason why Baywatch was the most popular show in the world in the 90's. And it wasn't due to the high caliber of acting or writing ...
But who am I kidding? As a teenage boy I loved Baywatch! I didn't even know that it was possible for a woman to look like Pamela Anderson before that tv show. You've got to remember there was no internet back then. The closest I ever got to porn was flicking through the lingerie section of my mum's Grattan catalogue ... Pamela Anderson was like one of my teenage cartoon illustrations of a female come to life ... only better! She was just incredible to look at. When Pamela Anderson graced our Cathode Ray Tube Tv's in sun drenched slow motion for the first time in the 90's, teenage boys lives, in 142 countries around the globe, were instantly transformed forever.
So whilst teenage girls were spending hours chatting to each other about the things they would get each member of Take That to do for them, their teenage male compatriots were quietly saving up their thoughts for later watching Baywatch ... Like I said. Sex sells. 20 years may have passed, but that will never change.
Up until the 90's manufactured boy band invasion, people only wanted to have sex with rock and pop stars because of the great music they made and all the fame, money, and social acclaim that came with that. There were some right proper talented ugly bastards out there getting so many notches on their bed posts, that you could be forgiven for thinking they had a nasty termite infestation in their hotel room. The fact they were so ugly only served to prove how good their music must have been that it enabled them to have that effect on women. They were like flies heading to a blue light ... with the same obvious fate.
Take That were different. Girls and gay fella's wanted to have sex with them because they looked "fit". "Fit" as in 90's "fit". These boys had good genes basically. Take That were like a Pokemon evolution of an earlier boy band duo named "Bros". Not only were Take That better looking than Bros ... there were 5 of them. Nubile, pretty, prancing about half naked, their audience was spoilt for choice on which one they'd like to mentally rape.
The amount of conversations girls had in school trying to decide which one they'd like to date, which one they'd like to shag, which one they like to confide in, which one they'd like to watch tv with ... the music was a long distant second to the boys themselves. In fact, I began to suspect at the time, that the only reason any of them gave a flying fuck about their music at all, was to prove that they loved them even more emphatically than the next girl. It was cringe worthy for all those not hypnotised by it, otherwise known as the heterosexual male population. Who were no better by the way ... They were all hypnotised by CJ Parker in Baywatch.
To me, when he sang, Gary Barlow always sounded like he had a crayon stuck up each nostril. And his voice flipped octaves more times whilst singing than a spotty teenager that had just been kicked in the balls. Jigging about all uncoordinated, half naked in dungarees, and being raped over and over in the minds of millions of teenage girls and gay fellas across the UK, they had next to no credibility at all starting out. Two of them never even sang a note, or if they did you couldn't notice. I'm not sure which is worse?
But now somehow, Gary Barlow lauds around like he is a knight of the realm. Come to think of it ... He is a knight of the realm! Amazingly, he got an OBE/knighthood from the Queen. What for exactly is beyond me ... He didn't even pay his taxes on his fortune until he got found out for tax dodging. How does that work? Maybe the Queen just thought he was "fit" too? Who knows.
With adult hindsight, I guess what was happening back then in the 90's, was that media was starting to reflect (in order to capitalise on) the exaggerated fundamental differences in natural desire that exists between males and females during puberty. Fortunately, for most of us at any rate, things balance out a bit when you come out the other side of the hormonal onslaught.
Most people come to realise that people aren't objects to worship or own. They're not images or media bites. They're not trophies. They are people. With flaws and neuroticisms like everyone else. And there is no such thing as perfect. They come to realise that the most meaningful human bonds arise through so much more than just physical attraction alone. And whilst physical beauty will always grace the fortunate beneficiary with the natural advantage of being able to turn heads and arouse initial interest (whilst it lasts that is), on its own, is never going to be anything more than flimsy, fleeting, and ultimately disappointing once you can see past the illusion. Just like Take That's music.
