Tapping Into the Inner Child
I can remember my childhood. Thankfully, most of it was rather pleasant. Looking back on it, when you take away all the time that was spent in school learning and playing with other children (which was also socially informative) , what is left over? Children do not have complex social lives, they are blessedly innocent. They do not work, because child labor is illegal in the United States and generally considered exploitative. They certainly do not have night lives, they should be in bed before ten and certainly at home by eight, with exceptions for weekends and special occassions.
What do children do then? Besides entertaining themselves with television and other technologies (especially video games)? Why, they play, of course. They play with other kids, playing games made by other people or games that they invent, but they play. I remeber playing a game called Skeleton on the asphalt of New York City streets. All it required was a bottle cap, something to weigh it down a bit (usually wax or clay), and enough room to play with other kids (a schoolyard did quite nicely). The object of the game was to hit the other players' cap (called a top) three times for a conventional match, but in a battle royale there could be a dozen players all trying to knock the other caps out of established bounds. We were remarkably liberal and lawful, sometimes we had referees, just like in wrestling or boxing. There were all kinds of nitpicky rules that we would make up to play fair. 'Kissing' is when a cap barely touches another cap, asside from being hard to judge, its very annoying. The opposite of a kiss is a 'blastie', which is when you use excessive force in hitting another cap. A 'skipsy' is when a cap is hit at an angle and flies over another cap, and in the process nicking it ever so slightly (plastic tops are light and tend to glide if hit the wrong way, hence weighing them down). If a top lands upside down a player was normally allowed to right it, and sometimes between matches we were allowed to switch different caps. A bigger cap has a better chance of hitting a smaller one, but makes you a bigger target. I once brought a top from a pickle jar to a game, I happened to win, but I was asked not to use it again. It was retired. Sometimes tops were lost, one fell out of my pocket at the movies and I never saw it again, but they were cheap. All you had to do was get a top from a half gallon milk carton (the ideal size and aerodynamic shape) and you were set.
Before there was Skeleton there were marble games, and after Skeleton there were pogs. After pogs came God knows, I was too grown up by then to understand. Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh card games. I am no longer a child, I am no longer a citizen of the younger generation. I am not a welcomed member, and dont particularly care. I have other things to worry about and better toys and grown up games. Yet I would never again get so much joy from so simple a game and the happiness it elicited from the other kids. I believe that imagination and innocence plays an impotant part.
When I was a child I used to direct movies. That sounds like a shocking thing to say, but most kids probably did the same thing or something similar. I would get my toys, imagine them as actors, and set them up in various circumstances and settings. My imagination was so good that I didn't need G.I. Joes or man dolls, although I did have a number of those. I could pick up anything and anthropomorphize into a man-shaped actor. I had alot of metal cast Matchbox cars, a few 'Joes, a small army of Transformers, and alot of random miscellaneous toys that I used as props (each Ninja Turtle had an assortment of Ninja weapons). I loved Science Fiction ever since childhood, so the 'plot' of my movies went something like this...
A small crew of badasses are on a spaceship , for some reason. They crashland on an alien planet (my bed) for some reason. They encounter an alien of some kind, and fight nobly, but lose the first battle and a few consecutive ones as they lose people one by one. They eventually discover the alien's weakness, through some smarty pants scientists' exposition usually, and have a final showdown where they kill the alien. Happy heroic ending. Its kind of funny that the Sci-Fi channel regularly hosts low budget feature films with similar plots and similar thoughtfullness. Its a slander against the good name of true Science Fiction. If your main attraction can be written by a juvenile it says alot about your quality of production. However, I digress.
Its no wonder that as a kid I saw movies like 'Aliens', 'The Thing', and 'Predator' over and over gain. The movies no doubt had a heavy influence on my play, but I was attracted to them because I digged that kind of stuff.
Again, how can someone gain so much entertainment and joy from using the same toys and playing out the same adventures over and over again? If at all? Imagination is a powerful tool, it serves not only as an impetus for me to create the stories that I was acting out but also provided me with a means of enjoying it. If you're not a kid you cant see what they see, and boy are you missing out. If only I had half the imagination now that I had then, the things I could imagine. Unfortunately, as adults we are told to stop asking the questions and stop thinking the thoughts. We are encouraged to adopt the simple and the muted and the everyday, and the imagination begins to atrophy. Once it goes away it doesn't come back; I know, I tried.
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