1980s Toys Memories
Playing is part of the of the human condition, it is necessary and part of our behavior. Without getting bogged down with terminology, I am just focusing on 20th and 21st century mass produced dolls, vehicles, and action figures, and not their spinoffs, such as video games, board games, or replacements like gadgets, electronics, or other pleasure-seeking activities.
I was born in 1977 and played with and collected Masters of the Universe, wrestling figures, G.I. Joe, Super Powers, Secret Wars, Transformers, Thundercats, army men, dinosaurs, and other assorted toys. I started off with stuffed animals and other traditional items like Colorforms, Etch-a-Sketch, Lite-Brite, and many others. My Atari 2600 in the early 1980s, Nintendo Entertainment System, and Apple IIC in the mid-1980s did not replace my toy time, although they did compete for my attention.
Once I started playing with action figures based on cartoons and comic books, I could not go back to playing with teddy bears. The teddy bears became part of my bed paraphernalia. I would say goodnight to them, hug them as I slept, and was attached, but I never made storylines with them, as I did with the action figures. Nay, with the action figures I created worlds, scenarios, adventures, and did things which their source material never even touched.
My peak He-Man run was from 1982 to 1985. With the cartoon being cancelled and converted over to She-Ra and the figures getting more ridiculous and rare, by the time the 1987 live action Masters of the Universe movie finally came out, I had already been over it for the most part. I still played with the figures, but in a wrestling league, not in a sci-fi fantasy role playing adventure.
I was getting G.I. Joe figures from 1983 to 1989, although I still played with them probably up until 1992 when I was 15. My love for G.I. Joe was fueled by Larry Hama’s Marvel comic. He should have gotten a commission on every Joe I got, but I know he didn’t. But with no cartoon and the quality of the comics decreasing toward issue 100, my enthusiasm was waning, and none of my classmates admitted to playing with toys anymore anyway. Like all of my figures, their lives were extended due to forming wrestling leagues.
I wish Marvel and DC came out with more superhero and villain figures back in the day. I really loved the ones I had for such a brief time, and so did all of my friends. The market was there. Today’s generation has it made. My Transformers run was based on the comic book and cartoon. It lasted from 1984-1986, after Optimus Prime died in the movie, although it felt much longer.
As far as the actual wrestling toys went, I played with WWF’s LJN big rubber toys from 1984 to 1989, its entire run, and played with them until late 1991, reason being that I moved and they were too heavy and bulky, but also because I preferred small figures by then. I had AWA’s Remco figures in 1985-1986 and played with them until 1989. After I moved I picked up WCW’s smaller Galoob figures in 1991- which were awesome- and Hasbro’s vastly inferior WWF plastic figures. I got mileage out of them until probably 1993 or late 1992, so 15-16 years old.
M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestling figures became the sleeper survivors. I started in 1985 and always looked for them at flea markets or from classmates. I played with them throughout high school, and they were the last remaining toys. My leagues were serious and went hand-in-hand with the WWF, WCW, ECW, and GWF I was watching on cable all the time. They became a symbol of the magic of imagination I had as a kid. For some reason, the magic of seeing a toy in the store display rack, or more importantly the way time and reality were suspended during a play session had disappeared for everything except M.U.S.C.L.E.
I had a conversation during Freshman year at high school with a nice dude, and he loved M.U.S.C.L.E. too but was starting to get into trying to impress girls, so by the end of the year he had given me his M.U.S.C.L.E. collection. I knew part of his heart was broken, but he said he was getting older. I brought my M.U.S.C.L.E. men to college with me, although I didn’t play with them. So I was pretty much done with toys by 18 years old. Yet something about M.U.S.C.L.E. haunted me. Sometimes I would dream that I was playing with them and having matches. I had one or two Masters of the Universe dreams, but the M.U.S.C.L.E. dream was recurring.
Playing With Toys as an Adult
So one day I set up a wrestling card and grabbed two of them, but the feeling just wasn’t there. I could not bear to throw them out so I kept them until one day in the far future I would give them to my nephew. However, he never played with them so I eventually asked for them back..LOL. Actually before that in my late 30s I felt such a nostalgic urge that I ordered the entire Kinnikuman replica set from Amazon. (Kinnikuman was the original Japanese M.U.S.C.L.E.) I played with them for a few days and occasionally go back to them, but get bogged down in paperwork, clean up, and how weird it must seem to my spouse. Maybe every 5 months I will take a few out and play just for the heck of it, and put them back without keeping league notes. There is something meditating about it. It is all improv- I don’t script anything out or even know who will win a match beforehand.
When I turned 40 I bought a bunch of vintage Masters of the Universe figures. I felt excitement in receiving them in the mail every day for a month, and even displayed them. But when it came to actually playing with them, I had a Man-E-Faces vs Jitsu battle, but could not do anyone. They are now in the closet bin. All of this buying things for myself was out of character. I am a minimalist, anti-consumer who never treats himself and had the same TV from 1985 until 2015. I still have a Cats t-shirt from 1984. My family bought me all of the junk but I never treated myself to gifts except in these two cases.
So I was unable to reclaim my childhood by reacquiring my old toys. But my real experiment was to touch that prepubescence state of consciousness where the figures came to life, I spoke their words, made noises, built universes, combined universes, and had such a ball when they fought each other. As a child, just holding a figure in my hand and studying the details transported me into the world of imagination, fiction, and backstories. The toy was a powerful symbol to me. The crash commercialism was not on my radar. The only times I were ever disappointed were if a particular toy was not molded well or not true to its “real” form as seen in a comic book, cartoon, or wrestling ring. My entire perspective on the world changed as I started to lose that feeling of getting caught up in the world of toys.