Getting to know yourself

big movie tom hanks playing with toysPlaying is weird for adults, we do it with children when we have to, some of us enjoy it (I clearly do or you wouldn’t be hearing from me as much) but some adults genuinely feel very uncomfortable with play. However, strip away the shield of a child/children and we all start to look very similar.

I have a confession to make, when it comes to play which is unsupervised by a child, I personally get a bit uncomfortable. I’m not saying I can’t do it, I’m not even saying I can’t have fun with toys, I’m just saying it feels a bit weird. So lets think about this.

I work in a toy shop, I’ve been around toys in this kind of environment from when I was fourteen years old till eighteen then since I was twenty two until now. Obviously I played with toys as a child and I was still making Lego sets at about twelve years old, so apart from four years at university and a couple of years between stopping playing with toys and my first job in a toy shop, I’ve basically been around toys for my entire life. Put another way, toys have played a huge role in my everyday life for pretty much my entire time on this planet and even I feel a bit strange picking up a toy and playing with it when there aren’t any kids around.

I have no alternative frame of reference but I’m guessing that if someone who has had unsupervised access to toys for their entire life can feel a bit peculiar playing in the absence of children then there’s perhaps little hope for other adults out there. The thing is that culturally we see toys as the things of childhood. To play with an actual, bona fide, child’s toy is to use a well-recognised cultural object out of context. Children are the guardians of the toy, to use one, one must typically have a child as one’s guide or one risks feeling ‘silly’.

There are people I know who seem to be exceptions to this rule, the great majority of these are mothers but I do know a few non-mothers among them. These are the kind of people who can pick up a puppet and strike up a conversation with another adult (no kids in sight), or who can hunker down with some toy trains and shout out a big proud ‘woowoo!’ in a shop full of ‘grown-ups’. So why do the rest of us have trouble?

1415469969384_Image_galleryImage_Harry_Enfield_as_one_of_hI’m inclined to think it’s got a lot to do with how we define ourselves, or at least it relates to the character we consider ourselves to be. As a teenager I was happy to live in the fringes, be seen as weird etc. but as an adult (and especially as a parent) I have to admit that I’ve become a bit more…normal (for want of a better word). I want a good life for myself and my family and being too unusual can get in the way of job prospects and friendships with other families, so I play my part as an ordinary guy.

To be honest I’ve played ordinary for a long time now, for so long that the hippy-dippy, weirdo pseudo-communist of my teens is hard for me to relate to. In short I’ve purposely become ordinary because ordinary is easier. Teenage John was was a bit of a mess, he had goals but no drive, and so many interests that he had a hard time keeping track, he slept entire days away and took friendships for granted. The sad fact of the matter is that I’ve produced a self-imposed bubble of ‘normalcy’ around myself to avoid becoming him, and one thing that ‘normal’ adults don’t do is play with toys (unless they’re playing with children).

So back to play and what it can tell us about ourselves, for me play exposes my attitudes regarding normalcy in adults and perhaps this is the real heart of what makes me uncomfortable. I lets me see what I’ve done to myself (for what are admittedly good reasons) to become the man I am today. I love playing with my children, and relish in pretend play when I’m with them but on my own or around solely other adults I doubt you’ll see me playing like that.

I know that play is a beneficial part of any person’s encounters with the world (I’ve discussed this before) and it makes me a little sad to realise that I’m the one responsible for my feeling of discomfort when playing alone. However, simply recognising this isn’t sufficient to let me enjoy toys in the same way I did as a child, or in the same way I do when I’m with my own children.

Thinking about how you feel about play (and toys) can have a profound effect on the way you view yourself. For me I recognise that I’ve gotten a little boring as I’ve ‘grown-up’ and that’s not very easy for a ‘toy shop guy’ to admit, but it also lets me see that who I am has been my choice and there’s no reason that I have to accept any part of my character. Perhaps this is simply a silver lining to a very small issue.