It's hard to believe, but in 200 years time, people will be remembering good old "traditional" Gary Barlow as a noble knight of the realm. Not some kid with peroxide spiky hair who got lucky prancing around in dungarees with no top on in gay bars desperately chasing fame at any cost. If that's what Royalty is all about these days, I think it's high time it was disbanded for the nonsense that it all is. On the plus side, at least in 200 years time, whilst the music from so many real great bands from the 90's will still be listened to, Oasis, Blur, The Verve, Coldplay, to name but a few, Gary Barlow and Co's music will hopefully be long forgotten.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Gary Barlow or Take That personally. You can't knock their success or achievements. They have done incredibly well by any measure. And I do actually like one of their songs, but it's just I find it strange how we ended up with a society that has had them reach "National Institution" and "Knighthood" status? I guess nostalgia really is the most powerful of selling tools. It can serve to warp and distort the past across time into the present, and in doing so, completely transform what the past actually was. It's quite incredible. This is of course exactly why everything gets rebooted these days due to perceived high demand ... only to have people instantly wish it never was after they leave heavily disappointed.
They actually tried rebooting Baywatch last year in the cinema. It was a massive flop which was hardly surprising. You couldn't ever recreate the impact Pamela Anderson, Hasslehoff and the rest of the red shorts had on screen in the 90's. Baywatch was pre internet. Pre reality TV. There's such a thing as Love Island now ... Baywatch was never going to work again today, it's a different time now. Thanks to Google searches, reality TV, Instagram and Social Network selfie's, there's bodies and nudity all over the place these days. And nothing is left to the imagination any more! Oh how I long for the innocence of the Grattan catalogue days once again ...
At least they didn't try to bring Pamela Anderson back like they did with Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones. She's in her 50's now ... actually, scrap that. I've seen her on tv recently on the chat shows. She could actually pull it off still. I don't know how old she is now or how it's even possible, but it's 2018 and Pamela Anderson still looks fucking hot and youthful! She maybe older, but she is still the total blonde bombshell that she ever was. But amazing as she still looks, just like you want to remember Harrison Ford as a young Indiana Jones and Christopher Reeves as Superman ... you want to always remember CJ Parker as she was at her youthful innocent best. There was never any need for a Baywatch reboot. If you want some Baywatch nostalgia, just head to You Tube. It's all there already.
To be fair to Take That, they are rare in that they actually survived the time leap, even if a couple of of them quickly re realised that they could no longer carry on the charade. That's not bad for a bunch of non playing pretty boys and a tax dodging lead singer with a crayon stuck up each nostril. But to be honest to Take That, their longevity had nothing to do with the quality of their music. Anymore than the longevity of Pamela Anderson as a celebrity had anything to do with her acting. It's because all those little girls and gay fellas that wanted to sleep with them in the 90's ... still do. It's just that they're middle aged now. They were chomping at the bit at the prospect of getting to see them in the flesh again and to have them in mental raping distance once again. Whilst their fans may have put on several stone and plenty of grey hairs, Take That didn't, and so could make their main target market feel young again. Like I said, those boys have good genes. Like Pamela Anderson, that was the only reason they were selected for their roles in the first place.
If they had lost their looks, whilst Robbie Williams would have continued being an international mega star and Gary Barlow would have happily continued writing songs for other artists, the rest of them would have been fucked. They wouldn't even have had a come back. That's just a fact. Without their looks and nostalgia driven fan base, there'd simply have been no market for them. Incredibly, after his return to the public eye, a OnePoll survey of 3000 people actually placed Gary Barlow as the "Greatest Songwriter of All Time" ... ahead of John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles who were 2nd and 3rd respectively. I find this deeply disturbing.
With this result in mind, it's plain scary that our whole democracy is actually based on public opinion polls once every 4 years. You've got to question a world that has elected Gary Barlow as the greatest songwriter of all time and Donald Trump as leader of the free world. Madness, and both a result of public opinion polls. Whatever next ... Pamela Anderson, greatest actor of all time? I can only conclude that people on mass are dangerously stupid ...
But from 90's boys back to 80's toys ... Just as Robbie Williams was vastly superior to the rest of all of Take That put together, not all toys from the 80's were created equal ... To this day as a long suffering hapless adult, with more than enough failures under my belt, I still maintain that no knock back in life compares to the disappointment of excitedly scrabbling to open a present as a child, after being tipped off that it was a Transformer, even with the person who bought it for you, usually a grandparent, actually genuinely believing it was a Transformer too, only to rip the wrapping paper off ... and discover it was a Gobot instead.
