princess is in another castle!


so, i saw toy story 3 recently, and it got me thinking about this article i read a while ago about how play is important to a child's development and well-being. i don't remember what the article said exactly, only that it went on to argue that a lot of crazies who went out guns-a-blazin' and committed all sorts of other horrible acts - well, they didn't get much play time growing up. how the author of that article knew about this lack of play time, i'm not sure. maybe they read about it in the crazies' journals, suicide notes or manifestos or whatever.

i got some decent play time in as a kid, so maybe that's why i'm not completely off-the-chain nuts. sure, i'm nuts, but then again, if you're reading this, you're probably old enough, and that means you've come across people who are nuts nuts. there was a time, though, when i had to use my imagination to entertain myself. even if it was just jumping on stepping stones and pretending that lava was beneath me, or jumping from the fireplace to the couch to save the princess, a part of my brain was actually working.

as a five-year old, i was always interested in saving the princess. i remember my childhood friend, rohdel, would come by, and i'd make him slay dragons with me and battle evil knights. all rohdel ever wanted to do, though, was play nintendo. that's why he came over. i remember him getting tired of my elaborate stories, and how we were going to strategize our next attack against the fire-breathing beast. he sighed. "can't we just play duck hunt?" i told him one more dragon to kill, and then we could do what he wanted. but when his family finally got a nintendo system of their own, i never saw him again.

at school, i looked forward to recess, where almost all the boys would start up a game of cops and robbers. i found it interesting that the rich white kids almost always wanted to be the robbers. naturally, i played a cop. we'd run around the school, hiding behind bathroom doors, popping caps in one another. it was all so real. if someone's thumb went down and they made the "boom!" sound, usually accompanied with a burst of saliva, i would grab my chest, fall to the floor in a dramatic fashion, and play dead. i could be making this up, but i think at one point, we even had fake e.m.t.'s reviving the wounded. there was hardly ever an argument about who shot whom first. if you got got, you knew it, and you dropped to the floor because you respected the game too much not to.

guns and violence were popular, but i was never much of a g.i. joe fan. a bunch of dudes going off to war, killing some guy named cobra or something - well, that just didn't appeal to me. i wasn't much interested in transformers or voltron, either. you're a car, now you're a robot. big whoop. no, like most boys my age, i was a ninja turtle kid. because there was some kind of magic to it. there was imagination. someone had to think of green ooze turning turtles into ass-kicking ninjas. you couldn't come up with a crazier, more awesome story than that. not in the eighties, anyway.

i had a massive collection of ninja turtles. i had april o'neil and casey, all the villains, foot soldiers galore, even shredder and his giant dome. i made them fight to the death. sometimes i'd even break them in half, snap their heads off, cut them with a knife, burn them with a lighter - it was a scene. my younger cousin would watch me, as i would engage those taiwanese pieces of plastic in the bloodiest of battles. even though there wasn't much of a story line, there was thinking involved. there was suspense and action, theater and dramatics.

i read michael chabon's fatherhood for amateurs recently, and he talks about how imaginative playtime is going away at an alarming rate. all of these crazy computerized animations, elaborate lego monuments, and intense video gaming is killing the imagination of youth. there's nothing left to think about. there's only assembly required and achievements to unlock. i've seen my cousin's impressive display of legos, and i'm pretty sure he never actually plays with them. they are, after all, $80 - $150 puzzles that break easily. and for some reason, this really bothers me. instead, he spends most of the time on the computer, clicking a mouse, shooting things down.

unfortunately, there wasn't a big moment when i realized i was too old for toys and games. most of my ninja turtles went to my younger cousin, but who knows what happened to my glo-worm, my etch-a-sketch, my magic eight ball? why did we stop playing cops and robbers at school, stop inventing our own games, and start playing video games and sports that didn't require any thought or imagination? when did we allow goals and productivity to trump creativity and real play?

and more importantly, what happens when younger generations forget that there's still magic and mystery in this world, still dragons to slay and princesses to save?

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