Big Trak, the brainchild of an electronically minded Milton Bradley Company (who released Simon and Microvision during the same period), looked like a toy version of the futuristic armoured RV from Damnation Alley (1977).
The squat, low and sturdy appearance of the truck had an almost militaristic feel, which was heartily reinforced by Big Trak’s ability to fire ‘Photon’ lasers (actually a focused high wattage light bulb behind a red filter).
The toy retailed for about US$43.00, a price high enough that it was often relegated to the envious land of ‘toys other people have in their homes’.
Big Trak also had one ‘trailer hitch’ accessory that, for anyone who saw Big Trak commercials, was an absolutely necessary purchase. The trailer sold for US$12.00 and could be used to haul cool stuff around the house. In the commercial, a kid giddily programs his Big Trak to surprise his father with a cool, refreshing drink, perhaps thanking him for spending so much on this techno-wonder.
In the end, remotely serving your father his evening gin & tonic was about the limit of Big Trak’s practical applications.
The plastic multi-coloured numeric directional keypad located on Big Trak’s back was just complicated enough to make navigating the hallways and rooms of the average family home a daunting task at best.
There was a difficult system of pressing numbers and arrows in sequence in order to command the vehicle to “go forward”, “turn left”, “go forward again”, “fire photon”, “retreat” etc.
This was made more problematic by the fact that each time the forward arrow was pressed in the sequence of commands, the Big Trak would move approximately 13 inches. This was not a particularly helpful formula for precise driving, and a lot of living room furniture suffered as a result . . .
Even if Big Trak was eventually proven ineffective as a toy, its lure and appeal were supreme.
While the electronic aspects were particularly hypnotic, the idea that Big Trak offered an element of control to a child that had very little power over the world around them was like entering the realm of magic.
A child’s environment is often dominated by schedules, rules and parameters designed by someone else’s hand.
Big Trak promised a child his own agency in decision-making. Move here. Turn there. Fire weapon. Bring me a drink. Obey me, Big Trak, for I am your god.
For a brief, ecstatic moment, the future had finally arrived, even if it was eventually relegated to the back of a suburban cupboard stuffed behind clothing two sizes too small and boxes of forgotten trading cards.