Fuck. It was just soul destroying. Never mind into your stomach, your heart dropped out of your ass. You were left having to grit your teeth and smile, and force out a thank you, trying desperately not break your excited grandparents heart with your obvious deep soul destroying disappointment. It was truly crushing.
Saying that though, it was a double sided coin. I'll never forget the time, when my Granddad excitedly handed a present to my brother asking, "Who's the strongest man in the Universe? ..." Only for my brother to rip it open, bursting at the seams and bubbling with anticipation of the sight of He-Man's blonde hair, chiseled jaw line, rippling muscles, Power Sword and Battle Axe ... only to be presented with the green suit and orange armour of Man-At-Arms instead. It was like a black hole had suddenly sucked all the joy and colour from my brothers face and his heart had plummeted into a bottomless pit. It truly was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.
I always remember thinking that my Granddad was a great story teller. Good timing, amazing cadence, smooth delivery. An art I feel is being lost these days as a direct result of being socially conditioned to restricting your thoughts to 140 characters or a contrived status update, whilst always ensuring that your sentences always start with the word, "Soooo," and end with the word, "right?" ... Right? Sigh.
Forget world peace. Much as I'd like it to happen, unfortunately it's perfectly obvious that the human race is overpopulated with selfish greedy cunts. It's just never going to happen is it? But if there's one thing I hope can happen for the future, it's that we can once again see a world where people are able to articulate sentences without the need of these two words at the start and end of them. It's really not that hard. At this rate, forget English ... Netflix is fast becoming the new international language. And if there's one thing on this planet more cringe worthy than an English person speaking Netflix ... It's a German person speaking Netflix, thinking he's speaking English ... Right?
Sooooooo, here I am 30 years later, and all these toys are still on the shelves. And with all these new Star Wars and Transformers films being rushed out, and Lego seemingly having it's finger in the pie of every brand going under the sun, it often feels like the new new, is just the new old. A rehashing of the same old ideas. Mass over production for mass over consumption of toys that I already had 30 years ago. And probably still would have if it wasn't for my mum. My mum gave all my childhood toys away to the Church jumble sale for nothing in the 90's. Transformers, Star Wars, He Man, Lego ... lock, stock, the fucking lot.
Anyway, back to point ... It does leave me wondering, if these brands and toys were around when I was a kid, and are still here 30 years later, will they still be on shop shelves when my kids are 40? I seriously doubt it personally. And although that's exactly what my mum mistakenly thought back in the 90's ... My reasoning is completely different to hers. I'm thinking that the way society is going, I'm not even sure there'll be any shops left at all by 2050, let alone toy shops. At any rate, with the Church's proven history of systemic child abuse, a history that would make both Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris blush, I certainly won't be donating any toys to their jumble sales. It's the modern day equivalent of donating gingerbread, cakes, and candy to the witch in the woods in Hansel and Gretel ...
Toy shops today clearly currently rely a lot on nostalgia sales of parents buying their children what they used to have when they were kids ... That their mum no doubt gave away to a Church jumble sale in the 90's, when they went away to University to get into life crippling debt, in the chase of a false hope derived from a socially prescribed disillusionment of a better life, rather than searching for a path towards self actualisation instead.
And toy shops, just like universities, can and do charge an excessive premium on the back of this foolish idealism too. As after all, just like universities, they know that the parents are going to buy into whatever they churn out anyway. Even if what they offer is complete junk. They're an easy sell.
From observing my own kids, truth is, they are just not into toys these days like kids used to be. There's no point pretending otherwise. They simply don't play with toys anymore. Why? because they have better options now. Toys don't stimulate them. To me personally, toy manufacturers are not helping themselves either, as they seem to be over marketing themselves into growing irrelevance as a reaction to this trend these days. Nobody needs a 3 foot Darth Vader in their bedroom for instance. What are you supposed to do with that that you can't do with a 3 inch one except waste a ton of space in your bedroom or use as an oversized bat to beat your little brother over the head with?
It's as if some marketing whiz under pressure to get results in a world gone digital, realised that in the absence of new toys, all you have to do to boost sales is make the ones children already have bigger and bigger over time. Bigger is always better. It's the way of the West. Or so we have traditionally always been made to believe ...
Probably the same whiz that applied that exact same logic to flat screen tv's. How big does your tv need to be to watch Strictly for fucks sake? Brucie and Anton's chins are big enough already. You don't need them any bigger.
