Jam shorts! Arcades! The fall of the Berlin Wall! The Challenger explosion! Famine! Disease! Chernobyl! Only 1980s kids will recognise these amazing toys that defined a generation and laid the groundwork for GenX’s eventual decline into a powerless, overwhelmed, and angry demographic.
The house is cold and quiet. You’ve come home after school and the good TV doesn’t start until four o’clock. How do you fill the hours between now and then? Why not a battle between good and evil, centered on Snake Mountain, home of the Horde. The Snake himself pushes your action figures onto the shag carpet in your living room while grandpa’s old clock ticks the minutes until your mum comes home. You want to hear a human voice. Your own will suffice. Grab the wolf-shaped microphone and start cackling, the noise rent by a battery-powered amp filled with springs. Awoooo. He-Man is afraid. He is alone.
It’s two days after Christmas. You’re in a Ford Fairmont driving home from your grandmother’s house. You’re excited because your parents bought you a laser tag game but as endless, frosted countryside disappears into the gloom you realise that this isn’t the real Laser Tag that one of your friends said he asked for. This kit is incompatible. Your parents didn’t even get you the helmet and vest combo so that you and your friend could potentially play together. You press the button and the gun emits a loud beep in the quiet car, interrupting Le Show on radio. Your dad snorts and your mother asks you to turn it off. You put the gun down on the seat next to you and the lights eventually blink off. You close your eyes. In a while you’re carried to bed. The gun stays in the car until morning. It is cold when you touch it.
This box lies alone in the toy section of the Service Merchandise. The store is oddly lit as sun streams through the side windows into dusty shelves picked bare by shoppers looking for a deal. No reason to spend money on overhead fluorescents when you’re going out of business.
Your parents are looking for a new TV because the old black and white one is broken. You broke it on purpose. You wanted a colour TV.
All the TVs are sold out, even the floor models.
They’ll never find out what you did to the TV. You, yourself, don’t even know, nor are you sure you did anything at all. You just wanted a colour TV.
Now you want a toy. They pick this for you. It finds invisible aliens by beeping incessantly. You take it into the basement and aim it at dark corners, into the crawlspace, under the stairs. You find them. They follow you to bed and haunt your dreams.
You get a colour TV a week later. You realise KITT’s lights are actually red.
Your teacher told your parents you should have a computer. At school you use Commodore 64s and your friend has an Apple IIe. Both have real, clicky keyboards.
They take you to Computer Express on High Street, next to the dog grooming place. The clerk takes one look at your family and steers you over to the older models. The Atari 400 is already two years old by the time you look at it but it supports the newer games and the clerk sells you the 400, a third-party joystick, and River Raid. You ask for Atlantis and the clerk adds it to the pile.
Your parents check out. You get the machine home. They didn’t buy Atlantis.
The membrane keyboard is hard to use. You try to type in a game from Antic magazine and it takes hours, days. You need a disk drive but your parents won’t buy one. You find a kid at school who has an 800XL and spend hours at his house, trying his games, the ones you don’t have.
Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine
You find this toy at a garage sale. You’re sure it’s battery powered. You put in ice and look for a button. You have to crank it. They box didn’t include any flavours.
Your parents are having a party downstairs. There are bottles in the kitchen.
Your pour cherry juice on it and don’t realise its liqueur. The hard spike of alcohol hits and you abandon the Sno-Cone machine and drink another shot of the liquor. They don’t notice you or the spreading pool of ice water on your bedroom floor.
Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game
You’re at your grandmother’s. You stay up late reading the D&D Players Handbook and understand nothing. You got a Dungeons & Dragons LCD game for your birthday and it’s nothing like the RPG. You try to grasp the concepts, fondling the dice like talismans of some adult religion. You roll a new thief. It’s hours before the house is awake and you can try to play with your grandmother and little sister. You have no friends here to play with and, in the end, you will never play. The kids in high school to spend evenings drinking Mountain Dew and cursing won’t invite you into their game.
The little LCD game is too loud to play right now. You open the Goonies magazine you bought at Convenient Food Mart. It features old maps, treasure boats, Sloth. Andy.
The light is on in the bathroom. It goes off. The house settles. Someone stirs in another room.