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The Insidiousness of Skylanders

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skylanders

Don’t get me wrong. I love Skylanders. A little too much, actually. I literally have (er, I mean my kid has) Skylanders everywhere. Giants, SWAP Force torsos and bases, the original lineup of figures and maybe five portals for at least three different game systems clutter up my living room and bedroom and have crept, like an invasive lichen, into all the corners of my home.

I’ve always thought the concept was a brilliant capitalist ploy by a gaming company. Most of the time, you buy a video game for a one-time cost, and – except for DLC – that’s pretty much it till the sequel comes out. Oh sure, there’s always merch you can get from somewhere, but that’s really optional and I’m mostly unmoved at the prospect of shelling out money on cardboard Minecraft heads.

But Skylanders has a built-in extra mechanism for getting us to buy stuff, with all those figures that actually get used in the game – and at this point, there are a lot of them. And every fall when the next game comes out, I resign myself to just pouring out the entire contents of my piggy bank into Activision’s bottom line. I’m not the only one: last February, sales of Skylanders topped the $1 billion mark. That was just after the second Skylanders installment, Skylanders Giants, won the 2012 holiday season. I can see why Disney has jumped on the bandwagon with Disney Infinity. Nintendo’s Pokemon Rumble U will also follow suit in 2014, and Hasbro’s Telepods has given Angry Birds Star Wars II a boost.

The Skylanders games themselves are quite fun – I describe them to game-savvy parents I know as “Diablo for kids,” and I play them with my eight-year-old son (when I have time, which is not at all lately). He eases me through the hard parts. Skylanders SWAP Force is currently the only game we own for the Xbox One.

What truly bothers me about Skylanders isn’t all the money I’m spending on toys, or that it’s clearly just another way to get money out of kids and their parents. Or that I can probably expect a brand-new game and set of characters to collect in 11 months or so.

It’s that I, a perfectly unassuming over-40 suburban mom with plenty on my plate, change personalities when Skylanders come around. I don’t consider myself particularly obsessive, but all of a sudden I find myself desperately searching for that elusive and rare Skylanders color variant on eBay and standing in line at GameStop before opening on the off-chance of getting a store exclusive. I check websites to find out what’s coming out when, and I strategize for optimal shopping times. I’ve been known to rearrange my work hours in response to an e-mail alert. Heck, I’ve forced myself to go to both Wal-Mart and ToysRUs (both retailers I would be happy to avoid for the rest of my life) in order to locate exclusive Skylanders.

And even then, with my own limited time and resources, I probably will never have the definitive Skylanders collection in hand. What annoys me is that I am brought to the level of fanatic adolescent boy in my search for video game peripherals that most moms only vaguely know about. And they live perfectly normal lives! Oh sure, they might be doing some hard searching for that new Furby or whatever else is the must-have toy this year. It’s all for the kids, right? But in general they’re happy doing last-minute Christmas shopping while I go questing for unusual Skylanders every time I get a hint there’s a new shipment coming in someplace.

Skylanders, I want my life back! Is that so much to ask?

 

About Helen A. Lee


Helen is a veteran writer with credits in The Learned Fangirl, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Gamespot.com, Chicago Tribune and nytimes.com, among others (if pressed, she may cop to writing instructional guides to pop star hair and interviewing "Desperate Housewives" stars). She's a huge geek and her son, age 11, looks to be following in her footsteps.