I still love toys when playing with with my children and I think toys and play are absolutely vital components of a healthy childhood (and adulthood). I’ve simply had to admit the peculiar fact that when push comes to shove, as an adult making decisions on how I’d spend my own time, I’m unlikely to choose playing with toys as a top activity. The next step is figuring out why I’ve produced this self-imposed exile from this little corner of the world of imagination and play.

Sorry for the downer today people, feel free to share your own revelations about yourself that you’ve discovered through play. Lets hope there aren’t too many boring old fuddy duddys like me out there. As always thanks for reading, All the best, John

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OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?

J._K._Rowling_at_the_White_House_2010-04-05_9Re-blogging from the website for my new children’s book:

“To even out the ratio children would have to be getting through a whopping nine books for every one book read by an adult. Someone, somewhere, is reading a lot of kids fiction…” read more here:

OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?.

The solution to annoying blind bags? More blind bags?

LEGO-Guess-How-ManyBlind bags are a little ridiculous, I’ve discussed this before and just yesterday ‘oglemylego’ decided to share that post over on reddit (among other places). As a result my blog has had another moment of fame (my last bit of reddit fame was for my post on kraggling). This little flash of fame is probably my biggest yet, apparently there are literally thousands of you reading today, which is just brilliant, thank you.

Now back to blind bags, I had expected the thread over on reddit to contain a lot of defence of blind bags, given that the Lego community over there are adults who are likely to notice the cost a little less than a child scraping pocket money change together after getting a little over-zealous in the sweet shop. However, it would seem that even adult Lego collectors, on the whole, don’t like throwing their money around blindly either.

So what’s the solution? Could we get away with a small viewing window which retains mystery but makes it easier to figure out what you’re getting (a great suggestion from ‘tobiariah’)? or is there another option.

Given that Lego is clearly wanting to keep the blind bag earning potential I doubt we’ll get them to change the dynamic all that much, so how about a compromise: Lego bit bags. A bit bag would contain a piece, or a few pieces that you just wouldn’t get in any regular set. It could contain things like an unusual door, some space-themed wheels, a superhero head, a collection of cool accessories, etc. etc.

Overall this could satisfy Lego’s apparent need to create a blind product, whilst keeping the cost down to an actual manageable level for a kid with pocket-money to spend. Also it would be more in keeping with Lego’s ‘master-builder’ ethos that it’s been promoting through the Lego movie.

Alternatively, legend tells that many many years ago, in toy shops throughout the land, Lego was sold in individual piece form. Our modern supermarkets would baulk at the idea of loose Lego lying around their stores but independents and toys specialists could happily display big collection cases. Seems a much fairer way to appeal to pocket-money trade than asking kids (and adults) to blindly hand over their cash.

As always I welcome any thoughts you guys might have on this in the comments section below and if you fancy keeping up with me over on twitter I’ll be very happy to see you over there. Thanks for reading (and welcome to my blog to all the redditors), Cheers, John

War Games!

wpid-imag0743_burst002_1.jpgI know for a fact that there must be 10s (possibly 100s) of people playing/modelling with Games Workshop (Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000) figures in Crieff so it definitely has an active presence in the local area but sadly there doesn’t seem to be any centrally organised group set up for those wanting to arrange games-days/nights or even just to talk about the hobby with one another.

I’ve had a lot of kids in recently asking about local groups and seeing if there is anywhere that they can play locally and unfortunately I’m completely in the dark. In an effort to get something organised and simple together I put up a local wahammer/40K group on facebook but other than that I have nothing to point them towards. If you’d like to know more about the hobby and/or would like to be able to meet up with others who enjoy the hobby then feel free to pop over to the page. I used to play, a long time ago, and the shop is lucky enough to have a really hands-on Games Workshop agent so I can usually find the kind of answers you might need fairly easily.

wpid-imag0746_burst002_1.jpgGames Workshop produce an amazing array of assemble-your-own figurines which you then use to play war games. There’s a degree of customiseability that you just won’t find in ordinary board games etc. and because of this it’s a hobby that can be extremely personal, creative and expressive. You can turn up for a game with friends and show off your latest regiment and all the fiddly little customisations you’ve spent the past few weeks doing to it. Judging by the questions I’ve had in the shop there are rakes of children (and teens) who want to get involved but who are reluctant to start because they don’t know anyone else who’s involved in the hobby.

