Each generation has its fads and as someone who was born in 1987 I experienced many of those which occurred throughout the 1990s. When I think back to that decade and my younger years, I mostly think of the toys and games which littered the playground of my junior school. Whilst I was once naive and thought many of these were cool, in hindsight they probably were not.
In my opinion, the five worst toys to have graced 90s school playgrounds are (in no particular order):
- Polly Pocket;
- Alien Birthpods;
- Tamagotchis and
- Pokémon Trading Cards.
There was time when almost every child in school playgrounds had a collection of POGs. These were cardboard disks that were emblazoned with pictures of almost anything on one side and left blank (or at least; relatively so) on the other. The game that was played with these disks also went by the name of POGs. The game was once played using caps from bottles of a passion fruit, orange and guava juice drink, hence the name.
The rules of the game were simple. Though there were a number of variations, standard play involved two players placing an equal number of POGs into a stack face down and then taking it in turns to use a heavier plastic or metal POG known as a “slammer” to hit the top of the pile. Any POGs that were in the face up position after a throw were claimed by the player who had turned them. Any unturned POGs were then restacked and further throws made. The game ended when all POGs had been turned. Whoever had the most was declared as the winner.
Children however, often decided to play “keepsies” which saw any POGs claimed unreturned to their respective owners after a game. This saw the disks banned in many schools across the country due to the upset this caused for children and the adults who has shelled out on the –surprising expensive – paper disks.
Polly Pocket was a toy that was once manufactured and sold by Bluebird Toys. Originally, the toy comprised a tiny doll which was less than an inch high that resided inside of a clam shell-shaped home which came complete with a string to enable it to be worn around a child’s neck.
Once tiny Polly had – inevitably - been lost at home or in the school yard, little girls were left with nothing but an empty shell to amuse themselves with and many parents faced incessant pestering for the purchase of replacement sets.
The Polly Pocket brand was eventually bought by Mattel in 1998 and Polly has since been redesigned to be a taller 3 and ¾ inches. The redesign also saw the introduction of magnetic clothing for the doll. In 2006, 4.4 million of the new play sets were recalled by the toy manufacturer after numerous children in the United States had choked on/swallowed loose magnetic parts.
Mattel continues to sell and develop the Polly Pocket product range.
Since they were so cheap to manufacture and therefore mimic, Alien Birthpods went by many names. Whatever 90s kids across the UK called theirs, this toy always comprised a plastic egg filled with a goo-like substance, in which a rubber alien laid.
A number of rumours circulated the playground regarding the aliens, namely that they were capable of birthing a baby version of themselves or would grow to a much larger size should they be left in their goo for an undetermined but “long enough” period of time. These playground mythologies were so legendary that they still exist today (as do the ‘pods).
The legend doesn’t detract from the fact that often once 90s children lost interest in the novelty, the extra terrestrials would be tossed in the bin – or worse, be stamped into household carpets or discarded and then chewed up by pet dogs. I can only assume the same stands true today.
Tamagotchis were a phenomenon created by the Japanese toy company Bandai. The toy is an egg-shaped, handheld digital pet on a keychain comprising three buttons.
Removing the tab from the unit would see players presented with a choice of animals which start off simply as eggs but hatch, grow and evolve over time. The aim is for children to feed, clean and play with their chosen animal to see it grow older than those owned by their peers and - ultimately - stop the pet from dying (the unit could be reset if this occurred though).
As of 2010, more than 76 million Tamagotchis have been sold. It is hard to justify their popularity though, for cleaning up poop all the time and having to play the arguably boring in-built games to stimulate the pets’ happiness levels could become quite tiresome. One could also take the very best care of their pet and still it would die in a matter of days. The unreciprocated love of these pets was also a burden, as was the constant bleeping of the units for parents and teachers alike!
Pokémon Trading Cards
First introduced in Japan in 1996, Pokémon trading cards were once published by Wizards of the Coast and Nintendo soon after. Each card depicted a Pokémon (or “pocket monster”) from the Pokémon video game series and a number of statistics related to its individual strengths and attack qualities.
The cards were supplied in packets containing a random assortment of 11 cards, meaning kids could often end up with duplicates to those already in their collection, fuelling the trading element of the “game.” There was a Top Trumps-style game that could be played using the cards but this was seemingly rarely played in the playground where instead the focus lied on the collecting of the cards. Foil cards colloquially known as “shiners” were also included in some packs, though these were rarer to come across.
Pokémon cards – like POGs – were banned in many schools because children were swapping cards and later changing their minds, causing a lot of arguments and upset. This was ridiculous considering that just a few years later almost everyone stopped caring about the cards despite the franchise remaining popular.