Saturday, December 17, 2011

Remembering Age 12

Seeing this post on Grognardia the other day, reminded me a bit of my days of youth. I owned several of the figures from this toy line: specifically Warduke (my favorite, of course) and his nightmare mount, Kellek, Srongheart, and Melf the Elf. Zartan (Zartak?) was also in the mix, though for some reason I am remembering him as my brother's toy. The family cocker spaniel gnawed the hand off the paladin one day (I've mentioned before the paladins have never received a warm welcome in my neck of the woods), but this actually made the doll cooler and more playable to me...the best characters have some scars, in my opinion.

[hell, now that I think of it, the monstrous canine gnawing off the hero's hand is a total echo of Norse mythology and the god cool is that?]

By the way, I did say "doll" not "action figure." I think it's been well established that "action figure" is just a euphemism for "boy-oriented-doll." I don't care; I dug on dolls as a kid and had a ton of different ones: from stuffed animals and bean-bag babies, to GI Joes, Micronauts, and Star Wars figures...heck, even some Strawberry Shortcake dolls (which I am half convinced are responsible for losing my sense of smell sometime in my youth...freakin' chemical warfare!).

However, by the time I got the D&D dolls, I wasn't really into action figures anymore...I was of an age that was "too old" for them (at least, too old to play with them in front of my peers...I'm sure there was at least a session or two of battles in the solitude of my own bedroom). I would imagine I was about 12 years old at the time, which (in my adult eyes) seems pretty young to give up the action figures...but there it is.

I can remember when the dolls stopped losing their luster for me personally (not just due to peer pressure). Up through Return of the Jedi (1983) I had been diligent in the acquisition of Star Wars figures. My parents didn't have the money to get me every space ship / terrain set that Kenner put out, but between my brother and I we managed to acquire at least one of every model made. That is, until Jedi. Around age 10 or 11 I just kind of "gave up" on trying to get "one of everything;" there were a bunch of random figures that it didn't feel like I needed (how many Han Solos in different outfits do you need? See, dolls! It's all about dress up!). I picked up Luke in his cloak and Jedi outfit, and a couple ewoks (I loved ewoks as a kid), but I just didn't play with the toys as much as I had between the ages of 7 and 9.

And it wasn't like I was switching over for more "manly" toys like GI Joes. I can specifically remember receiving an extremely cool GI Joe action figure from a friend for Christmas, circa age 11...some dude with a flamethrower and a mask and a yellow outfit, and thinking (to myself) "What the hell am I going to do with this?" I don't play with these things anymore!

The fact of the matter is, by age 11 or so I was 150% completely into Dungeons & Dragons and role-playing games in general. For gifts I wanted D&D books (or fiction/fantasy novels)...and that was pretty much it. From 1983-88 or so, there wasn't anything else I wanted or needed...for birthday gifts or Christmas.

My younger brother got me a copy of the Unearthed Arcana for my 12th birthday (November, 1985) and it was just about the most awesome gift he ever gave me...certainly, it's the only gift I remember him giving me for my birthday in his 36 years. And I know it was my 12th birthday and 1985 because he wrote in gigantic, crappy 10-year-old-kid handwriting, "Happy Birthday, Jonathan!!! (1985)" inside the front cover. In PEN. I was soooo pissed at him for doing this and "ruining" my pristine new book, I recall.

Now, of course, I'm grateful that he did so...I still have the book on my shelf, though it is totally decimated from wear and tear, and I have a second copy picked up years later for a "use" copy (should I ever start playing AD&D again).

My parents must have gotten the hint, because a month later there was a copy of the new Monster Manual II under the Christmas tree for yours truly, and that was just about my favorite gift that Christmas as well (at least, again, it's the only one I recall for sure from that year). But I think, my parents must have given me the D&D, "action figures"...that year, too. I mean I was still a kid and they did say D&D on the boxes. But maybe I'm mis-remembering and they got me those the prior year.

Yeah, between age 11 and age 14 (prior to high school) I really didn't do anything for fun/play besides Dungeons & Dragons. Frankly, I have no idea what kids who didn't play D&D found to occupy their time during those years. I mean, once I hit high school I had a WHOLE lot more on my plate: figuring out my identity, making new friends, trying to get a girlfriend (failing, usually), trying to make sports teams or the cut for the school play. No, I didn't do much actual schoolwork in those days...

But before high school? If I hadn't had D&D, I don't know what I would have done. What does a 12 year old kid do, if they're too old for playing "make-believe" with their dolls and toys? Learn to play a musical instrument? That's one I never did. Play peewee football? Didn't do that either. Watch a lot of MTV and read "teen" magazines? My family didn't have cable and I had no interest in "who was hot" in the Hollywood scene. Read comic books? I was already reading 400+ page novels! My interest in art (at the time) was mostly confined to doodling in class (something I continue to do in my meetings at work, I might add...ha! You NEVER grow out of it, Sister Claudia!).

I suppose kids these days would simply play video games...and maybe some of the kids back then did, too. My family was never much into the latest electronic technology (we had an Atari 2600...only brought out on rainy days. We got our first computer - an Amiga 500 - when I was in high school. I used an electric typewriter to do papers in 8th grade and that was a pain in the ass, let me tell you!).

Is that it? Are video games the only form of active entertainment/pastime for kids of pre-teen years with too much imagination? I suppose outdoorsy kids could go on camping trips and such and learn some useful survival skills (I dropped out of the Boy Scouts long before earning my Eagle Scout rank). But for "city-slicker" kids that didn't have horses to ride? What the hell are they supposed to do?

As the father of an almost-11-month-old child, I wonder what the hell my son will do. Who knows what the gaming industry will look like a decade from now (if there is such a thing as a "gaming industry" a decade from now). Certainly I don't plan on getting rid of my old books, so he can play those if he wants...but there's no guarantee he'll have like-minded friends with which to play. I'd probably be perfectly happy if he did not play peewee football (I've seen 12 year old children suffer multiple concussions in an 8 game season), and without any musician (or outdoors-loving) parents, will he have anything influencing him to go into those constructive pastimes?

Is he just going to watch TV all day? While surfing the internet on a laptop?

Well, he'll have his chance to play with toys and action figures...he has a baby doll right now that he really likes. He also seems to like destroying things (this, I am semi-convinced, is a genetic trait he inherits from yours truly). And he really likes music...and food. Well, he is a baby, right? I suppose I'll have plenty of time to worry about him in future years, I don't need to get all melancholy right now.

I will say this, though: Thank God I had Dungeons & Dragons growing up. If I had had to spend every recess playing "flyers up" and talking about the prior week's episode of Miami Vice I would have gone batshit crazy, I'm sure. Some people have the temperament for that kind of thing (I knew plenty in the 7th and 8th grade who did just this) but I never was one of 'em. If I hadn't had D&D in my life...well, I really can't even imagine how I would have spent my time during those middle school years.

Probably getting into trouble.
; )


  1. Thanks for sharing some of your history in rpg. Love the Miami vice reference, in my childhood I combined both. In fact the first eight modules I posted on my game blog use mv titles.

  2. Thanks for sharing! Quite interestingly, two days ago BBC aired a TV programme "100 most famous toys" which described what were the most played games, and it turns out that LEGO blocks won first place, followed by Monopoly, and third place, Dungeons & Dragons!
    Well, I can tell you that before discovering D&D, I am my sister and closest friends, played a lot with LEGO blocks, Monopoly and other board games. But when we the D&D bug hit us, we were around 17, and that's pretty much what we played, with the occasional foray into other board games (before we discovered that there existed other RPGs, too.)