Insperations: A Child of the 70's



A couple of my blogger buddies had been inspired to reveal their beginnings, which I always find to be interesting. I am not a grognard, I played once in the 70’s and hated it. I didn’t play officially until 1993. When I was a teen, I had enough social problems to deal with without tacking on Dungeons & Dragons.

I’m a country kid, I mean to say that I grew up in the city of Council Bluffs Iowa, but in the early 80’s my folks were able to save up enough money to move out onto a rural route, I spent most of my formative years out there, but until that time I lived across the street from my cousin, who was like a big brother to me. I have been lucky to always live next to woods, and I spent a lot of time out there. Our parents typically kicked us out of the house, and we’d run around the woods until we got hungry. 

We had toys, but if you take toys out into the woods, you usually won’t get them back, so we’d play pretend! Star Wars, Robin Hood, super heroes, this became our favorite game. We especially loved finding branches which we’d clean off and have sword fights, or staff battles. We fancied ourselves to be quite good at our sword fighting!

We did other stuff too, this was before central air conditioning was all that available, so the theatre downtown would host a children’s matinee, offering free pop and popcorn while they played those classic sci-fi, adventure, and monster movies from the 50’s and 60’s to get us out of the heat for a little bit, and we loved them! Those pulpy things were expertly written to attract susceptible young minds in the perfect way! Once the movie was over, we’d go back out in the woods and talk about what we’d seen, and sometimes we’d even pretend to be those characters! Especially with the monster movies, what kid didn’t love them? We’d all be the heroes and invisible monsters would chase us all around! There would be casualties here and there, but after a dramatic and heart-wrenching death scene, you’d be right back into the game. Rules? Who needs rules? Sometimes the game required you to stay dead, but the best one’s never did.

There weren’t hundreds of channels to choose from, if a buddy had cable television then he was popular! But, for the most part, everybody watched the same stuff. V, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and lets not forget the reruns of Batman & Robin,  Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Lost in Space! Cartoons only ran on Saturday mornings; most of them were terrible, but there were some shows that were popular, Superfriends, Scooby Doo, Land of the Lost, and such, but our favorite was Dungeons & Dragons! Everybody in my neighborhood watched these programs, and we talked about them! We tried to play D&D, but we weren’t ready for the strict rules, and my cousin was bossy enough without me having to call him Dungeon Master!

That period of time also had MUST SEE movies. Again, this was a shared experience. Everybody went to the theatre, mom and dad needed to get out of the heat too, and there was no VCRs in our part of town, so you either watched it at the movies, or you had some friend tell you every last detail of it. Well, there was MAD Magazine that helped out too, but the big movies, everybody saw. Besides Star Wars, which is a given, there was Flash Gordon, Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, and Excalibur. HBO even did a special deal for kids at the time with Excalibur, were they edited out all of the naughty bits. I remember our whole family getting together for this, all of my mom’s brothers and her sister, and all of us kids. We filled up our tiny little living room and watched it, it was a big deal!

Reading was a kin to some mysterious art, once our teacher started to let us into that secret world, I took right too it. I eagerly wanted to learn! My mother was a big fan of true ghost stories, monsters, and ancient secrets, but she wouldn’t read these to me. I was stuck with Sesame Street books and all of that kids crap because she said that those books were too scary, so I had to learn to read! And she was right. Those books were really scary!

I always loved reading after that; my favorite books were those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books! Again, this was a shared experience, once the library got a new one, there was a LONG waiting list to get your hands on a copy. The neighborhood I lived in was really poor, but we had the RIF Program which I was always thankful for and still support. Once a year they would come to our school and fill up the gym with tables and tables of books and you could choose one to have, and we always went after the “Choose Your Own Adventure” titles!  I loved my mom’s scary books too, but I had to sneak a lot of them, much like I had to sneak up late at night to watch Creature Feature with Dr. Sanguinary, so horror stuff was kind of like being naughty! I became a story teller from them; my friend’s parents didn’t like them watching that kind of stuff either, so I would tell them all about this secret world and they’d just eat it up!