Possibly the saddest thing for me is this lack of support locally for younger hobbyists who seem really enthusiastic about both the painting and gaming side of the hobby. I’ve had boys and girls in the shop buying models, paints and other peripherals who haven’t been able to find people to play against. I’ve suggested they join their school’s games workshop groups only to be met with blank stares, either their school doesn’t have one or whatever group they do have at school isn’t very well known (or isn’t, strictly speaking, ‘official’).

wpid-imag0745_burst002_1.jpgConsidering the rise of interest there has been in fantasy over the past few years I’m surprised that games workshop/warhammer/40K groups haven’t seen a booming growth in members. I’ve been assured by Yan (our rep) that we could easily manage to provide support for local groups and there are resources there that could allow us to provide some resources free of charge to any local group who thinks to ask us for it. Sadly we’ve been in the position to help for months and, as yet, no one has taken us up on it.

If you live in the Crieff area and want to join a group (or better still if you run, or you want to set up, a group) then pop on over to the Crieff Warhammer/40,000 group on facebook to ask for advice and other information.

Just going for a nice short post this time, as always thanks for reading and comments are always more than welcome, Cheers, John

Warhammer

Warhammer-battle-marchYep we’re looking into stocking the fantastically epic tabletop war game Warhammer. If you’ve heard of Warhammer you can probably skip the next paragraph or so but if you haven’t (or want to know a bit more) then read on. Warhammer is a tabletop fantasy battle game played with soldiers which are made, painted and customised by the player. The game comes in two main varieties (thought there are a number of sub-games as well), these are Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 (better known as 40K, set far in Warhammer’s future). Players roll dice to decide on movements across the gaming surface and have access to a host of special moves and behaviours based on the race of their soldiers.

When I say ‘race’ we’re talking more in terms of species, as the primary groups in the Warhammer universe are very different from one another, they include humans, elves, orcs and, depending on whether you’re playing 40k or original there are a host of other species and breakaway groups which you can play as.

chaosI won’t try and explain more here as there is a vast online community based around the game which can provide you with much more accurate explanations regarding the specifics of the game. What I will say is it’s a great game to play with friends, it’s necessarily social in nature whilst incorporating a lot of the elements which kids enjoy about computer games. I played for a short while as a teenager (my figures were all from the ‘Chaos legion’ group) and thoroughly enjoyed customising my figures and meeting up with friends to play battles. I can’t say I was particularly good at the game but it was a good laugh and was a great excuse to file into a room with your mates, eat junk food and generally have fun (without a screen of any kind in sight) for a few hours.

I think this is the main pro to take away from this game. It has a reputation for geekiness and definitely appeals to a certain group of kids but at the heart of it it gives kids a chance to enjoy each others company and it stretches out the age of play (I’ve discussed a few times the fact that kids seem to be giving up on play at an ever-younger age). I genuinely can’t think of a better way for children who perhaps don’t really enjoy team sports, or who are maybe a little introverted, to focus their energies into a big group activity like this, where there’s still a strong element of face-to-face contact. What’s more in larger battles there is the opportunity for real world team playing and group strategy.

White-Dwarf-Jan-2014I’m currently more than a decade out of date with the goings-on of the world of Warhammer. Games Workshop (the company behind the game) publishes a magazine called White Dwarf (which we’ll also be stocking) which describes the changes in gameplay etc. so I know what I’ll be up to soon. As I said at the start of this post, we’re currently just looking into stocking the game so if anyone has anything they’d like to share about Warhammer (and whether you think it’s a good idea for the shop) I’d love to hear from you whether you have positive or negative things to say. On our end we feel quite positive about it though and we hope you guys will be too.

