What Did Kids Do Before There Were Video Games?

If I were to write about, or even just list, everything we did when we were kids ‘way back, this would be a thick book, not a blog post. So I’m just going to write about one thing I did a lot of, between the ages of five and ten–and that was to “play animals.”

Little toy animals, of every conceivable kind, were my pride and joy in those days. My mother and father, aunts and uncles, and grandparents used to shower me with them. Later I added dinosaurs to my collection–lots of them. That collection, in a big red box my father made for me, today rests under my bed, to be trotted out on rare occasions.

So how do you “play animals”? You move them around and make up stories about them, providing dialogue as needed. You make them have adventures. For instance, the blue rhino and the red gorilla are trying to ditch the brown skunk who keeps following them around, but they can’t do it because the yellow monkeys keep telling the skunk which way they went. (Why the funky colors? Well, they’re little plastic animals and that’s what color they are.) A story like this might go on for hours, and wind up involving cowboys and knights on horseback, a castle built from my grandpa’s old sandstone building blocks, clumps of grass, a hole dug with a trowel, or a cave made out of books from my mother’s bookcase.

There were a few of my friends who sometimes played animals with me–especially that summer when the Miller Company came out with space aliens molded in wax. My brother and his friends played with toy cars and trucks, but I could never see the point of that. After all, cars were all around us; but lions and tigers and anteaters ignited the imagination.

Aside from the animals themselves, everything about the game had to come out of our own imaginations. Nothing was put in. We had to come up with the stories, and act them out.

I don’t know what it’s like to play video games all day. But I wouldn’t trade “playing animals” for it.

9 comments on “What Did Kids Do Before There Were Video Games?

  1. You just put it all in a nutshell, Lee. “Aside from the animals themselves, [like me and my little green soldiers], everything about the game had to come out of our own imaginations. Nothing was put in. We had to come up with the stories, and act them out.”

    I don’t think many kids today have enough imagination: they are told what to do and what to think. Unfortunately, most of it is evil.

  2. Great post Brother. I remember watching a movie when I was about seven years old and hearing the same show on the Lux Radio program a week later. Those shows were always better on radio. It stirred the imagination. I miss those radio programs. What young fellow during those days didn’t pick up a simple stick from the ground and imagine it to be the keenest sword ever devised for the slaying of dragons and evil knights? I feel sorry for my grandchildren and great grandchildren that are going through life missing out on all those great adventures.

    1. If you like radio plays, Preacher, check out Jim French Productions/Imagination Theater–they have original radio plays every week, and you can listen online. Somewhere on this blog I have a little article about Imagination Theater–“Search” and ye shall find.

  3. My brother would play with his toy soldiers on the porch during a thunderstorm (we get terrific ones here in Florida) and the thunder would be the sound of the cannons.
    When I was younger, I always thought it would be awesome to have a dollhouse that had all sorts of buttons to press where it would make sound effects. I even wrote a story about a little girl’s dollhouses that came to life. But I realized when I got a bit older that that would take a lot of the fun away from it: making all the sounds yourself is half the fun. And if the dolls came to life and started doing things by themselves, then what would be the point of even having them? LOL

    Oh, and talking about imagination. One of my great-aunts was really artistic, and years ago she had made these things called Oakies, which were acorn people. My brother and I read an article about it in an old newspaper clipping and we made our own. It was so much fun! We used a hot glue gun to glue the acorns together and gave them arms and legs made out of sticks. Then we put faces on them and played things with them. It was very simple, but it’s one of those really fond memories we have that I hope to pass on to my own children one day 😀

    1. M.R. James wrote a rather scary story about a dollhouse in which the little dollies lived and acted out some rather unwholesome dramas. Can’t remember the title of it, off-hand.

      Acorn people sound like fun. Ah, what so many kids are missing!

  4. Toys requiring imagination are the best. These new games with advanced graphics and realistic scenery don’t give the imagination much room in which to operate.

    1. Video games seem to be teaching youngsters how to move their fingers faster than their brains. What a legacy.

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