Once we moved out into the country, my social influences stopped. I love the country! That is where I spent the majority of my youth, and it was a tradeoff. Yes, I was extremely isolated, all social influences outside of my relatives stopped, but I would spend most of my time not spent doing chores out in the woods which were even bigger than my old stomping ground in Council Bluffs, out there I found discovery. I love the outdoors; I had a creek and miles of wilderness to play in. My yard was huge! I played alone most of the time, which really builds up the imagination. I had a couple of friends out there, but none of them were all that interested in fantasy stuff. I suppose that the other kids thought that I was into what they saw as “kids’ stuff” but I really enjoyed it, and I still do!

It was out in the country where I started playing video games, and I loved games like Haunted House, and Adventure! My cousins and I would create a makeshift space ship and play Star Raiders. ATARI games were great, they still required that element of imagination, but you could also actually role play while you were playing them! ATARI games still fascinate me, they could do so much with so little it just boggles the mind! This post uses up more disk space then what they had. Many of the games were really well designed, and better thought out that the stuff that one plays today. The Nintendo was another love affair with me, particularly Legend of Zelda. I really sucked at video games, but I could play me some Zelda, now! What Nintendo lacked in the imagination and role playing department, it made up for in size. Legend of Zelda was a HUGE game, and it rewarded you for exploring. Exploration games: that is what I loved more than anything, but Zelda also offered a challenge, and you couldn’t play it by yourself. While others thought that I enjoyed kids’ stuff, Nintendo wasn’t kids’ stuff. I found lots of secrets but Zelda brought kids together because everybody would find different things. It took a long time to first beat the game. Years later, when I cracked the game I found stuff in there that I had never seen before! It was really a magnificent program and one that I still enjoy playing.

Living in the country, I would read a lot. I didn’t fit in anymore, at school I was a poor country kid who the other country kids couldn’t stand because I talked nonsense to them, so I stayed by myself and I’d read. I discovered the occult and ate it up! Archeology and history was a love of mine, but it was scattered. I had no sense of direction; I just absorbed what I could. I learned way more outside of school than I ever learned in it. I didn’t find like-minded friends until after I graduated, and it was them that got me into D&D.

It wasn’t really all of these things that inspired me, it was my cousin who was my first best friend and brother, it was my uncles who ate that stuff up! It was my mother whose love of things that go bump in the night possessed me. And it was my father, whose love of Westerns and rural history is firmly embedded into my very being as well. It was the woods, infested with monsters and filled with discovery! These things made me what I am. Imagination is such an important part of my growing up, and I kind of feel that the kids of today may have been given the short end of the stick. My favorite toy was a stick! In my hands it was always more than just a simple stick, it was a thing of almost endless possibilities.

7 comments:

Brooser Bear said...

Interesting, how nobody comments on the really meaningful stuff. I am the child of the 1980's, though, as someone has perceptively noted, some of the best 1980's cinema was actually filmed in the 1978-1980, late 1970's, as they say. Dawn of the Dead scared the hell out of me, and I was into the nuked world and zombie apocalypse, aided by movies such as Blade Runner, Manhunter, Escape from New York. It was THAT, and of course, D&D. I did the Choose Your Own Adventure books and we fought with stocks and zebra pistols. Remember those?

Ripper X said...

Thanks for commenting and for reading my drivel. Many of the films put out in the 70's weren't all that kid friendly. They would deal with a subject matter which was attractive to boys, but had subject matters which were aimed at a different market entirely. Many of the fantasy movies were soft-core porn. They were the reincarnation of pulp stories, only on a visual medium. Beastmaster fits this bill, but I think that it had enough going on besides Tonya Roberts that the thing worked. It is actually kind of weird showing my own kids films that I had grown up watching and forgetting entirely about the nudity and sex. There are some fantasy films without that element, but not very many! No wonder it was Science Fiction films that I latched onto in this article. I had always sited Return of the Jedi as my introduction to having strange feelings about girls, but that probably wasn't the case at all.