Fun with lasers

image

What could make sitting playing puzzles more fun? You guessed it, lasers! Today I added a new product to the Fun Junction web site; ‘Laser maze‘ by Thinkfun. Thinkfun’s puzzles are normally challenging and entertaining but this one stands out as something more. You line up the pieces on the card then you have to figure out how to place other pieces (mirror, beam-splitter, etc.) can be used to direct the laser beam to the target.

I honestly can’t wait to have a go, I definitely know what I’m nominating for the next Fun Junction games night. That said I’m not sure when our next games night will be, the Perth shop has a pretty major leak just now and of course we’re getting ready for Christmas too. I’ll keep you posted.

On a side note, work has started on my book on philosophy and toys, now a couple of chapters in, mainly about the underappreciated role that toys play in shaping who we become. I’d love to hear about your own experiences, if you have anything to share feel free to leave a message below. Just a short wee post today, as always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

How to play

Giraffe eating a dinosaur

Puppets are a great way to stimulate pretend play, pop over here to have a look at some of the puppets stocked by Fun Junction.

This sounds like a bit of a ridiculous question but can you remember how to play? Strange as it sounds I’ve heard of adults who have genuinely lost the ability and there also seem to be a great number of parents who struggle with certain types of play. One of the key difficulties seems to arise during what we might call ‘pretend play’. The primary worry I hear is that there is a feeling of obligation that you, as the parent, will be expected to plan out a whole story and create a host of characters out of the toy figures in front of you. This is an intimidating prospect, especially where playtime comes at the end of the day when your mind is dulled after a day at work, or a day filled with housework and running the kids around to meet their busy social calendar (our kids always seem to have better social lives than we do).

Fortunately this isn’t really what’s involved in pretend play. I’m sure your kids would love it if you mapped out a whole story for them and then played it out before their eyes with a vibrant array of exceptionally voiced characters (who wouldn’t?!). To be honest though, that’s not playing, that’s more like a high-end puppet show. Scale it back, and remember how you used to play, but if that fails here are some tips:

  • Go to my previous post ‘5 hints for telling a good story‘ some of this is specific to reading but the explanations of how to change your voice and animate character traits should be useful.
  • If you genuinely struggle with pretend play then DON’T, and I’ll repeat DON’T, use a character they know from TV/films. Doing this will result in one of two things: EITHER you’ll crack it and perform that character flawlessly (or at least well enough for your kid to be happy with it) OR you’ll be terrible and your kid will just laugh at your attempts, disrupting play and bruising your confidence. If you crack it then there’s a strong chance that that is the only character your child will let you play as and this will get tedious fast (this character could also become a crutch, limiting you from enjoying all the fun that pretend play has to offer). Neither of these outcomes is particularly great.
  • Pick one or two character toys to play with and give them a character ‘quirk’. Don’t make them a ‘baddie’ or a ‘goodie’, of course that’s what kids often do but as an adult you can bring something different into the mix. Here’s an example, try a character who thinks everything they are presented with is edible. Your child will likely find it hilarious as they chase after the character trying to explain that they shouldn’t eat a cushion/a sock/ the TV/ someone’s hair.
  • Allow your character to develop. Even if you’re only playing for ten minutes or so you’ll find an easy ‘plot point’ in allowing your character to change their mind about something. If you need it, the development can be also used as a means of setting a time limit. Using the example above, the character could come to realise that not everything is edible as dinner time approaches (‘OK, OK, so I can’t eat your shoe but can I eat whatever it is that’s making that lovely smell?’ ‘Yes, that’s dinner!’ ‘Great let’s eat dinner!’).
  • Finally have fun, have as much fun as you can. They’ll only be playing like this for so long. Also, to keep things interesting, try occasionally throwing in some behaviour that breaks the status quo, this should help your child to think on their feet and it can lead to much more entertaining playtimes as well.

I’m always interested to hear how other parents play so feel free to pop a comment below and tell me about your own experiences. Hope these wee tips help someone out there. As always, thanks for reading and if there’s anything else you’d like me to post about please get in touch, Cheers, John