And let's be honest, how HD do you need a television to be anyway? Unless your face is pressed against the screen counting pixels, I'm pretty sure what you already have now is good enough. Especially considering how many people haven't even got HD eyes these days. A lot of people wear glasses or contacts. My mum, for instance, couldn't tell a pixel from a sugar cube as it is, let alone differentiate a pixel from a retina pixel for fucks sake. And how much detail do you really need actors faces to be in? I can't help but notice the increase in plastic surgery amongst actors as a direct result of the uptake of HD tv.
It's as if the quest for greater televisual realism, ironically, is creating an army of actors that continuously stab their foreheads with botox, liposuction the fat from their bodies, inject silicone into their breasts and lips, and have their faces stretched back across their skull and sewn up at the hairline in a vain attempt to stay looking "naturally" young. Watch something on Channel 5 these days and it's like watching your kids play with their Action Men and Bratz dolls. Only my kids don't ever play with their Action Men and Bratz dolls. But then that actually strengthens the analogy ... as I don't watch Channel 5 either!
Truth is, bigger is not always better is it? It's all relative. Toys R Us will tell you that. Their huge, dull, out of town toy shops were unable to attract people in versus the door to door quick sales of the internet, carefully placed products in supermarket aisles, and the smaller in town toy outlets where people were already passing by on a daily basis anyway. After all, they're all selling the same things anyway these days. When I was a kid, Toys R Us really was something special. Just seeing all the toys you could possibly imagine all under one roof. You couldn't do that anywhere else. It was amazing. It was somewhere exciting to go. But times changed. They didn't.
There was no internet back then when they emerged in the UK in the mid 80's, and supermarkets only sold food. So you actually had to go out to shop for what you were looking for. As a kid, a trip to the supermarket in the 80's was hell on Earth. A trip to Toys R Us on the other hand ... Heaven. If you wanted toys, no competition, hands down it was the place to go. In fact, you had to go to these places to even find out what was out. And parents knew that they could get things that their kids wanted that they might struggle to find elsewhere. Their kids would genuinely love the trip too. That feeling of being overwhelmed with floor to ceiling toys, many of which you never even knew existed. It was amazing. As such, their stores were always packed ... Not anymore.
Today, their slogan, "It's a magical place, we're on our way there," has become false on both accounts. They got lost in time. I would say it's a shame but it's not. No one will even miss them. I think I took my kids to Toys R Us just once years ago. Not only was the atmosphere lacking people and buzz, the minimum wage staff looked clinically depressed and the sign on the way in informed us that the store reserved the right to search our bags on the way out. It would have felt more welcoming if the sign had simply read, "GET OUT YOU THIEVING CUNT". I even felt sorrow inside that I couldn't rescue the staff from their open prison somehow too. It basically felt like we shouldn't be in there. We took the hint. We never went back.
Truth is, there was just no need. You could get whatever you wanted online, much cheaper, and with a much wider selection of choice, delivered to your door the next day. Or else you could just pick up toys at the supermarket with your weekly food shop. As a result, in 2018, Geoffrey the Giraffe had effectively hung himself. Police reports said his body was found still sporting 80's clothing and haircut. Geoffrey had failed to stay current and he had paid the ultimate price. Perhaps Geoffrey is a warning to us all? The stores went into administration and were unable to find a buyer, and Toys R Us, that once loved toy shop by kids and parents everywhere, was dead ... no one even battered an eyelid. They were too busy shopping online at Amazon.
Everything is relative. Thanks to the housing crisis, for a growing number of people, me included, space is always a big issue these days. Bigger isn't better. It's impractical. As such, spending a small, or indeed large fortune, trying to cram a cinema into your living room probably isn't the best idea. Nor is filling it up with oversized toys and consumerism junk that is hardly ever used. Experiences have become more valuable than possessions. I think this is what shops across the board, not just toy shops, need to embrace if they want to stay relevant in the face of the digital world and tightened living spaces and budgets due to obscene rentals and mortgage costs.
Like the very real added dimension cinema provides over watching a film at home, you need to feel that you are actually going to gain something by leaving the house and traveling to somewhere for something you could very easily and effortlessly just get delivered to your door the next day for less.
