The Day Our GI Joes Fought in a Real Jungle

Snake Eyes proudly displayed on my friend Spiro’s head

From our introduction in 1985, GI Joe 3.75 inch figures were the obsession of obsessions. They seemed more influential than the all mighty Star Wars, which by this point, was losing steam (not for me personally of course). They were released in our town as Action Man under the Toltoys brand. If you weren’t reading the Marvel comics, you weren’t in the know. One would assume these were generic army figures, but we knew they were GI Joes.

Between a number of friends, we amassed quite a number of figures, although Cobra was poorly represented by only 3 figures. We had played legendary games on the top field and tree stumps of Kilbirnie School, creating situations and imagery that I wish I could revisit detail for detail.

Man! What a time it was!

With GI Joes being army based figures, Jungle warfare was the pinnacle of desired gameplay. However, we always found ourselves in urban playsets. The gardens of Kilbirnie School were not quiet places to plan a game and the chances of losing your figures were, to quote Vader, “All too easy”. My good friend and collaborator in motion pictures, Matthew, reported fantastic gameplay out in his wonderfully forested back yard, when he got home after school. It was only natural we would once again, much like our legendary Jaws games, come up with an elaborate concept of gameplay outside the rules of the school.

Funnily enough, now that I think of it, I had never previously desired real forested playsets when I was playing Endor scenes with my Return of the Jedi figures. Endor, located on the family couch, seemed a perfectly viable substitute. The lack of desire to ramp up gameplay was probably because of my dislike for those foolish Ewoks! I cannot for the life of me recall even one game with those teddy bear figures that stimulated any sort of excitement.

Excitement you say? Cue the GI Joes!

My grandmother had, what my wondrous child mind viewed as exotic, an array of flowers and plants amassed in the front yard that were scaled and Good for figures! An exotic Jungle was offered and in turn, a Saturday game was planned. Matthew and my neighborhood friend Spiro, who was obsessed, like many, with Snake Eyes, were scheduled for the action.

The sun was blaring and the duo arrived around midday. We chose our favorite figure for the day, a culture well established. This would be your character completely. You would not take control of another friends character. Unassigned figures were controlled by everybody, though generally by the company they kept. As my favorite for the day was Stalker, due to his superior camouflage, I naturally had control of his close buddies like Rock n Roll.

The game was spectacular! we had 2 VAMPS! and a FANG (we called it Cobra Copter) hovering over the Jungle. Our 2 Clutch figures naturally became siblings, another standard practice when having double ups, allowing full utilisation of all available figures. Stalker sustained a vicious injury and was in hiding under the exotic Marigold trees. He was abandoned by the other figures who had to escape after a Cobra Copter surveillance operation. Abandonment was a theme we explored often. Figures trapped and left alone made for intense drama.

The over powering pleasure of being in a real Jungle had it’s pitfalls. No longer were we in an controlled environment to monitor accessories. As such, helmets and guns were scattered in all directions. Not being able to locate Rock n Roll’s helmet was frustrating, but I would have risked it again without hesitation the following Saturday, had another chance for this kind of spectacular gameplay presented itself.

My friends could not stay as long as I wanted them too and departed they did, along with their figures. This was extra devastating for me because planning a game outside school, with school friends, was all too rare and I knew this game was most likely a one off. I didn’t want the feelings and imagery of the game to end so I left Stalker injured in position for a while… the Cobra Copter crashed in the trees high above. I sat there gazing at them for quite some time, somewhat sad.

Now, that’s an Instagram post! A battle I was living through… not revisiting.

I’m still somewhat sad.

It was the way you played with the figures


  • Miss Neach

    Your writing is impeccable – I travelled that entire adventure with you!!
    Fantastic work Mr Laos don’t stop with telling these legends, they’re brilliant.

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