Not long after Confederate troops bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor at the first battle of the Civil War in 1861, Milton Bradley designed a lightweight kit of games for the Union troops. Called Games for the Soldiers, the pack contained portable editions of chess, checkers, The Checkered Game of Life, backgammon and five varieties of dominoes.
In 1898, as the U.S. prepared to enter the Spanish-American War, Parker Brothers released games such as Hold The Fort, War in Cuba, The Siege of Havana and Battle of Manila. During World War I, Milton Bradley again responded to the pro-war social climate by creating a game kit for General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces to play on the battlefields of France.
And more recently, as the U.S. responded to the horrific events of September 11, 2001, toy and game manufacturers and independent inventors motivated by the sentiment of patriotism that swept the nation began to develop new products that reflect a subtle shift away from action-adventure themes and play.
‘Before September 11, I was working on action figures and some funny impulse items,’ says Twin Cities inventor Tim Moodie, whose toy credits include Bad Eggz Bunch (Galoob) and Rap Master microphone (Playtime/Tyco). ‘But there really isn’t any demand for these kinds of products now–companies are asking for family games and educational toys.’
To wit: eight days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I invented and licensed a family board game called Spirit of America. Two months later, Funosophy was delivering the first games to Toys ‘R’ Us.
Fisher-Price president and CEO Neil Friedman notes that sales for preschool action figure line Rescue Heroes achieved double-digit increases in the weeks following September 11. While Friedman admits the toy line has sold extremely well all year, ‘it now fits the needs of the parent–non-violent, aspirational toys for their preschooler–as well as the child.’ Bob Jeffway Jr.–co-inventor of Diva Starz (Mattel), Shoezies (Hasbro) and the Harry Potter Force Feel Game (Mattel)–concurs, observing increased manufacturer interest in fire trucks, rescue vehicles and ‘feel-good’ items in the wake of 9/11.
And many manufacturers expect the events of September 11 to have a lasting effect on the collective consumer ethos. ‘Perhaps society will reassess the hectic nature of the North American lifestyle and place more emphasis on family values,’ muses Dale Siswick, senior VP of research and development at Hasbro Games. ‘We are convinced this will happen and will direct our efforts towards developing product that reaches out to provide good, wholesome entertainment, appealing to all ages in a variety of formats, from traditional games to products that incorporate various technologies.’
Maggie Matthews, VP of marketing at USAopoly–a publisher whose name embodies patriotism–claims that connecting with family and friends has never been more important. USAopoly will attempt to facilitate that connection this year with the introduction of a new family game slated to hit retail in time for Memorial Day. Says Matthews: ‘Family Reunion is an intergenerational game designed to bring folks of all ages together to laugh, celebrate old memories and create new ones. It is a fun way to reconnect. Every picture in the game tells a different story, and those stories can simultaneously strengthen old relationships and forge new ones.’
Yet some inventors point to kid resilience as a factor that will help to level the playing field once more. Says Jeffway: ‘I do feel that as the months pass, we will end up almost where we were before 9/11. The basic interests of kids will be the same, though the impact on parents may be longer-lasting.’
Richard C. Levy has been creating and licensing toys and games for more than 20 years. His 12th book–The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cashing In On Your Inventions–was just released and is available nationwide in the U.S.