Brooser Bear said...

I think that there were some great fantasy films (and I think that they were all 1980's) Excalibur, Dragonslayer, The Sword and The Sorcerer (the first real D&D film, had a Lich in it, and it toyed with sexuality). Conan The Barbarian, of course, but it was The Warriors (fantasy flick of another sort) that had the mystique, methinks.

The Dale Wardens said...

Ripper! Like a trip through memory lane! We must be in the same age range. I got hooked on D&D with the Blue Box, so I started a bit before you.

Excalibur was my first R-Rated movie! My friends mom drove us there, dropped us off and picked us up...and I must say I didn't really recall the "adult" part as much as I did the battling. I recall seeing Conan the first time and feeling the brutality of the swordfights.

Good stuff,

David S.

PS: I still have my Choose Your Own Adventure books! I recently found them boxed up. When the baby gets old enough I am going to pull them out.

Ripper X said...

You still have Choose Your Own Adventure books? Man, those things were fun! They were better than ATARI games! I wonder if kids today would even get into them, or if they have gone the way of those horrible TEXT based games?

Mattia said...

Hi Ripper,

how fascinating are the tales of the childhood! All the people I know, born in the middle ‘70s/early ‘80s have story such yours. Even more astonishing is to think how close can be the experiences of kids born in different continents, how pop culture is a common baggage for everybody.
As all Italian boys I spent my days playing mostly football (soccer for you), hide and seek and pretend, as you say. There were so many kids to play around, you just had to exit the door to meet friends. I have been so lucky most of the friends of the neighborhood were of my age and are still close friends today. And most surprising is that we were all crazy for fantasy and adventures. Our favorite toys were Masters of the Universe, later we moved our interest to game books (how they are called here in Italy), then to rpgs. What a period! We were playing from morning till night during summer (you have to know that kids , in Italy, are on holiday from beginning of June till beginning of September), meeting at 9.00 in the morning, going to bed at 11.30 at night. Always together.
Also the movies and tv shows I can remember as “special” are the same you mention: the Greatest American Hero, Visitors, Thundercats, D&D, Six million dollars man, ET, Stand by me, Explorers… as kids we believe we would have made some incredible discovery sooner or later. We did, in fact. At a certain age, we discovered we were kids no more, that happened when we started noticing girls were interesting after all. Yes, we had girl-friends, they were funny, but rpgs were a “man” club activity. All that enemies to defeat and search for treasure was our private world. I remember one evening playing AD&D outside, in the backyard of a friend’s home, one neighbor asked my friend’s mum what we were doing, and she replying “I do not know, I do not understand even my son!”. So funny! In fact we used to mix Italian with English words/acronyms (at our table you would have heard something like: “Lancio Magic Missile”, “Bene, quanto ha di range?” – “I cast Magic Missile” “Ok, what’s the range?”) creating a new code of communication.
Especially in this period of the year, when we used to be free from day till night, we still remember those days with nostalgia. Days were we had so much in common, that nothing could tear apart our friendship.

Ripper X said...

Summertime was the same way in the States, and they seemed so long! The older we get, the faster time moves, but back then, 3 months felt endless!

Masters of the Universe! Yeah, I loved them. It was in the 80's that I also discovered Professional Wrestling, and as I got older, I developed a strange wrestling game using my He-man toys and cards that I'd play by myself just to pass the time. I suppose that that would be my first instance of creating a set of rules to judge play. Wow, I forgot all about doing that! I'd also spend hours and hours setting up my Star Wars toys, and then have them fight using different pieces of different boardgames that we had. Like I said, I didn't have anybody to really play with, so I had to make my own fun.

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