The birth of Agent V – Spy Girl, and her arch-nemesis, Mr. X, was a fluke; a complete accident brought about from the convergence of a Happy Meal toy, several Japanese cartoon and video characters, and a desperate need, on my part, to come up with something that would entertain V when she was seven years old. V’s mother, with whom she spent the most time, was not the type to play with kids – even her own. When V came to our house, and after she started to trust the focused attention I lavished on her, she wanted to play – with me.
One afternoon at a McDonald’s playground, I grabbed the toy, which happened to be a piece of spy-ware advertising whatever movie Disney had coming out. I handed it to her and told her she was now Agent V, this was her mini-computer, and she had to track the movements of the dastardly Mr. x with it. Off she went, coming back periodically to report her findings and adventures, and get new orders. When we got home, we continued to play the game, with V coming up with new twists and turns and requirements every minute.
As we sat on the floor in her room, she rummaged through her toy box, hauling out various bits of plastic and vinyl and making them into spy gear. We made bombs out of plastic Easter eggs, used sticks as laser guns, and, developed our own hand-to-hand combat.
The game probably wouldn’t have worked as well if she wasn’t already a big fan of adventure and intrigue through computer games and TV and the characters and actions had all become part of her inner imaginary world. Although she wasn’t a huge TV watcher, she was an expert at Sonic the Hedgehog video games and she enjoyed a Japanese adventure cartoon that had a band of kids kicking and karate chopping their way to world salvation every week.
V began to immediately develop a persona for herself, with various skills and attributes. Agent V was an inspired creation, with countless possibilities, permutations, stories, and characters. The game continued to expand, with different characters, missions, and goals, along with tools, a hide-out, and, of course, a fancy vehicle (my little Chevy Aveo, with missiles, computers, and advanced flying capabilities, which actually worked out well for me, since we would sit in the car for long periods of time, playing with the controls and shooting imaginary enemies and allowing my arthritic knees to rest.)
Before we even realized it, we had created an entire world; a secret world that bonded us together and that we didn’t even share with her father. The game filled up the entire afternoon, her visit several days later, and almost every weekend after for the next five years. It did not escape me, however, that our game was a reflection of my own childhood games and imagination, as well as paralleling ways of being that I developed as a child.
I spent a lot of solitary time when I was little – reading, inventing games, and day-dreaming. Although I loved playing with other kids, and had friends, I was somewhat introverted and used to being left alone by my parents. I was also used to being with adults, as well as the expectations my parents had of me to be mature and self-sufficient. I don’t remember my mom playing games with my sister and I; she preferred to spend her free time alone and reading a book.
We watched a lot of James Bond movies as a family on Sunday nights. While the more adult themes of the films generally went over my head, I embraced the world of spies with its elaborate and hidden hideouts, curiosity, and secret weapons and gadgets. When my mother took me on errands, I performed elaborate spy missions wherever we were. I spent hours by myself, drawing pictures of elaborate computer and visual equipment, before taping them to my walls, and then drawing “paintings” to put over them, turning my room into a complete command center.
Thinking about it now, I also realize that spies are solitary people, who are usually operating and living alone, can’t trust anyone, and keep a lot of secrets. I believe that I absorbed this along with the fun gadgets and exciting action, and it became a big part of who I became as an adult. Unfortunately, being solitary, mistrustful, and without a stable, supportive community is not always the healthiest way to be in this world and I have worked hard – especially lately – to live differently.
Like me, V spent a lot of time alone as a young child, and displayed many of the same traits and mannerisms. She was careful, watchful, careful and very literal when I met her, not unlike myself as a child. We both knew what it’s like to keep secrets and have a secret life.
Both of her parents were volatile and since she never knew what she was going to get from them, she was cautious about what she said and did – again, not unlike me. It is not an easy way to live and I wanted something different for her.
Eventually we stopped playing the game and Agent V retired. But I really believe that the spy world we came up with together helped her expand her mind and feelings in a way she might not otherwise have done. While it’s true that most spies are solitary individuals, Agent V pulled a lot of colleagues and co-workers into her world, and they all did the work together, allowing her to see that not every situation had to be solitary like hers.
Playing the game helped her understand concepts like sarcasm, humor, and playfulness, and taught her to direct her own play – and, by extension, her own life. Most importantly, I think our game allowed her to role-play and safely explore different personas and personalities – including that of a strong, capable individual who directs her own life.
I wanted more for her than what I had grown up with and what surrounded her, and while I couldn’t change much of her life, I could give her Agent V. I’m hopeful that it changed her life: playing it with her and watching her grow up into a confident, capable woman has certainly changed mine. And that’s no secret.