RetroProgressive: Toying with time

When I typed ‘retro games’ into my browser I was a little surprised at the result. The sites featured were the sort selling ‘retro video games and classic retro gaming’. Atari, Commodore, Ninetendo, Sega, Sinclair and Playstation were not exactly the names I’d anticipated. So I typed in ‘retro toys’ and saw a couple of sites selling the latest versions, or re-designs, of toys from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Okay, now I was getting warmer, but not quite on the boil – for it seems that the likes of  Fuzzy-Felt, Thunderbirds puppets and even Postman Pat have now become ‘vintage memorabilia’, ‘ephemera’ and ‘collectibles’ …and lumped in alongside antiques from Victorian times.

Have games really changed that dramatically over the past few decades? What would happen if today’s children were asked to keep themselves amused with the toys of yesteryear? Would they quickly learn how to knock up some bad egg gas with their Merit chemistry set, before moving on to more explosive experiments – or would health and safety be called upon to intervene?

Are there any similarities between the new world of virtual games and interaction with machines, and the previous age of making and creating things – and communicating with fellow children? And why have so many games simply disappeared? Are the toys I played with as a child now deemed to be inferior? The Magic Robot was a source of constant wonder: How did it always get the answers right? Then there were silly games like Twister, which parents would borrow for parties – I suppose the modern equivalent is the Wii Fit? Apparently, the Spiro-matic is what inspired Damien Hirst and David Bowie to create similar large scale spin paintings.

I notice that some games, like Kerplunk, Spirograph and Buckaroo are still around. Are these survivors the good games? The ones that worked?  Or have they been altered beyond recognition, like Mouse Trap, which according to Wikepedia “In 2006…was re-released in the United Kingdom with a completely new design in which there are three mousetraps, and in which the board and plastic components are completely different. The most obvious change is the addition of a model toilet at the top of the tallest part of the game. Another key difference is that all of the mousetrap is set up in advance of the game.”

I know young children still enjoy building things with Lego, playing with toy cars, dolls and farmyard animal sets. But older children, who are largely responsible for choosing their own toys, invariably seem to opt for screen based games. Personally, I find it sad when mothers hand mobile ‘phones over to their children to play with, or when kids are left twiddling their thumbs on brightly coloured baby-style computer sets. Though I really enjoyed my Etch-a-Sketch until the screen got cracked and horrid (probably highly toxic) silver sludge spewed out all over my hands. Apparently, this curiously clunky device is still popular to this day… Really?

Share This Post

About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

15 thoughts on “RetroProgressive: Toying with time

    February 5, 2011 at 08:34

    My nephew received the new monopoly set for Xmas and I was horrified to discover that there is no money any more, just credit cards- so no one can cheat.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:13

    Chemist’s sets were all the rage when I was knee high to Tom Cruise, ideal for the production of stink bombs, the set that is, not Tom. Then some Charlie removed the vital ingredient after complaints, yes, we had them back then, party poopers. I suppose that today they would be called Pharmacists learning aids.
    Snakes and ladders were popular, cheap and more importantly, available.

    The ultimate toy was was the Luger, brought back after the big stooshie, many in disrepair but hey, Glocks were impossible to find in those days.

    Eureka, Stan, Stan the doodleman doesn’t use charcoal, he has an Etch-A-Sketch, revealing his true identity…Rolf Harris..

  3. Gaw
    February 5, 2011 at 10:42

    I recall reading recently about a business which was offering equipment which you could use to ‘pimp’ your boardgame. So you’d add cards and pieces to your staid, over-familiar game turning it into a more challenging and different one. Can’t remember what it was called though…

  4. Gaw
    February 5, 2011 at 10:53

    Whilst looking for the ‘pimp your boardgame’ site (I could’t find it) I came across an Angry Birds board game:

    Online and offline are moving more and more in tandem it seems.

    (By the way, Angry Birds is great fun and strangely relaxing – I whiled away the odd hour over Christmas playing it on the phone).

    February 5, 2011 at 11:28

    All over dabbler-land attics are now being scoured for ebay-bound long-forgotten boxes with bits missing and open corners. Showing my young grandson a spiro-something recently I realized how far things had moved on in the 30 odd years since I bought this tat for my brood, laying it down (what a dreamer I am) like fine wine for the next generation who, looking at me with a puzzled expression, wonder whether I have a slate loose. Going rate for a complete but ratty Monopoly set? I got twelve quids.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:36

    This post took me back to the days of my beloved Meccano. Hours upon hours of fun constructing an amazing array of heavy-duty artifacts–all of them cranes.

    With its sharp edges, tiny nuts and screws ideal for choking and indecipherable instructions, I assumed it had been muscled out by Lego, but it seems it is still hanging in.

    February 5, 2011 at 14:35

    Bet the banks can still cheat, Worm? Anyway, glad the subject of children’s toys still generates such interest– Dabblers are obviously a young at heart lot. And refreshing to hear someone finds angry birds relaxing, Gaw.

    Curiously, I don’t think I could ever bear to part with my old toys, Mahlerman. Though it seems the asking price for a Magic Robot game is now £45.

    I wasn’t really into Meccano, Peter, nor other decidedly male stuff like Escape from Colditz and Subbuteo… But I do recall the odd choking incident. And does anyone remember a supremely irritating game called Pick up Sticks? Weirdly, the ‘sticks’ were funny little plastic garden and household tools. Why?

    Malty, I think you’d be brilliant as a games inventor. Any ideas?

    February 5, 2011 at 16:45

    Everyone should have one completely pointless skill, and mine, believe it or not, is the Etch-a-Sketch. For reasons unknown I have complete mastery over the twiddly knobs, and whereas most people can just about manage to render a box on top of another box, I can do landscapes, caricatures, shading and even, the Etch-a-Skectcher’s Everest, a pretty good circle. I have 3 of them somewhere about the house in different sizes, because people started buying them for me. This is all absolutely true.

    February 5, 2011 at 17:53

    We believe it Brit, somehow we just knew.

    Susan….Pin the Semtex on the Gillywark, winner gets not to go to jail, loser wins a copy of Adrian’s book.

    February 5, 2011 at 18:10

    Arf! – nice one Malty.

    R: subbuteo, I had it but I always felt that while the miniature stuff – players, pitch, corner flags and other bits and bobs, was very exciting – the actual gameplay was rubbish.

  11. Gaw
    February 5, 2011 at 19:12

    Brit, I suspect your Subbuteo skills were sacrificed to your Etch-a-Sketch habit. Thumbs and forefingers over-developed from hours of twiddling are unlikely to have the delicacy and ‘touch’ required for flick-to-kick.

      February 7, 2011 at 09:04

      The strange thing is that, EaS apart, I have very poor fine motor skills. Fiddly things give me nausea. Sewing makes me want to chunder.

    February 6, 2011 at 23:31

    Brit, take Tom’s advice and start on, movin’ on, ditch the EaS. Having tunnelled thro’ the paywall via slipping a few bob into Rupe’s pocket I discover the Obstmeister enjoying a bracing day with D.Hockney at the Yorkshire coast and, and, he uncovers the startling fact that D.H now does his stuff via an iPad with a doodle facility, idoodlepads r us. Eat yer bleedin’ heart out Damien, Jobsy’s circumvented you.

    Thinks… wonder if there’s an app for SistIne Chapels.

Comments are closed.