Recently I was having coffee with a friend and we were recounting with great fervor our memories of being little boys and playing with our toys. Part of the discussion was based on the types of toys we had, the mnemonic markers bound with brand recognition that gave us a feeling of shared experience. The action figures borne from iconic cartoons, the obscure characters who never hit the big time, and of course the Golden fleece of toys for kids our age: a full set of metal Voltron lions, capable of combining to make the titular robotic defender of the universe.
Inevitably our conversation would wander into the subject of those objects’ monetary worth, and what of our old collection would have been the most valuable. I said my Castle Grayskull He-Man play set, he said nothing of his would be worth much but he wishes he hadn’t put his sister’s Jem and the Holograms dolls in the microwave. He smiled when he said it, though, so I know he was re-living his favorite villainous moment.
We both agreed this was the purest distillation of adulthood: Fondly reminiscing about the objects of our childhood and acknowledging that we would sell them to pay this month’s rent.
The most interesting topic that afternoon, though, was about the backstory we built around some of our favorite toys that were unrelated to their actual origin: He-Man was actually a part-time professional wrestler, Raphael was a skulking thief and the Ghostbusters were still busting ghosts but now that included Cobra Commander (who was clearly a zombie of some sort) so they had to team up with G.I. Joe in order to get the job done. Also Batman would occasionally show up and all hell would break loose. These were narratives that we cooked up in our heads, departures from the provided stories that made the toys more meaningful in our minds. The fact that we, as two adults, were giggling incessantly while describing the twists and turns of our plastic figurines was proof positive that they held a place in our minds. They existed in a place of distinction in the court of our imaginations, only second to the imaginary friends of our youngest years. It reminded me of something.
I realised that that same excitement of a personal (if not absurd) story still exists in our characters around a roleplaying table. We still tell tales of personas very dear to us that donâ€™t exist for virtually anyone else with the enthusiasm of someone who just saw an amazing film or read a fantastic book. Honestly, if you ever want to relinquish a solid hour of your time, ask a role-player about their character. They will try to stop themselves, but the torrent of words for their favorite fake person will eventually win out and they will gab like a middle-schooler describing which member of a pop band is the cutest.
This is something that never went away in most gamers – the genuine feeling of excitement in creating an original story, and itâ€™s why I believe that so many of us become creatives: writers, artists, storytellers of any stripe. Even if we maintain a 9-5 job, we still find time to find time to create that unique story that we know only we can tell. We collectively engage in the improv rule of â€œyes, andâ€¦â€ with ourselves, constantly pushing our imaginations forward with a velocity that surprises even us.
It is only a matter of time before we find ourselves with a pantheon of personas in our minds that we hold up as our gaming-table accomplishments. They, like the toys of our youth, mean so much more than what they started as, and we are proud to recount how we helped them discover their potential, and in doing so we discover our own ability to spin a good yarn. The same way I tell someone that the figurine of plastic that I had as a young boy was so much more to me, so is the the seemingly random string of numbers on a character sheet. The game may have changed, but the excitement is still there.
So what about you? Iâ€™d like to hear about your character, but Iâ€™m invoking the Drake rule:Â You get three short statements.
Starting from the bottom: â€œShe was a fighter from the town of Whatsitville.â€
Now weâ€™re here: â€œNow sheâ€™s the head of a military academy and part-time demon-slayer.â€
And the shout-out: â€œBig thanks to the scroll of meteors I found in a cave. That really surprised that camp of storm giants.â€
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11 comments on “The Toybox of the Mind”
Duvainor was an Elven noble more interested in scavenging the necropolis called London than in high society.
Now she (or he, depending on if you count the gender curse that hit him) is helping her group infiltrate the stronghold of a former ally turned Undead warlord.
Big thanks to Krumb and Krustles discount outfitters for that bundle of assorted magic arrows – shame we had to kill those guys once they were turned into vampires…
hmmm, Jamisia Khas was a Quiet Cabal agent from Ruk, now she’s part of an inter-recursion coalition trying to stop the destruction of Earth and totally not a necromancer. Shout out to Steve the soul she uses to possess and control dead bodies in Ardeyn. Totally not necromancy.
Ok, before i finish reading the rest I really need to say this: “oh hells yes I wanted a Voltron set when I was little!!! Or at the least just the blue one, because blue is my favorite color”
Mithraes was a thug doctor from Tadras. Now he’s married to the Queen of Sleveen, which is a little awkward since he spent a couple years romancing her grandfather. Time travel can really complicate an honest liar’s life.
Tomas was a scavenger for his tribe living in the post apocalyptic ruins of a football stadium, now he leads the warband called The Witch Wind, most powerful road gang in the Pacific Wastes. Shout out to Doc Sawed-Off for putting me back together after a run in with cannibals.
Zimburchem was the gnomish alchemist inventor of a (working) hangover cure. Now he’s touring the world trying to cure his apprentice of the Bleaching.
Thanks to Morgrym, the flamboyant, dwarven, opera singer who seduced that troublesome fan.
Mack was a former Jewish Mob Enforcer in New New York. Now he’s a former Jewish Mob Enforcer turned Shadowrunner who has a penchant for stashing things in his freezer. I big thanks to his cyber-doc for giving him really awesome cyber-arms, wouldn’t have been able to swim the Eye of Grummpsh out of The Hudson if he didn’t
Gear was a wizard of some renown, who wished to live forever. Now his essence is trapped into a golem, with none of the memories of his former life. Big thanks to Full Metal Alchemist and liches in general for being there for me to draw/steal the idea from.
I had a set of the metal Voltron Lions…best toy ever. even came with sword and throwing star.
Korvek Cogwright was the son of a poor magewright in the cogs of Sharn, The City of Towers.
He left home to be a monk, then a drunken boxer, and then because my GM was a brilliant son of a bitch, Kalashtar freedom fighter.
And of course, a big thank you to Boomatick, the portable battering ram that became signature weapon.
Alastor was a psychic from the darkest part of a merchant town who wanted to rule the world.
Now he’s a partially dead servant of the Goddess of the Moon and avatar of chaos.
Big thanks to Nanako his best and only friend who made him consider his own morality a bit more before he died.