Games we Played Before the Technological Age . . . by One o’the Nine

Last night I watched the evening news wrap-up story, the kind they throw in to give a little breathing room or blood pressure relief after the harsher stories of every day. They featured a story about the newest video game sensation, SPORE. It differs from some of the earlier video games, and stands to attract a larger audience including women. We’ve figured out that most girls prefer to create rather than destroy, and Spore lets players become God-like, in a sense, as they create civilizations from simple single cells, and begin new worlds from the very beginning just as it I suppose our real world happened. I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of shoot, bomb and/or destroy games, but this one sounds fascinating. And I’m in my sixties! What kid will be able to resist it? Now we know what the must have for the next Christmas season is likely to be, so if you’re the kind that waits in line for the latest must have for junior, better start looking now!

Even my six-year-old grandson is already hooked on video games. Nearly every time we see him he has a new video game he’s excited to tell us about, and his parents are already having to limit computer time, even to the point of “no electronics Sundays” that includes Mom and Dad. I let myself think now about how Hubby and I have let ourselves become hooked on our Wii. What did we all do to entertain ourselves before this age of unlimited choices of video games?

Here’s another “one o’the nine” observations from an uncle who wrote this in the mid-1980s. While children weren’t so vested in technology in those days, they were certainly inundated with toys, including the pioneering videogame offerings. Remember Pac Man and Frogger? I think he must have been bothered though, and worried that his grandchildren were missing out on something. It’s quite apparent that he and his eight brothers never felt they missed out on anything despite the lack of toys in their home as they were growing up. Here’s his memory from Looking Back, published August 6, 1987:

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I have three beautiful daughters (who took their looks from their mother) 009_9-2and four wonderful grandchildren, two boys and two girls. I visited in the home of one of my daughters the other day and was overwhelmed at the toys the children have. They have any kind of toy that you can think of. When I was a boy growing up on the farm in the early thirties during the great depression, we had no toys except those we made ourselves.

I have taken an old car tire and rolled it a thousand miles I suppose. We even learned to roll the tire at a fast speed and then hold it with both hands as we pushed our knees into it; it would slide just like a tire on a car. We would run all over the country rolling a tire and saying “Vrudd-Ennn” that was the sound a car made. We also took a small medal ring that came off a wagon hub and made a toy out of it. You could take a piece of clothesline wire about five feet long and make a U-shaped bend in one end and then use it to push and roll the little medal wheel. If you had a spool on your wire you really had a classy toy.

Another toy we had was a bucket lid off a syrup bucket with a handled nailed on it that we would run and roll. Believe it or not, I have never had a bicycle in my life to call my own, and now I’m so old and fat I can’t ride one very far, so there’s no use buying one. We would also entertain ourselves by taking our bare foot and packing plowed dirt on top of it, then pull our foot out carefully to leave a [hollow] cave. We called this a gopher hole.

The only real toys we ever had was a sack of marbles. We would draw names at Christmastime at school, and we could always look for a sack of marbles [under the tree], but we didn’t play marbles like many children did. We dug four little holes in the dirt like those they have on golf courses. We called the holes first, second, third, and poison. We drew a line out about ten feet from the first hole. This line was called taw. You would stand at taw and toss your marble at the hole and try to “ring it”, then you would shoot the marble from one hole to the other until you reached poisonAfter you reached poison you could shoot someone else’s marble and they were dead (out of the game). If someone hit your marble with theirs before you reached poison, then you had to go back to taw and start over. We spent most of our lunch hours at school playing with either a tire, a rim and a wire, or playing marbles.

POSTSCRIPT: My uncles grew up in the 1930s. What strikes me as I re-read this story all these years later is how little we’d progressed in our neck o’the woods, as far as our toys and games were concerned, from then to the 1950s when I grew up in that very same area of Florida. Twenty years of much the same. I think the Depression lasted longer in our community than it did in the rest of the U.S. I had few toys as I grew up, but I never felt bored with the little free time available to children who grew up on farms.

I also tried rolling tires. We patched inner tubes (from those worn-out tires) and floated along the river currents. My sister and I both “walked” empty oil barrels; sometimes she made me crawl inside while she walked me across the yard, while I lay inside bumping and flopping the whole way. Somehow I lived to tell the tale. As for marbles, I never could figure out the real game myself, but loved collecting them as “art” pieces, particularly the “cat eyes”. To this day I still don’t understand a real game of marbles. And I too remember the delicious coolness–on a steamy hot summer day–of freshly plowed earth packed over my own bare feet as I made my own “gopher holes” while my feet cooled off.

Today my head practically spins every year when I’m reminded at Christmastime how different things are for most children today. I suppose SPORE and other imaginative video games will let them develop their imaginations just fine, but with Godlike power, what will the worlds they create in the future–both figuratively and literally–be like?

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