1979 was a very good year to be a Star Trek fan. At long last, after an interminable ten years of waiting, Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise returned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was glorious to see William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy back in their familiar roles — even if they were wearing unflattering, powder-blue jumpsuits.
Beyond the blockbuster movie (despite what critics thought, it was the fifth highest-grossing film of 1979), the return of Star Trek meant a swarm of new merchandise that overflowed off the shelves like Tribbles. After all, it was suddenly a post–Star Wars world. Taco Bell served up soda in Star Trek glasses. Kids skipped to school swinging Spock lunch boxes. There were belt buckles and books. Plus, a Starfleet-load of fresh toys arrived that offered a vast improvement on the goofy, nonsensical Star Trek toys of the 1960s.
The prior Star Trek toys released around The Original Series were true head-scratchers — and we're not just talking about the infamous and uncomfortable "Spock Helmet." Mego released nifty action figures in the Seventies that were a vast improvement. But Star Trek: The Motion Picture licensed loads of toys that actually looked like the props and ships seen onscreen. As it was the dawn of the '80s, technological advancements made for playthings that felt like they were from the future of the Federation.
No toy was cooler than the Star Trek Two Electronic Phaser Guns manufactured by South Bend Electronics, a division of Milton Bradley. The gray plastic zappers were the first toys to utilize infrared light and a corresponding sensor. The model phasers hit the market in 1979.
In other words, this was the very first game of laser tag.
It would take five more years until laser tag arenas opened up around America as a prototypical strip mall business of the Eighties. Photon in Dallas, Texas, would be the first to open its doors in March of 1984. Two years later, Worlds of Wonder released its Lazer Tag toy, a much-desired Christmas gift for any kid who grew up in the era.
But Trekkies had the tech first. Batteries not included.
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