It's why we all love the digital world these days. It solves all the problems of time and space in our lives. You can still have all your most valuable things time and cost effectively, and still have a minimalist living space that can allow even the smallest of spaces to feel spacious. The only catch is of course, far from giving us all a life of leisure ... It's putting everyone out of work.
Kindle is my 3000 book book shelf ... and that's on my phone. A hard drive is my 3000 film video shelf and cd rack, and that's online, and viewable from my phone. Camera and photos, radio and tv ... all on the phone. And all creative work and gaming is done on my laptop. Basically, smartphone, laptop, guitar, keyboard, bike and a ball... And I'm done. They're the only objects really worth owning in life these days. Bar a few clothes, I don't really need anything else. Even my workouts are all body weight and require no equipment.
With housing a long forgotten impossible dream for most, me included, the most valuable things are all virtual. Of the mind. Or that stimulate the mind. Things that can make you feel. Things that stimulate your mind and senses AND can go wherever you go. Apple were fist onto this with the iPhone, then Google quickly followed suit with Android, and now Nintendo has achieved the same with console gaming and The Switch. As our lives have been rendered portable by the impossible cost of homes and the utter bastard like nature of landlords everywhere, so to has risen our need for portability of the things our minds love most.
These days, perspectives have changed. You just need a bit of space saving hardware that you can take with you to jump start all your favourite mental endeavours. Hardware that will no doubt get smaller and smaller as time goes on. Maybe the jump starter will even be integrated into our heads one day as our lives our rendered entirely portable by societal greed ... who knows. Our brains are far more powerful than any computer and we only use a fraction of them. Plus you can't take up any less space or be any more portable than that can you? Or maybe I've been watching too much Black Mirror? Who knows?
At any rate, by observing my own kids and remembering the feelings I had from my own childhood with the NES and SNES, 30 years later, unlike in my time, as several generations have now grown up with technology themselves, I feel that the jump in children's toys from the physical world to the virtual is now complete. No wonder Toys R Us has gone out of business and Lego's profits have taken a nosedive. The hardware to jumpstart these virtual assets that stimulate feeling is so ubiquitous, and so intuitive, that even babies are chilling having fun playing games on iPad's these days.
And ironically, the parents that are most vocal about worrying about their kids playing digital games, are probably in hypocritical denial of the taboo that late at night, when they should "traditionally" be sleeping, they themselves instead now are making burning eye contact with their smartphone, thinking of other ... well, "less traditional" things shall we say. Oh how I long for the innocence of the Grattan catalogue days once again ...
Men and women across the globe, are now secretly watching porn late at night whilst their partner sleeps next to them in bed. Men and women across the globe are also addicted to social media, flicking their screens up and down, moronically craving likes late at night from "friends", or even messaging ex's that they haven't seen in years as their partner sleeps next to them ... And they're worried about their kids having fun playing games? That's just mad. It's not digital games that are the social danger of our time. It's not digital games that are ripping apart the traditional fabrics of society. It never has been. Computer games have always been scapegoated. Wrongly. And still are, even in the face of the new obvious disruption that their parents are heavily addicted to. Parents complain their kids get angry when the screen flicks off mid game because the stop clock has hit 60 minutes, but imagine the situation was reversed and the kids told their mothers to get off their phones for the rest of the day after just one hour? I think the kid would be more justified. They're kids, they should be playing games. Why are grown adults faces glued to their smartphone's 24/7? That's the real question.
It's surely only parents and grandparents that don't want to admit how things have changed, and torrents of heavy relentless branded marketing, that are keeping physical toy shops afloat isn't it? I mean who the fuck still buys their kids wooden toys for instance? Like sending your kids to church, that's surely a form of child abuse these days. And most of the stuff in toy shops is just pointless garbage to my kids. It just doesn't stimulate them for any sustained period of time.
And the solution to this is not to buy more of it, in the blind hope hope that if you keep buying them enough of it, it might have the accumulative effect of actually keeping them entertained for any sustained period of time. It's to buy less of it as it's clearly ineffective for purpose.
Even the Toys R Us founder, Charles Lazarus, admitted toys never held kids attentions for long. He was quoted as saying, "Toys are a great kind of thing to sell ... as they don't last that long."
