Over the years, I’ve been engaged in a few debates (often on other websites) about the importance of articulation on toys (here’s one, and here’s another). Personally, I’ve always cared about articulation. As a kid, a figure that had extra articulation – hinged knees, ball-jointed shoulders – was always something I considered a great bonus. However, I also hated action features and never understood those kids who would just bash figures into each other to make them “fight,” so I’ll admit I may not have been representative of how the majority of children approach playing with action figures.
Recently, I asked a friend of mine who had a 5-year-old son to ask him and anyone else she wanted to ask what their opinions were on articulation on action figures.
She didn’t have much luck with her son, but the adults – few, if any of whom were current action figure collectors – had some intriguing responses.
I’ve asked my son on maybe three different occasions about articulation, but stunningly most of what I’ve learned is that it’s a lot harder to interview a six-year-old than an adult. He says that the movement is cool, but I’m not sure how much he actually feels the difference. See the Brit below – my son might just not be old enough to appreciate what good articulation can do.
On the other hand, I talked to a lot of grown ups, and almost nobody (granted, I’m in science) thought I was crazy for asking. About half knew what I was getting at quickly, and responded with an opinion that was clearly not spur of the moment. I’ve got ideas on how it might break down along gender lines, toy type, and age.
In the meantime, interesting data on the adults:
Female, age 22 (undergraduate, medical science): Collected horses as a kid. Detail important, not poseability – but detail was very important and appreciated. She played with the horses in scenes/stories, but the realism took precedence over the movement. Maybe something to do with the fact that it would be a lot harder and more annoying to move four legs at a time? Or that the only thing horses do really is run, and if they’re all posed in action moves, you don’t need to have articulation to express that movement because it’s already there?
Her boyfriend, age 24 (engineer): articulation was way cooler, as were assembly options (Gundam robots were what he collected).
Male, age 37: said that extra articulation was added while he was a kid, and that was awesome. Elbows that could fold added a pivot, and that definitely made the toys cooler.
Male, age 34 (scientist): said that he didn’t collect action figures, but when I explained more he said he thinks part of the reason why he didn’t is because there wasn’t enough articulation. It was a “revelation about my own youth” to discover that this was probably the source of his love for Transformers – total articulation.
Male, age 23 (medical equipment salesperson): said that articulation only mattered if it meant the figure could do something with it. So if it was a Jedi, he’d want to be able to move the arm to swing it around.
Male, age 22 (technician): said almost the same thing – articulation didn’t matter unless it made the figure hold a gun.
Male, age 36, (scientist, British): said that arms moving/legs moving was good, elbows were a bonus. His desire for articulation changed with his age. For him, the back story mattered more than articulation, but also mattered alongside the articulation. So for example, he’d want to make Action Man (G.I. Joe equivalent) slide down a rope strung between two branches, and for that it you needed the movement to make that happen. But he’d choose Action Man with less articulation over some other hyper-articulated Batman that didn’t look like his vision of what Batman should look like. (Adam West being the natural example of Not-Batman).
Female, age 25: said that she mostly had Barbie, and that articulation was good to have, but that it was a lot better in GI Joe (and Ken dolls, interestingly) than in Barbie. She also said it depended on the back story of the character, interestingly – if it was Model Barbie, she wouldn’t expect or need much movement, but Superhero Barbie and Stuntwoman Barbie had better have some.
Female, age 38 (me): I didn’t have action figures (for which I am still sad, because how could I not overcome that particular sexism? I just thought I couldn’t have them because I was a girl), but found the lack of articulation in Barbies frustrating. I really loved the idea of the one with a soft exterior/wired interior that could ‘pose,’ but it ultimately proved frustrating when it became evident that the posing made it harder to work with, not easier. There was extremely limited movement and a lot of bounce-back to rest; the toes were also molded of the same rubber, so it made the feet too squishy and weird and hard to get into shoes; since the bodies weren’t forced into any sort of balance, it made them harder to work with so they’d stay put, dammit.
Another person I interviewed (who didn’t play with action figures forty years ago in Soviet Russia, so couldn’t really care about articulation) mentioned that it was slightly cooler when Hot Wheels had doors that opened, but it didn’t impact racing much. For me though, I would play with those little doors and hoods that opened, and they were inevitably the cars I loved the most.