(I’m somewhat writing this RPG in order, so bear with me. The actual system’s on its way. ;-))
When we were growing up in the 1980s, we might have been dimly aware of our being amidst a world boom in action-figures. The success of the Star Wars franchise model combined with the 1983 deregulation of children’s television programming based on toys suddenly prompted toy and media companies to jump into bed together. The spawn of their steamy corporate passion were both numerous and absurd: a host of mediocre-to-terrible television programs designed specifically to market action-figures – molded acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) enveloped in colorful industrial acrylics and sealed with polyethylene “accessories” likely to be swallowed or lost in the couch cushions – to impressionable young boys from American suburbs.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe? Mattel created the sci-fi/fantasy cartoon explicitly to sell the figures, which otherwise had ridiculous-looking bow legs. Visionaries – Knights of the Magical Light? Hasbro’s crude response to He-Man, namely fantasy “G.I. Joes” equipped with holograms on their chests and useless staves. Sectaurs? Coleco’s modestly successful insect mutant figures with a nigh-unwatchable cartoon to match. The list goes on: Army Ants, Dino-Riders, M.A.S.K. … the list of recognizable-but-discarded cartoon-toy name brands number in the hundreds. The most successful lines, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers, remain with us to this day, thoroughly insulated from the dark humor of Eastman & Laird or the experiments of obscure Takara engineers in the late 1970s that gave the toys their narrative appeal in the first place, but no less absurd than their unsuccessful counterparts.
The primary way the older brands (i.e. pre-1995) are to be interpreted today is through the lens of sarcasm and/or nostalgia. Their sealed plastic is given an additional, incorporeal seal: that of a corporatized childhood, one that should be discarded as readily as it trapped parents’ wallets. “Ha! Got you!” scream out the toy collections of today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings, “It was all a ruse – you bought the Raphael in Greek armor! The only way to make your money back in THIS system is to come up with a scam of your own.” Indeed, 1980s action-figures appear as epitomes of the Biblical false idol, ushered in by cheap Saudi oil and techno-militaristic fantasies but too ham-strung by ridiculous narratives to be taken seriously. A dorky prince whose sword’s primary power is to inject him with testosterone? Medieval knights on an alien world who embrace their shamanic totem symbol? Genetically mutated anthropoid insect-people locked in a pointless struggle over a blasted desert? Staring into the narratives behind these figures becomes a confrontation with the symbolic void. We know their names – General Spidrax, Man-at-Arms, Shredder, Optimus Prime – but struggle with assigning them real pathos. But yet…
Opening up my case of action figures after not looking at them for a dozen years brought not a wave of post-scam revulsion, but of boyish love for the slightly smelly plastic. Their visual and tactile qualities immediately recalled countless adventures played out on my bedroom and basement floor. The Mercenaries of Bornbrom, ruthless slavers and transformed prophet-kings (this was Shredder, Ratar-O, and Scare-Glo). There were the Eight Brothers (I had a lot of Ninja Turtle figures) whose attractive green skin caused women to faint, and Captain Megazoom (Space Usagi, pictured left) who would rule the galaxy as a debonaire emperor were it not for the stolid efforts of his enemies the Bodiless (who were totally invisible; I didn’t need to buy a figure for them). I realized this wasn’t nostalgia for the figures themselves, but for the stories I was once able to tell with them. There was a system to how I told the story; I didn’t get into role-playing through arbitrary means. The tragic tale would have to unfold in a certain fashion, and this certain fashion is what I seek to replicate in Figurative Destruction – The Solo RPG: how figures fight together, get separated by their inner natures and then fight again to their own foretold demises. Aeschylus and Shakespeare meet Eternia and Prismos reloaded.
Scoffing at those who would simply gaze at their figures slowly accruing value in plastic boxes, I imbue the soulless with a soul, nurture it, watch it grow, and feel the pathos when the figures are returned back to the dark recesses of the toy box. I creatively destroy and resurrect them, role-playing all the parts with new identities (only their color and shape remain more-or-less the same), powers, and plotlines.
And now so can you.