Action figure or Doll?

In the action figure world, there are a number of on-going debates - articulation vs. sculpt, MOC vs. open, less filling vs. great taste, etc. But one that never seems to end is the debate over exactly what is an action figure, and what is a doll. 

There are several differing opinions. Let's first look at some of the common definitions, and why they are full of...something. 

One of the most common definitions says that if it wears cloth clothing, it's a doll. Real action figures don't play dress up! Unfortunately, there's a number of reasons why this makes absolutely no sense. First, the term 'action figure' originated for G.I. Joe. Joe wears cloths. If the father of all action figures isn't an action figure, then what sort of world do we live in? And what about all those small action figures with cloth capes, jackets or hats? Does the inclusion of a piece of clothing suddenly render them neutered, no longer a manly action figure? I think not. This argument hinges on the idea that Barbie and Ken have clothes, so if an 'action figure' has clothes, it's really just a doll. If you believe this, then my Scully figure with cell phone is an 'action figure', but my bbi Scar villain with enough weapons to be a one man army is a 'doll'. Yea, right.

Another common definition is an action figure is any that can hold a gun. At first glance, this seems fairly reasonable. Guns equate to violence, which any manly action figure is sure to be involved with. Barbie and Ken don't have 'gun hands'. Problem solved. Or is it? 

What about all those action figures with lousy hand sculpts? Or superhero figures that were never intended to hold a gun? While he's definitely a fine specimen of a man, my 9" Fat Bastard is never going to hold a weapon. Not that he needs to.

So how do I propose defining an action figure vs. a doll? Quite simple - it's all about the play, baby. Action figures are used by children to imitate the actions of adults. They play with these figures, acting out their own futures. These figures represent the child all grown up, and allow them to work through conflict resolution, interpersonal relationships, and situational dynamics. It's about figures that represent themselves.

Dolls don't serve this play purpose. Dolls were around long before action figures, and are designed to represent one of two things; either a smaller child/baby that the child can mother or father, or a child that is approximately the same age as the child, so they can portray their immediate, rather than future, selves.

As you can tell, I'm leaving adults out of this completely. Just because we collect them, doesn't mean we define them. They are defined by the children that love them, and if some of those children never quite grow out of that, all the better.

You may also notice that by this definition, Barbie and Ken are action figures, not dolls. I believe they are, and that the play style of little girls with their Barbies and Kens fulfills the same needs and experiences as Joes with a boy. But the purposes of Joes and Barbies are completely different than the purpose of Diaper Doo Doo Sally. And that's how I define my action figures.

Of course, many people will say I'm nuts. No big surprise there. The desire to separate the action figures from the dolls is usually driven by the needs of manly men to differentiate their toys from the girly stuff, and my definition won't do that for many.

Just like art, I might not know action figures, I know what I like.

So what do you think?  Let me know your thoughts by email!

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