Wednesday, August 01, 2007

[Transformers] Starting a New Generation the Right Way: Using the 1st Generation Cartoons

I write this because it interests me and because I know there must be some parents out there who are into Transformers. If you are a parent, please chime in on in the comments, I will be glad to read from you.

This blog is about introducing my children to the Transformers toys and story via the G1 cartoons, some Knock-Off toys, and a few official toys. If that doesn't interest you then TMTDNR and PDNR.

The Target Audience:
I'm the father of 3 girls (ages 10, 7 & 5) and a 2yo boy; Hasbro has nothing on my marketing abilities.

How to Introduce:
I know the Transformers: Animated show is coming out but until it arrives I won't know how different it is; chances are it will be good, but I'm not sure it'll be as great an introduction (the G1 cartoon was good about having lots and lots of Autobots and Decepticons in each show even if they don't speak much; the new show features less characters and cameos others - it also won't have Peter Cullen, my childhood favorite from Voltron and Prime).

What I Had, and what I Got:
The only toy Transformers I had were two large Decepticons from thrift stores (1997ish?), Generation 1 Grimlock, Overdrive, Camshaft & Downshift (1984-5; they survived the typical mother holocaust scenario), and a Classics (2006-7?) Mirage and Grimlock. The G1's sit on shelves, the thrift store specials (already broken) were general toys, and the Classic Mirage I'd play with my 2.5yo son from time to time, but never let him hold it without me. The Classic Grimlock stays in it's box.

First I posted here and met some nice folks who gave me advice on where to go to buy some toys on the cheap; the Big Lots idea panned out great.

My son, who loves matchbox cars and toy soldiers, went through several expressions to show how "cool" and "wow" the Knock-Off Transformers I got were. For $25.5 I got 23 Knock-Offs, but only "released" two of them.

Priming for the Generation 1 Cartoon:
I sat my kids down and let my daughters re-watch an episode of Azumanga Daioh, ate dinner (kids are more settled after this), and sat them down for their first 1984 original "G1 Cartoon" experience. I brought out one more set of Knock-Off's, an open top jeep and a tank, let my son hold those, and fired up the show.

Now psychologically, my son is Driven; he's the kind of personality that has to be doing something productive or he gets antsy. In the adult world, we know these people as super-annoying bosses and successful athletes. Normally he watches 10-15 minutes of a show, and if he likes what is going on, he then mimics it (Walker: Texas Ranger, etc).

Watching G1 Episodes 1-01 & 1-02:
My son sat through the entire first episode holding a Knock-Off Transformer in each hand; my 5yo daughter held one too, my older two girls (7 & 10) were acting like the toys were above them at this point.

I throw on the 2nd episode. Halfway through that was too much for my son, so he started to play. He wanted to SHOOT the Knock-Off my 5yo girl had, so she retailiated. He now understood Transformers; he'd always been trying to use his thrift-store Decepticons as though they didn't have guns. Guns are great for little boys: you can shoot people across the room and they die (we do, anyway; so does he if you "shoot" at him).

My 5yo & 7yo girl all wanted to play as soon as the 2nd show was over, so we all sat down and did that. I explained the made-up names, personalities and sides of the Knock-Offs and we separated into teams of two.

We had the typical scenario: a Good Guy was caught by the Bad Guys in the first battle, so we had to rescue him, so each side took a break: one to plan and the other to interrogate, before we did the next battle; it is amazing how involved children are with their play and it made me remember that I did the same thing as a child, only I had no siblings.

Later, my 10yo came back and we re-watched the 2nd half of the 2nd show because she'd fallen asleep, while my 5yo and 7yo daughters went to bed. My son watched it and then we (me, 10yo daughter & the boy) played for a bit longer before he had to go to bed - but we couldn't take away the Knock-Off Transformers.

He ended up falling asleep on his mother's shoulder (that's normal) holding his two Transformer KO's (vehicle mode) and using them to prop up the bottle. My lovely Latin lady said when she tried to remove them as he started to close his eyes he'd say "Uhn Uhh!" and pop awake. Very cute.

Oh, and my 10yo had decided that Transformers were fairly fun. Like my son, you can't hand her her mind on things, although she is obedient to any order. My 7yo and 5yo had decided they were great; they don't like toy soldiers but they seemed to relate to fighting robots that turn into cars, planes and other vehicles. Interesting.

Why I'm Not Worried:
I am not a completionist and moderation in all things is something I teach my children, mostly by making them earn every dollar they get, and then watching them find out the hard way how easy it is to ruin all that hard work by spending their money on something stupid. I'll warn them, and then say nothing more on the subject. Apparently I'm prophetic, because my daughters come to a screeching halt if Dad warns them, and start questioning their motives behind their desires.

It's amazing to watch them (10 & 7yo) go back and forth down the toy isles, comparing toys, coming up with a top 3, viewing them all together (even if that means transplanting the toy to another isle), and then deciding on one, because they can't afford all 3.

I won't mind if any of them grow up and forget about Transformers or any of them grow up and continue liking them; I play videogames, my wife makes crafts and uses her sewing machine, we all need hobbies (though some are more productive than others). If the lessons in cost-benefit analysis and moderation stick, they'll be good teenagers and fine adults.

I hope you enjoyed your read; if you are parents who have introduced or are introducing Transformers to your children please chime in. I admire the collectors here, but I can't relate. I would love to read from other parents, or even younger (or older) kids who actually read all this and feel compelled to relate your experiences.

Tonight we're going to have another quick pen & paper RPG session based on our Chore Wars characters, and catch another episode of the G1 cartoon.

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