Kids may continue to get bought all manner of toys by well-meaning adults, but the truth is, they just don't use any of it at all anymore unless they are forced to. They prefer the digital world every time. And you can't blame them either. It's more fun. More engaging. More stimulating. More complex. More creative.
And one of the leading reasons for that, for younger children at any rate, is Minecraft. And for very good reason.
Minecraft has taken kids attentions by storm the world over. At the time of writing, Minecraft is estimated to have sold nearly 150 million copies, second only behind the mighty Tetris which had a twenty year head start on it. Even more amazingly, Minecraft currently has a very active 74 million monthly active user base. 74 million active users ... That's insane. It's unprecedented. Even the current 100 PVP Fortnite Battle Royale craze sweeping the planet and manifesting itself in fun dance moves in kids playgrounds across the globe, currently only (LOL 'only'...) has a 40 million monthly active user base. Whilst fidget spinners were 2017's playground fad, Fortnite is definitely 2018's. So although Fortnite looks set to be on course to well over shoot Minecraft for monthly active users very soon, whether this holds in a couple of years time seems very doubtful to me. Fortnite is great fun ... in the beginning. But I doubt it holds enough substance long term to retain monthly users in those crazy numbers. Minecraft's figures on the other hand, have continued to grow steadily and healthily year after year for the past 9 years with no signs of slowing.
So popular is Minecraft, that I've even seen toy manufacturers attempt to reverse engineer this trend to get in on the bandwagon. Lego Minecraft for instance. That just makes no sense. Buying your kid Lego Minecraft is like buying them a VHS player to play their mp4 files on. It just makes no sense. Not only is LEGO way more expensive than Minecraft, to kids, Minecraft is the superior product over Lego. That's just a fact. In fact, remove the "To kids, " part, and the statement still holds true if you ask me. Although to be fair, perhaps rather than remove "To kids, " you should instead replace it with, "To everyone that understands what Minecraft actually is, ".
I speak from experience, because it took me a while to get my head around what it actually was a few years back when my kids started getting taken over by it. Not helped by the fact that they even started watching other people on You Tube, most notably Dan TDM, playing the game. Indeed, watching You Tubers and fan made You Tube animation videos of Minecraft, seemed to provide them with as much joy and entertainment as actually playing the game itself. This then inspired them to try to emulate in the game what they had seen in the You Tube videos. I grew up a gamer, and yet this behaviour was all new to me. Times have changed a lot since the 80's and 90's. That much is for sure. The question parents need to ask themselves is ... Do they want to change with it, or do they want to end up like Geoffrey the Giraffe? Because that's the options whether you like it or not. Progress waits for no man.
In the beginning, like most adults, I just couldn't fathom what Minecraft actually was. What was the goal? How do you complete it? Why were the graphics so shit? Why did he have a square head?
What is even the point in all this? And then I remembered, that this was the exact sort of thing that my parents were saying whilst I was trying to show them the simple pleasures of Super Mario Bros (5th all time best seller at 40 million copies) on the NES back in the 80's.
All adults go through this and yet kids don't. Kids just "get it". But this isn't because kids have some extra added insight that adults don't. It's because adults have less insight than they used to. Adults have been mentally conditioned as to what toys and even video games are "supposed" to be and they don't even realise it. Kids haven't. Realising that this had happened to me, someone who grew up with, and loved, video games themselves, albeit that as with most people went through a bit of a hiatus period due to work, relationships, kids etc, came as quite an eye opener to me.
So, if you're a parent, I strongly recommend broadening your horizons and not to give up on it. You're kids sure as hell won't. And it's really not that complicated at all approached with an open mind. And once you do "get it", like a kid, you suddenly fail to understand how other people don't. It all seems so obvious and intuitive. It's basically digital Lego with much, much, more added, and unlimited building blocks that you never have to tidy up or tred on in the middle of the night. The pain of accidentally stepping on a piece of lego in the dark in the middle of the night is not to be underestimated ...
Once you "get it", you can only admire what a wonderfully progressive achievement Minecraft is on several fronts. You look at all these other parents bemoaning video games, and all you can see is blind ignorance. You realise that instead of moaning about change, parents should embrace it with their children. Actually join in with them and surprise themselves, in a session of pure creativity, with their kids leading the way.
