A stray memory — triggered by seeing the first 1977 Star Wars theater-lobby poster on Antiques Roadshow (value $2000!) — made me wonder if a certain time-killer of my childhood was as common as I’ve always just assumed it was. What better place to conduct an informal poll than here at Black Gate — an audience comprised of readers with common interests and shared cultural experiences?
On the left side of the vintage image (so iconic, indelibly impressed upon my generation’s psyche) one sees dozens of x-wing fighters flying in to attack the Death Star. That’s what triggered the memory of a pastime common among my male peers in preschool.
During arts and crafts or any downtime where we were given access to paper and pens/ pencils/ crayons, a perennial favorite was to draw a whole fleet of Rebel x-wing fighters facing off against a fleet of Imperial tie-fighters (Colonial vipers and Cylon raiders worked just as well). That was not the end product, no sir. That was the set-up. The battle would begin, the image soon obliterated as lines were scrawled from the firing vehicle to its target, followed by violent scribbling over of said target to indicate it had exploded. What one was left with was a sheet covered in lines and scribbles, with maybe one or two of vehicles of the victorious side still visible. [Examples follow the “Read More” jump.]
I do seem to recall that this bit of on-paper play was occasionally shared with a partner (the first nascent impulse to table-top wargaming?), but mostly I remember it as a solo activity. It certainly was not my idea, but one I learned by observation. I can’t remember doing this after I could read and write, though, so we’re talking strictly preschool and kindergarten. (Evidently the inherent concept of imagining or re-enacting a battle on paper would later be channeled into structured games.)
But it wasn’t until my recent recollection of this fond little diversion that it occurred to me: was this a widespread activity, or was it regional?
Was it something only kids at my preschool did?
I’ve done enough research of urban legends and folklore to doubt it. If kids are doing it somewhere, they’re probably doing it everywhere. Long before we were able to text and tweet and post to Facebook, we were somehow able to disseminate our culture far and wide as if by mystical winds and magic fairy dust. Even before the Internet, you could go to nearly any school in the country and ask the kids what happens if you go into the bathroom and say “Bloody Mary” five times, and they’d have a ready answer. Likewise, you could hear all the dead baby jokes you’d care to hear. And there were playground putdowns and jump-rope rhymes that no adult ever uttered, yet could be heard at recess from Phoenix Arizona to Providence Rhode Island. (How did that work, anyway? It’s a question that folklorists and cultural historians are still fascinated by, gathering data to debate various theories. My own guess: goblins. Little invisible goblins that went around whispering all that stuff in our ears.)
A further question: is this particular activity — the pen-and-paper dogfight — unique to my generation, or did prior generations do essentialy the same thing, playing out their own imagined dogfights and WWII battles with planes and tanks crudely penciled on notebook paper? As far as whether any kids do it anymore, I would guess that the activity — however widespread it may have been in the ‘70s — was superseded in later generations by video games.
So, readers, please respond. Anyone else recall doing this? And if you grew up prior to Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, did you do something similar with earlier versions of vehicular warfare?