The word “nostalgia” entered the English language by way of ancient Greek. “Nostos” means “home” and “algos” means “pain.” It was invented to describe feeling homesick.
Concepts like “homesickness” are taking on new meanings in 2020, as that chair, that table or that tiny crack in the wall are making us all slightly crazy after 10 months, and winter is setting in. It’s time for nostalgia to live up to its happier, modern definition: “a sentimental longing for the past.”
Nothing brings that feeling alive like a toy, especially a vintage one from childhood. Hand the most rapacious capitalist on the planet their long-lost favorite racecar or stuffed animal and watch their expression melt. A brief, priceless moment of innocent joy.
Then they buy the company and flood the market, but that’s beside the point.
Vintage toys are making a comeback this year as hordes of bored children and adults look for ways to pass the time and soften the harshness of their current predicament … with fun.
Barrels of Fun … and a Plumber
People of a certain age can look in their storage units and basements and very well might find a discarded Nintendo game console of old: 64-bit cartridges. Bad graphics. Great times.
For the 35th anniversary of the mustachioed plumber who put Nintendo on the video gaming map, the company is reintroducing its vintage Game & Watch console. CNN reported that “the new Game & Watch takes the shape of the original with its red and gold design, but charges by USB-C and comes in color. It plays three games: ‘Super Mario Bros.,’ ‘Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels’ and ‘Ball (the Mario version).’ Only ‘Ball,’ a juggling game, stays in black and white.”
CNN added that “Nintendo has dipped into the Game & Watch nostalgia bucket before by releasing a version last decade and putting Mr. Game & Watch, the anonymous character who appears in many of the early Game & Watch games, into its ‘Super Smash Bros.’ games.”
Nintendo’s strategy of re-releasing classic games proves the powerful emotional connection we form with toys (as Andy learned the hard way in several “Toy Story” films).
Old-School Amusements, Renewed
Video games are, of course, a newcomer to the toy and game universe. To really be transported back to their childhoods, some people will find toy trains to be the ideal time machine.
Does the name Hornby ring any bells? How about whistles, as in the toy train variety?
Hornby, the legendary British maker of model cars and trains, is seeing renewed interest in one of the oldest mechanical amusements still in production: the model train set.
CEO Lyndon Davies recently told the BBC that “we have observed hitherto successful and profitable companies worldwide crumbling under the pressure [of the pandemic], with losses, closures and tumbling share values. Yet we have not only weathered this shattering storm, our sales have increased by 33 percent in the first half of 2020, moving Hornby back into profitability.”
Take that, lockdown boredom. The other bonus: No masks are required on toy train rides.
Another classic making a comeback is the humbly infuriating jigsaw puzzle. “Jigsaw puzzles have become such a favorite pandemic pastime, retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock,” NPR recently reported, quoting Brian Way, co-owner of the online retailer Puzzle Warehouse, as saying that “there’s not a [puzzle] factory on the planet that is not months behind on production.”
Talk about supply chain issues. Maybe the toy train people could move some micro-shipments of blank puzzle pieces. Yes, we know how that sounds. Visionary innovation often seems crazy.
“Going into the holiday 2020 season, there are 32 million children in the U.S. under the age of 14,” PYMNTS recently reported. “And while those kids had been buying fewer toys in the last few holiday seasons, it seems 2020 will be the year that trend changes, and in a big way.”
Walmart recently released its list of the hottest toys for holiday 2020 gifting, including some updates on old-school favorites like the LEGO Death Star Final Duel. Our personal favorite for unattended retail professionals in training: Ryan’s World Vending Surprise (for ages three to 47).
Say what you will about old toys versus new, but it all beats the heck out of “CoronaBall,” where the ball is shaped like the virus — now popular in parts of Canada — as well as “social-distancing tag” and other drab adaptations of summer backyard play recently cited by The Atlantic.