It would be easy to confuse what Minecraft is today as with what Super Mario Brothers and the arrival of the NES was in the 80's, or as akin to the manic worldwide craze of Street Fighter II in the arcades in the 90's (which the Fortnite craze is much more similar to). And whilst it's true that Minecraft is probably the most significant and defining video game of this generation of youth by far, the fact is, Minecraft is also a lot more than that.
Video games are much more deeply integrated into society than they were back then. Video games are far less considered the preserve of just nerds and geeks these days, like it was to those ignorants outside the loop in the 80's and 90's. It's widely accepted as a norm now by all children whether their parents accept it as one or not. Generally speaking, there is less ignorance towards gaming in society now than there used to be, even though there is still a lot.
But this ignorance will continue to phase out as the generations move on. And what this means of course, is that with each successive generation, more people will play video games than ever before. And there is far, far, more choice in what they can play, and on what they can play it on, than ever before. So for Minecraft to have become even more ubiquitous these days as Super Mario and Street Fighter II were back in the 80's and 90's is some feat.
But Minecraft isn't just the defining video game for kids of this generation, it has also become most young kids preference to toys in general, and has even all but replaced Lego for many kids as the creative building tool of choice too. As such, combined with the fact that it's truly cross platform, not confined to any specific machine or games console, available on every console, computer, tablet, and smartphone going, it has single handedly become the video game, the toy, and the creative toy, of choice, of the current young generation all in one. And that's a pretty remarkable feat.
Especially when you consider Minecraft forged its own way in a market pushed by high end graphic cards, HD televisions, and photo realistic graphics and gameplay ... A market that even threatened Nintendo's ongoing survival as a console manufacturer at one point. A market that Minecraft just completely ignored, instead opting for the most basic of basic rudimentary graphics and animation which ironically made it instantly stand out as a clearly identifiable iconic brand in a heavily overcrowded, highly competitive market.
It's safe to say, whatever Minecraft lacks in visual finesse, it certainly more than makes up for in style. And style that only serves to increase its gameplay and functionality. Not only is it one of the most instantly recognisable brands on the planet, Minecraft is also all substance. On it's creative mode, your mind really can create anything it can imagine. And who has a better, more fertile imagination than kids? It's no wonder kids have a compulsion to satisfy that urge to create. I don't see this as a bad thing at all. The exact opposite in fact. As playing with my kids has shown me, you can create some amazing things, no matter how random. And it all involves a lot of creative, and structural, thinking and planning. And, you play and build together in groups. You will surprise yourself.
Whilst many adults and parents just see a poorly animated blocky man hacking away at things, for kids, it provides a different game every time. Just to re iterate ... 74 million active monthly users and growing fast. That is mind blowing numbers for any product. There is unlimited play for kids in Minecraft's sandbox world. And it's gameplay that actually stimulates their mind and creativity. That's why kids love it so much. And also probably why so many adults just don't get it. The working world brutally thumped that freedom out of their minds decades ago. In that respect, Minecraft even gives parents the opportunity to get that playful mental freedom back again alongside their children. It provides an opportunity to bond with them doing something that they love. And that is priceless.
While my kids took to Minecraft like ducks to water, they never really took to Lego for several reasons. With Lego, I always just ended up building the thing for them. They always lost interest following the long, linear, building instruction manual for hours. And then once it was built, whilst it looked nice, it just sat on their shelf collecting dust, never to be played with ever again.
And outside of the ridiculously expensive branded LEGO packs, we never had enough decent pieces to build anything good. Unlike other toys and games, Minecraft provides unlimited play for less than a one off £20 fee. That's pretty incredible. You can't even get a box of starter LEGO for that these days. And even if you do pay for one of those starter packs, you never get enough 4 by 2's to build even the most basic of houses. LEGO needs to reduce the price of 4 by 2's and 2 by 2's to enable parents to be able to afford the basic building blocks for their kids. They have competition now that has simultaneously pulled the rug from under their niche and drastically undercut them.
And that's always been one of my biggest bones of contention with LEGO. Unless you are rich, or your parents didn't give all your toys away to a church jumble sale without your permission when you went away to university (sigh), you never seem to have enough basic blocks to use your imagination to build anything half decent with LEGO. It's like play time in the great recession. And as a result of this perpetual block shortage, whatever you do manage to scrape together has no colour design to it whatsoever. It's just a random mess of hopelessly uncoordinated colour as you simply don't have enough pieces to design what you want to properly. Even Ronald McDonald would turn his nose up at some of the things me and my kids have built with LEGO due to the garishness of it all ...
