What you played with as a child shaped who you are today. I know this is true because I approach every dilemma as if I'm in a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, or as if I am wending my way through the Ravenloft module of Dungeons & Dragons.
Following are some '70s and '80s toys and a games that were among the most memorable I ever played with.
Did you have any of these, too?
(1) Atari 2600
Okay, if you like this site, you may well have had an Atari! With me, my friends began getting this device (wasn't it like $200?) and then the games that went with it, creating incredible pressure on me (and my parents) for me to get one, too. I didn't get it and didn't get it, not even on Christmas — then my parents took me out after Christmas and we finally bought it.
My friends and I were utterly absorbed by every new game. To this day, when my elevator opens I imagine a seahorse-looking dragon from Adventure chomping me. I loved Joust, and was good at it. Missile Command felt more '70s than '80s and filled me with dread.
I remember how advances Pitfall and Revenge of the Yars felt, and experienced nothing so cool until still other friends began to get ... home computers. Still have all my game catalogues, but lost control of my console decades ago.
(2) Earthquake Tower
Already obsessed with disaster movies, I flipped when I saw the ads for Earthquake Tower — and never questioned how twisted it was to market a disintegrating highrise to children for ... play! I remember begging for it for Christmas, even though it cost FIFTY dollars, and I believe my grandparents got it for me; I definitely opened it at their place.
The little plastic men that came with it were contorted in poses of terror, like Pompeii figures. In practice, this game was super simplistic. You just set the men around the outside edges off the tower — which was three rectangular boxes barely balanced atop one another — then plunged a plastic device at the base, which caused them to shake so you could enjoy watching people plummet to their ultimate reward. Fun stuff, eh?
2-XL was my first computer! This toy from Mega was marketed from 1978-1981 and exhibited a form of intelligence as it quizzed you on various topics. When it was hot, it was hot, and I hadda have one. When I got bored of the topics, I decided to sell it at one of our family rummage sales. My mom, who'd gotten for me for Christmas, wanted me to give it to my little sister ... but I made her buy it back! Joke's on both of us — if we'd kept it, these things can be worth a few hundreds bucks today.
(4) Which Witch?
First out in 1970, Which Witch? was an addictive board game with something extra — it was set up in 3-D! The Broom Room, the Witchin' Kitchen, the Spell Cell and the Bat's Ballroom were wonderfully imaginative, as was the big ol' chimney up the center.
I remember a whammy ball would roll out of the chimney, and if your pawn were in the way, you were — abracadabra! — vanished.
(5) Stretch Armstrong
I swear I had a Stretch Hulk, though reading that there are fewer 30 known to still exist makes me believe I must've had another variation, likely Stretch Armstrong, of which probably 30,000 still exist. I just remember a man (Plastic Man?) made of the same stretchy material and the toy being super heavy. It got old quick, and didn't take to sand too well.
(6) Fisher Price Blocks, People & Habitats
Those simple blocks were my all-time favorite toy (along with plastic zoo animals), and I played with them long past the time I should. In fact ... I still have mine! Also, who came up with the odd, limbless little toy people? And why do they have so much personality in my mind, even to this day? The mother was so glamorous! The kid was like a Bowery Boy! Even the dog's ears suggested a secret life. Kept these forever, too!
There was also no end to the number of Fisher Price tableaux into which you could insert these people, including the barn, McDonald's, the crazy garage and more.
Mattel introduced us to Slime in 1976, and I recall it being a total fad at my school. It was this squishy, gelatinous stuff good for nothing other than a gross-out as you sank your fingers into it. I remember the variation that has plastic eyeballs, too!
(8) G.I. Joe Doll
Okay, so I had a bit of a crush on rough trade G.I. Joe, the Hasbro-made doll that was basically an ad for joining the armed services. The one I had sported a fuzzy buzzcut and had articulated limbs, and sported camouflage. I gave him up for ...
(9) Six Million Dollar Man Doll
... this guy. Joe was hot, but Major Steve Trevor was the spitting image of handsome Lee Majors, and he had a happenin' red jumpsuit. His parachute and jetpack (right??) were enviable accessories.
Let's go out on a high note with one of the greatest board games ever devised — Clue. I had absolutely no idea that the game dates to the '40s, but it was the '72 revamp with its incredible cast-photo cover that captured my imagination. My older cousin (we said "cousint" in Michigan ... had it, and it felt to me a very sophisticated way to play. It inspired in me a love of all things mysterious, even though I was always lousy at it. As wildly into the imagery as I was as a kid, as an adult, I find it impossibly interesting that the beautiful Asian woman who posed as Miss Scarlet is Kedakai Turner Lipton ... the widow of James Lipton of Inside the Actor's Studio!