What better way to get a kid to stop asking about getting a real dog when you can attach him to an artificial life form to neglect and let die (cause of death usually a depleted battery or unforgiving washing machine). Tamagotchi's are a helluva lot easier to replace, after all, than a real animal, and a lot cheaper. Somehow these things were the pride and joy of ever kid in middle school, some opting out of the classic model for the Jurassic Park themed Baby T-Rex, others the Pichachu pedometer; in any case, these things couldn't have died out any sooner than they usually did, but they wouldn't be the last time a kid would be glued to a cyber-device, harboring virtual interactions in lieu of actual ones.
What better way to lure an easily influence child to unhealthy chemical-pumped fast food than to add incentive in something no kid can resist: a 5-part toy set that must be completed in order to feel complete. A business model founded on cheap addictions. How can you just have one piece of the Inspector Gadget set and live without combining them and animating Inspector Gadget's completed action figure corpse? Come to think of it, how messed up is it to promote a movie by hacking up the lead character and scattering his seperated limbs into air-tight plastic bags. Never again will something that costs 99 cents be so mandatory to own in order to be accepted by a social group, unless you're talking about iTunes.
Action figures are a timeless and undying artifact; this most popular toy format has spanned generations and even seems to no longer be just for kids anymore: while Batman, Ninja Turtles, Ghost Busters, Star Wars, and Transformers remain classics, always reinventing themselves since genesis, new franchises are always coming out. There's always an action figure made for a popular action blockbuster/film franchise, be it Terminator, the Matrix, or Alien, and they are almost an art form in and of themselves. Todd MacFarlane, for example, a graphic artist known for the spawning the Hell-centric Spawn comic and illustating Spider-Man in the 80's, has his own line of twisted action figures, some deriving from his Spawn universe, others just the product of his tormented imagination. It would seem action figures these days, especially when modeled after R-rated movies young kids shouldn't be familiar with, are directly aimed at adulescents and baby boomers. Hot Topic does its fair part in keeping these assets alive.
These things were like kid currency, worth invisible, arbitrarily-decided values. Better still, they could be traded and gambled away just like real money, teaching important lessons about holding on to your Pikachus. Did anyone actually play the game as intended? Pokemon was a huge franchise which capitalized on the idea of collectibility, what with the multi-colored game cartridges (Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, Silver, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, etc.) which, at about 50 bucks a pop, all needed to be collected in order to collect all the Pokemon species. Brilliantly enough, new Pokemon seem to be continually discovered, meaning that another GameBoy game needs to be purchased in order to successfully poach them all.
The best part about this toy was its tendency to break apart and leak corn syrup, making it double for a body-builder-shaped carafe. The stretch toy remains popular to this day all the while, finding all sorts of tie-ins, spin-offs, and rip-offs since the original, some involving the WWF and various spooky Halloween-themed characters ("Stretch Screamers"); they at least seemed to have touched upon the faulty mechanics of the former, devising a way to make medieval torture practices irresistably fun, without so much the gory side effects.
Part bean bag, part plush toy, Beanie Babies were all the rage for a time, and the perfect outlet for a material dependency problem as post-partum moms clamored to own every single one, including the ones which purposefully made less in number in order increase value (e.g. the Princess Diana doll, capitalizing on the princess's unfortunate, yet highly-profitable demise). The apparent requirement to maintain value was to never remove the TY heart-shaped tag. That and to sit on your hoard like a Beowulfian dragon until the investment in foolishness pays off (then the kids can go to college, riding on a menagerie of stuffed creatures of the most adorable variety).
These yo-yos made Duncan look like an anorexic mule in a horse race amongst firm-flanked stallions. These "high performance" yo-yos were almost like a teen's first project car, one that he could open up and tinker around with, guts which included a kind of motor, complete with a ball-bearing. Apparently the thing to do was to lube up the ball bearing with vaseline to make the thing sleep for like 3 hours straight, at least as was the goal. This power-yo-yo came in many makes and models, different shapes and colors, each which supposedly did something special, but the top models were the Brain and Fireball. Coolest was that sound it made upon retrieval, the slight humming like a muffled engine operating soundly and smoothly. That was a yo-yo made for a real man.
More creepy than anything, Furby was an artifical lifeform that spoke its own language and seemed capable of human interaction. Supposedly the thing could learn and come to understand our language, but terrible paranoia sets in as you wonder if owning more than one might result in conspiracy and evil plots (it's rather fitting that they made a Furby spin-off based on the movie Gremlins, where in which little creatures commit heinus anarchic crimes against humanity). Why not just be safe and toss the thing in the bathtub before a movie like Small Soldiers comes to actualize itself (actually, this might be a bad idea in the case of the Gizmo Furby).
These were a minature addiction in the most literal form; Mighty Max (the male-oriented version of Polly Pocket) was like a small-scale model of a movie set with characters and little pieces that were just asking to be swallowed by small children. What was coolest of all was that this little interactive soundstage was all self-contained in what was almost a separate toy to itself, shaped like an amputated hand or shark or something else gross or cool to an 8-year-old.
This little cardboard discs were a wierd kind of addiction, an early form of gambling (whereupon the rules called for relinquishing whichever POGs landed faceside up when your opponent threw down his "slammer" on his turn. Better little discs than a morgage or entire life savings. The POGs were stored in plastic tubes, the bigger tubes indicating a compulsive POG player. You got to wonder how the results would fair if they were to conduct a survey to see how many POG players found their way inevitably to a real casino. The one nagging ethical question: Was the counterfeit POG-maker acceptable in real game play, or did it just flood the market with ersatz goods and consequently deflate the face value of the POG? That's some serious POG economics.