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What Did Kids Do Before There Were Video Games?


If I were to write about, or even just list, everything we did when we were kids ‘way back,’ this would be a thick book, not a blog post. So I’m just going to write about one thing I did a lot of, between the ages of five and ten–and that was to “play animals.”

Little toy animals, of every conceivable kind, were my pride and joy in those days. My mother and father, aunts and uncles, and grandparents used to shower me with them. Later I added dinosaurs to my collection–lots of them. That collection, in a big red box my father made for me, today rests under my bed, to be trotted out on rare occasions.

So how do you “play animals”? You move them around and make up stories about them, providing dialogue as needed. You make them have adventures. For instance, the blue rhino and the red gorilla are trying to ditch the brown skunk who keeps following them around, but they can’t do it because the yellow monkeys keep telling the skunk which way they went. (Why the funky colors? Well, they’re little plastic animals and that’s what color they are.) A story like this might go on for hours, and wind up involving cowboys and knights on horseback, a castle built from my grandpa’s old sandstone building blocks, clumps of grass, a hole dug with a trowel, or a cave made out of books from my mother’s bookcase.

There were a few of my friends who sometimes played animals with me–especially that summer when the Miller Company came out with space aliens molded in wax. My brother and his friends played with toy cars and trucks, but I could never see the point of that. After all, cars were all around us; but lions and tigers and anteaters ignited the imagination.

Aside from the animals themselves, everything about the game had to come out of our own imaginations. Nothing was put in. We had to come up with the stories, and act them out.

I don’t know what it’s like to play video games all day. But I wouldn’t trade “playing animals” for it.


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