If You Were A Kid in the 90's These Toys Were Major
It was a cold Friday night, and everyone was getting ready to go out. So naturally, I, a thirty-ish-year-old woman in her prime, stayed in and pondered the 90's. The 90's were my formative childhood years, so I understandably have a bit of a bias. Still, I believe the 90's were freaking awesome for fashion, television, and...toys. Our childhood toys were really influential and if you think about it propelled culture forward in a way that today's toys do not. Where a lot of innovation occurred in the 90's, current toys seem to be twenty years worth of enhancements. Here is a quick list of 90's toys that influenced our culture be it through isolationism, consumer artificial intelligence, public spectacle, or economic inclusion.
Game Boy, 1989
It's truth time everyone! Our inability to put down our cellphones was twenty years in the making. Game Boys were the precursor to cell phone culture, and I'll explain why. Before Game Boys, playing video games was still a near 100% social experience. We either needed to own a gaming console (often shared with siblings), or we had to go to an arcade with our buds. Then, enter the Game Boy system which was equally entertaining and relatively inexpensive enough for each kid to have their own. All of the sudden kids everywhere began ignoring other human beings, traffic, and potholes opting instead to focus on the captivating devices in their hands.
Tamagotchis were virtual pet toy and what I refer to as" obligation-entertainment" toys. As kids, we learned how quickly our digital pets would die if we forgot to feed them and clean up their poop. I can't help but feel that Tamagotchi-esque toys conceptually paved the way for other simulation entertainment like the Sims.
I convinced my mother to buy me a Tamagotchi because it would teach me responsibility but I just wanted to fit in. Everyone had a Tamagotchi, and that was a circle I needed to be part of. I needed desperately to become another pre-teen frantically feeding their digital pet during the passing period because they wouldn't be able to do it in English class. Now, I'm an adult with real pets, and I want nothing more than to teach them how to take care of themselves. Why were we in such a rush to experience obligation as kids and why did it seem like fun?
Sony Aibo, 1999
What was with the 90's and pets? It's like our parents went to a convention and asked electronic toy-makers to create as many devices to pacify our desire for living-breathing animals. The result of their secret meetings was the Sony Aibo, marketed as an "entertainment robot" but really it was the beginnings of consumer grade artificial intelligence. The Aibo didn't catch on as well as Sony would've liked because they'd designed a toy intriguing enough to buy but not intelligent enough to perform critical tasks that kept kids interested. The Sony Aibo would sit, lay down, and beg (I think) but there were no "snoozles," no "zooms," no "mlems," or any other behaviors that made owning a dog worth it. It was all artificial intelligence, but no love.
Tickle Me Elmo, 1996
Remember the craze of the Tickle Me Elmo? Well, a lesser known tickle me toy did it first. His name was Tickles the Chimp, and he came out in 1992. None of us ever heard of Tickles the Chimp because he just didn't have the star power of Elmo. I'm sure somewhere Tickles is still telling the story of how he was first, and Elmo stole his gimmick. Aside from crushed dreams, there was a lot of controversy surrounding Tickle Me Elmo, and til this day it has changed our conditioning of acceptable behavior in public spaces.
I'm just going to say it. Tyco, Sesame Street, and Elmo helped usher in Walmart Brawl and public spectacle culture. I could be wrong, but before the release of Tickle Me Elmo, I'd never heard of massive fights happening in big box retailers. Looking back, I'm pretty sure the short supply of these toys was intentional; it was indeed a marketing genius. It seemed that during Christmas shopping season of '96 there were several reportings of punches thrown, foot tramplings, and black eyes. The chaos also spurred public spectating behavior because as all of the brawl footage came from Walmart security cameras. In the end, all that violence did was make the plush doll more desirable. The toy retailed for US$29.99 but towards the end of 1996 E-bay sellers were asking $10,000 a piece. Amazing how such an adorable character could bring out the worst in adults.
Tiger Handheld Games, 1993
If your family was "ballin' on a budget" in the 90's like mine, then you may have owned a couple of Tiger Handheld games rather than a Game Boy. The idea of this product was pretty genius. All Tiger did was get licensing for the hottest games at the time, wrap them in inexpensive Game Boy-like casing and sold them for $20. With the Tiger Handhelds, there were no cartridges. Each handheld was standalone, so if you wanted variety, you just purchased more units. By comparison, the Game Boy cost around $90 plus game cartridges. So, if money was tight for the family, Tiger made handheld gaming more accessible and inclusive.
Did you own any of these influential toys? Any toys missing from the list? Let's discuss below.