Everyone chooses sides
Warning to parents and anybody planning to spend time with male children this holiday: the local action-figure population is about to increase significantly. With that in mind, I’d like to establish once and for all the rules of a game that adults have for too long perceived as a random activity — namely, “Playing Guys.”
Definition: A “guy” (a/k/a “action figure”) is a hand-holdable, plastic replica of a real or theoretical being derived from appearances in movies, comics, or on television. He may be augmented by either officially licensed or improvised accessories. A guy may be good or evil, but all guys are, by nature, violent.
There aren’t, in fact, many rules, but the ones encoded here are timeless, universal, and inviolable.
Rule Number 1 Take Newton’s second law and throw it out the window. The rate of acceleration of one guy is actually equal to how powerful the guy hitting him is. (Power = how mean/strong a guy looks multiplied by any accessories previously ordered or extra weapons he’s picked up at, say, CVS.)
Rule Number 2 The typical interaction between guys is initiated by taking one guy in one hand, and another guy in the other hand. Something is said, perhaps about the merits of free-trade, and the first guy bashes the other, a “ppfpgshhhh” is uttered, and the injured party is flung backwards as far as your arm can extend. That settles that.
Rule Number 3 In guy world, everyone can fly. Everyone. If your guy comes with a jet pack, he can fly even better. Or maybe not fly, per se, but rather you can choose when gravity affects your guy, and how much. Thus, many fights are like walking on the moon. (Which is convenient, because my guy has had to defend it, like, three times this morning.)
Rule Number 4 The arm of that couch is a cliff. Please take your jacket off my cliff.
Rule Number 5 Good guys vs. bad guys: I shouldn’t even have to explain this — moral ambiguity is a grown-up construct. I know he’s bad because he’s wearing darker clothes. And listen to his voice — it’s hoarse!
Rule Number 6 Don’t ever call this playing with dolls.
Rule Number 7 When hit hard enough, anything can explode. Didn’t know that pile of papers on the coffee table had explosives in it? It didn’t.
Rule Number 8 Anyone can interact with anyone. Why shouldn’t Bebop from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles be able to hold court with a G.I. Joe? Yes, this would all be a beautiful demonstration of children’s ability to overlook differences if, in the end, every play session didn’t involve these people from different backgrounds smashing each other’s skull.
Rule Number 9 Humming?! Did you just call the noise made by my turbo boosters humming? This brings us to sound effects: we have them. Lots of them. Okay, four of them. But they are an integral part of maintaining the authenticity of mid-air clashes between dinosaurs and Transformers. Punch = a quick “ppfpgshhhh.” That’s universal. Ask any little boy what a punch sounds like. That’s it. Laser = a high pitch “pshewwwwww psshewwwww.” Falling = a long “ahhhhhhhhhhh” that fades away at the end and implies everyone’s last words are “ahhhhhhhh.” On hitting the ground, a guy may or may not explode, a sound that comes from both vibrations in the back of the mouth and having heard very few actual explosions. (Incredulous? See Rule Number 7.) Dialogue is sparse. This is “guys,” not a Bergman movie.
Rule Number 10 Seriously, never call this playing with dolls. Okay, it’s ostensibly playing with scaled-down characters. But playing guys is an activity, nay, a rite of passage, through which we develop spatial skills, such as how a flame-thrower would work while you’re flying. (Answer: it can also become a jet.) And while structurally the term “playing guys” is similar to “playing house,” the latter is a game of mimicry. (“Let’s bake and vacuum like we see Mommy and Daddy doing.”) Playing guys is one of fantasy, of building a world that is not just better and cooler than our own, but one that is the actual manifestation of a set of physical laws and heroic values that, we feel deeply (even at age six), codifies the way things should be. (“Let’s do 17 flips in the air like Mommy and Daddy have never done, but, look, let’s just do it, okay?”)
In fact, this is why we like action movies: they are a life-size dramatization of playing guys. That actor jumping that house on the dirt bike and the 20-minute fight scene are not ridiculous insofar as they are merely a director playing guys, a game come true. So the “action” that precedes both “movies” and “figures” is this specific type of action, an unrealistic fulfillment of a latent schema in which physical laws bend to accommodate a massaging of the ego by way of stretching what an individual is capable of — a world enchanted by the hyper-masculine. In this sense, the term “playing guys” rings with second meaning: a paraphrasing might lead to, “amusing oneself with action figures,” but “playing guys” also suggests, in a sad way, “acting like men.” (See Rule Number 6.)
Rule Number 11 A guy’s fort is his castle. I say this because I’m wondering why you continue to move the cushions back to where they “belong.”
Rule Number 12 While most guys come with movable legs, it would be absurd to manipulate each leg individually for every step they take. So we’ve devised this sort of two-legged hop motion. I know, it’s not very realistic. Humor us . . . (See Rule Number 3.)
Rule Number 13 Number of lives every guy has: one million. Except sometimes if you’re a low-ranking bad guy I encounter on my way to being head bad guy. Then you get one. Or you are particularly susceptible to getting knocked out by one punch and placed into this ambiguous not-quite-dead state that excuses my six-year-old mind from having to contemplate the finality of death.
Steve Macone is a writer living in Boston . . . okay, Medford. He can be reached at