As a kid, I had the good fortune of a basement playroom brimming with toys, from a massive pink Barbie Dream House to bins full of Lego bricks and even an air hockey table. Though I enjoyed all these toys, I gravitated to a box full of blank, hardcover books more than anything else in the basement. I could spend hours filling the books’ pages with stories and pictures, such as “The Cheese Family,” stories about a family of traveling mice I imagined with my friends for a fourth grade project. The blank books not only kept me occupied for hours, but they helped to form my identity as a student. Of anything I have studied or practiced or played in my 16 years of school, from field hockey to the flute, nothing has given me as much joy or satisfaction as writing. I credit that box full of blank books with introducing me to and cementing an early love of the written word and creative writing that lasts to this day. Browsing through the stories posted on the America at Play website, I’ve found that others have had similar experiences. Our favorite toys and games not only provided hours of childhood bliss, but they also have larger, lasting influences on other aspects of our lives. Some submissions recount the way that favorite toys have bridged generations, thus becoming a part of a family’s story. A Dollhouse through the Generations tells the story of a dollhouse that has delighted four generations of girls in a single family. Another contestant writes that her own love of Star Wars action figures, despite their categorization as “boy toys,” has inspired her daughter’s likewise fearless love of Star Wars movies and toys.
Like me, others found that their favorite toys helped shape their identity. One participant credits Hot Wheels cars with instilling a love of collecting and organizing: “I organized my Hot Wheels in their Hot Wheels carrying case… and then reorganized them again and again.” In A Lifetime of Adventure and Learning, another contestant tells of the powerful influence the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons has had on his life. It sparked his interest in history, science fiction, and writing, and he concludes that the game “is unique in that it can have a long term effect on a person that permeates their whole lives. My life would have been so dull were it not for that little red box.” Finally, other toys and games have the power to foster relationships and create some truly unforgettable moments. In A Jenga Story, we read of how the game Jenga brought joy to a group of children at a camp for poverty-stricken families in Vietnam: “The game attracted a steady stream of kids, who loved it. Their mood was exuberant, and they cheered me on as I used my minimal Vietnamese to count off the number as kids removed each successive Jenga piece.” This story, like the others, attests to the incredible impact that a simple toy or game can have on the people who play with and love them—it’s really no wonder that such toys receive National Toy Hall of Fame nominations. What toys and games have played an important role in your life? Share your story using the America at Play: Play Stories website.