The toys that make us

My Space/Sci-fi 30th BrithdayI’ve been talking a lot about the role of toys in generating identity, both in new posts and in my Tuesday re-posts. Part of this is due to the reception I’ve received from a twitter group called ‘Let toys be toys‘. My other reason for continuing along these lines lies in the fact that I’ve always been interested in the link between the children we were and the adults we have become (and yes that is me in Star Fleet uniform).

stewie coffee family guy

Awesome coffee art by ‘baristartist’ Michael Breach

Years ago I met up with a friend for a coffee. He was having problems in his life, mostly relationship worries but also on the wider scale of deciding what to do with himself after university. He asked me for some advice, and I pointed out that when he was a child he didn’t have these worries, so why not access that part of himself so that he could look at these problems from the outside. When we were younger we escaped ‘real life’ partly due to the fact that, as children, many of us were sheltered from the stress of the ‘real world’ but also due to the fact that when we are younger we are often so authentically engaged with what we’re doing that we can’t see anything else, in the truest sense play lets us escape.

This escape through play can take many forms but the one that seemed relevant to my friend (and to any of us who have hit that point at life at some point) is the play we used to realise our aspirations. As children we all pretended to be a fireman, a nurse, a palaeontologist, an astronaut etc. etc. The games we play as children often let us test drive an idealised version of a job/career/lifestyle.

In true philosopher fashion I answered his questions with a question: what did you want to be when you grew up? If we think back to our goals as children and look at how close, or how far, our current life is from realising these goals I think it can tell us a lot about how we will view ourselves as adults. Feeling disheartened with your life now may be linked to your awareness that you haven’t lived up to your own expectations.

Robin Williams in 'Toys'This leads me to wonder what role our toys plays in deciding the adults we’ll become. This doesn’t boil down to matching a type of toy to some adult equivalent in vocation, it’s something more subtle. If the way you imagined the ‘real world’ as a child differs dramatically from the ‘real world’ you live in now what will this do to your emotional state? How happy would your eight year old self be with the man/woman you are today?

I work in a toy shop so my eight year old self would probably be very happy with that. Sure I don’t work in a fortune 500 company or drive a sports car (I can’t drive at all actually) but at eight the wages etc. didn’t matter, back then I’d have been more interested in how fun/cool my job was, and thankfully it’s both.

Me at 3 years old getting a present of a big remote control truck which was quickly taken apart and 'investigated', got in loads of trouble and my mum still tells people this story

Me at 3 years old getting a present of a big remote control truck which was quickly taken apart and ‘investigated’, got in loads of trouble, my mum still tells people this story

Back then I wanted to know everything I could about the world, in fact this was a trend that had already been going on for years (see the picture to the left). I wanted to know what made machines work, I took things apart and put them back together again. This is where I’d be expected to say ‘and that’s what made me chose a degree in engineering’ but I didn’t. As regular readers might know I picked a degree in philosophy. That said I can see how this evolved.

As a child I wanted to know how machines worked, I also wanted to know as much as I could about the world around me. As an adult I combined these two lines of enquiry: I now want to know how the world around me works. Stripping a remote control truck into pieces on our bathroom floor led years later to stripping ideologies and long held ideas apart and I did my best to put them back together, or at least to figure out why these ideas didn’t work (by the way if anyone ever asks what philosophers do you can tell them that).

In many senses I am what I wanted to be (though I’m still holding out for superpowers and/or a trip into space) and in that respect I can feel content that my play evolved naturally into a life. How did your play bring you to where you are? Have you lost contact with your inner eight year old or are you on good terms? Answers on a postcard (or, you know, you could just use the comments box below). Thanks again for reading, Cheers, John


One comment on “The toys that make us

  1. […] a fan of fantasy  long before Harry Potter (I was/am a geek, for proof see my Starfleet uniform in this previous post) but I have to confess that I unfortunately initially overlooked the young Gryffindor as I though […]


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