This is something that simply doesn't happen in Minecraft. Minecraft allows more freedom and structure. In Minecraft, kids really do have truly unlimited materials at their disposal to design, create, and build, whatever their minds can imagine. And they do. With remarkable speed and dexterity. Much faster than any adult. And they can actually play in and explore the world's they build from the inside out too. With LEGO, even if you do actually manage to scrape together enough blocks to build a substandard house ... you have to then go and rip the roof off it if you want to play with LEGO men inside it. And, it's fiddly and awkward at best, and you almost always end up breaking something apart by accident.
Plus, in Minecraft, they can and do play with others locally and online, so it's not an isolating experience at all. Kids have even got creative in how they communicate inside the game. As many kids, mine included, don't have online chat activated in the game, they bypass this by effectively text messaging each other by writing on signposts inside the game instead. I was genuinely impressed when I realised that they had found this work around. They chat like this to other kids happily playing Minecraft from all around the world. Again, I can only see this as a positive constructive thing.
Truth is, kids brains are on fire whilst playing Minecraft in ways that they simply aren't using LEGO. And you can both observe this and feel it if you try to join in and keep up with them. It's quite amazing the speed they can play at. And the best part of Minecraft is ... You don't have to tidy away all the blocks afterwards and can never stand on one when you get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. You just click save and exit and can carry on from exactly where you left of the last time. Try doing that with LEGO ...
And that's just one game ... Rocket League, Fortnite, Overwatch ... There are tons of cross platform video games that kids love these days that they can play with their friends in the same room and or online. And they are just so much more stimulating and entertaining than a branded plastic toy. Like I said, it's no wonder toys are suffering.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, I wasn't surprised to read that Toys R Us had gone under. Or that LEGO sales were falling. I'm actually much more surprised that there are so many toy shops still afloat. People say video games aren't real, and yet they are rapidly outstripping traditional sales for other forms of entertainment? Is that real enough for you? It should be. I'm not sure the future for shops in general looks good to be honest. The digital world provides much better options for both toys and shopping these days. Unless physical outlets find a way to get that feeling back by offering added experience in some way, or by providing better prices and discounts than online, I think less and less people are going to make the effort to go out to them as time goes on ... Let alone purchase from them.
Do I mind that my kids have all but ditched "traditional" toy play for the digital world? No. Not at all. Why would I? I encourage it. I see it as a good thing.
I remember what gaming was like in my childhood ... Look at it now. I remember when Amazon started, and for a long time, it only sold books... Look at it now. I remember when Google started and it was only a search engine ... Look at it now.
People always bemoan new things that they don't understand. But what's the other option ... continuous reboots? I think reboots themselves will die a death eventually too. Not only because there are too many of them, but because thanks to how times have changed, eventually nostalgia itself won't be what it once was.
And that's because, thanks to You Tube and Ebay, nothing ever really ever goes away anymore. You can easily find and discover things as they once were, and how they were meant to be, any time you like. You don't need a reboot to find out how great "Paint It Black" is by The Rolling Stones. You don't need Oasis to return, when you can watch all their music videos on You Tube. I want new ideas that impact me afresh like those older ideas did. I don't want the old ones rehashed. I want more things where the art form Lives Forever, where the art form speaks for itself, as opposed to the sexualised manufactured individuals that are used to promote them.
I don't want old ideas rehashed with the soul completely ripped out. Unless they involve drastic change or advancement for the better, reboots, covers, sequels, prequels, just become like seeing a zombie of a person you used to know. They more often than not leave you disappointed these days.
By all means enjoy remembering your own past, and even reliving it from time to time if it makes you happy ... But don't try and force your kids to live in it. They are not of your time, they are of theirs. What's a drastic change to you, is merely the default to them. And you both have lots of drastic and unforeseeable changes ahead to come. For better or for worse, a lot can and will change in 20 to 30 years time. But there is one thing that never changes. As poor old Geoffrey the Giraffe found out ... Fail to change with the times, and eventually, you will pay the price ... Right? [Slams hand on desk sighing and shaking head.]