The past is a foreign country: 80s toys & technology

The past is a foreign country: 80s toys & technology

So far in my blog series on the early 80s, I've written a post introducing the period and covered my favourite movies and television shows. But the 80s wouldn't have been without the 80s without the popular technology and toys of the time. With that in my mind here's a list of my favourite tech and toys from 1980-1985:


top-loading vcrBefore there was Netflix, before DVDs and even before Blockbuster Video was born (the first store opened in Dallax, Texas in late 1985) VCRs were making their way into homes and changing the way people watched movies and television. The two big formats at the time were Betamax (considered the superior technology) and VHS (the format that won the war despite Betamax's better quality). My family were late-ish in acquiring our first VCR in 1986, but even beforehand we rented machines or occasionally borrowed them from my dad's school over the weekends. The summer I was fourteen we rented a top loading VHS VCR along with the Duran Duran video album and a couple of movies while away at the cottage for a couple of weeks. I was so excited at the thrill of being able to repeatedly watch even the most obscure Duran Duran videos, that it's a wonder my head didn't explode and burn down the cottage. Watching what you wanted exactly when you wanted to watch it was revolutionary and when our own VCR arrived a couple of years later it was pretty awesome to be able to tape General Hospital, Late Night with David Letterman


In 1980 and 81 (possibly even 1982!) I was pretty much inseparable from my Merlin, a handheld device the size of a mutant phone that contained 6 different games. I can't imagine how many batteries I must've gone through or remember whatever happened to my Merlin, but I'd love to stumble across one of these again and see if I still remember how to play the tune Molly Malone on it in electronic chirps.

Rubik's Cube

You knew that was coming, right? I think everyone who lived through this period probably had a Rubik's cube in their hands at some time during the early 80s. Its runaway popularity led to a sort of 3D handheld puzzle fad and I probably had ten different games inspired by the Rubik's Cube at one point. But the Rubik's Cube was my first and favourite. I became sort of obsessed by it and worked on it for hours at a time, until I finally figured out how to solve it. I still can't explain the process in words and don't know exactly how I can do it but a part of my brain recognizes the patterns that come up while you're shifting the cube and also knows how to turn the various sides accordingly until the six sides each show a solid colour. There was a time during the early 80s when I could do the cube in 2 minutes but when I tried about five years ago it took much longer.
Pac-Man ghost
(arcade game)

The 80s was a hot time for arcades and before Atari really took off the best way to get your Pacman fix was to throw a quarter in the machine. This and Burgertime were my favourite arcade games of the time. 

Burgertime (arcade game)

You can check out what Burgertime was like at Shockingly Fun! Games. And if you ask me what I found so compelling about a game centering on a tiny chef who must assemble burgers by walking the length of buns, meat patties, tomatoes, etc.), while being hunted by an egg, hot dog and pickle, I confess that I have no idea, but then, most arcade games didn't make much sense! Better not to apply logic to them.


You may wonder if I should've stuck this under TV shows but the idea of a channel dedicated solely to pop music felt like a technological breakthrough too. As did the newly popular artistic medium of music videos and their role in selling music. 

MuchMusic (1984 and onwards)

Canada's very own version of MuchMusic hit airwaves in the summer of 1984. After the free trial of the channel was over my main birthday gift the following December was a subscription to MuchMusic. 


The first mainstream videogame console! Obviously the thrill wasn't dependent on cool graphics. Those didn't exist yet. So the sense of fun in Atari games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Pitfall! and Missile Command was more along the lines of what you'd experience playing something like pinball. You can see a list of top-selling Atari Games here. I never played RiverRaid or Atlantis but most of the other titles are familiar and I can't tell you exactly how many times I saved E.T. by sending him home during the early 80s but for awhile saving E.T. was kinda one of my hobbies.


The Smurf craze was at its height when I was in seventh grade. All us Smurf fans taking part would bring our Smurf collections ins and sit them on our desks and, no, the teachers didn't tell us to put them away. I was much less a fan of the show than I was of collecting the toy smurfs but I watched them on TV too and although there was seemingly only one female Smurf—Smurfette—I actually had several female smurfs. I believe my Smurf collection still exists, intact but well-worn, in a box somewhere in my storage locker.

Sony Walkman

As a music format, tapes sucked— they'd get tangled up and warped if you listened to them too many times (as a result I had to throw out most of the favourite albums that I'd purchase on tape from this time). But the coolest thing about tapes was that they allowed you to carry your music with you. Portability! From the moment I got a Walkman my favourite music went everywhere with me (Goodbye, Merlin). Bliss!

Just one more eighties post left. Drop back in next week and read my fav music from 1980-85 entry.

Read the Rest of the 80s series:

* The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there
* The past is a foreign country: 80s TV
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Movies
* The past is a foreign country: 80s Music

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