There was no greater excitement than the biannual arrival of the Sears catalog, a three to four-inch lexicon with colorful images of everything from clothing to furniture to appliances and tools. Each new catalog brought a renewed chance to hone the characters, and the imagined world, of the Catalog Game.

Precursors of a modern Avatar, the first step was to pick a model from the pages to represent you; you also had to settle on a name. I always chose the same lithe brunette and her imaginary name – my name – was Tina. Next, we selected a male model to be our beau. Enamored by the Barbie Doll culture my academic parents denied me, my man was a blonde with immovable hair whom I dubbed Ken, of course.

Next, and vitally important, there were outfits. For the imagined beach date, what would Tina wear? What about Ken? And each friend had to find suits for themselves and their plastic boyfriends. After the beach, dinner and a movie. More wardrobe decisions – in truth, our favorite part.

When we tired of clothes, we turned to home decor. Should we go for the couch with the wide rust plaid? Avocado appliances? A lava lamp for the living room? The more time you spent with the Sears catalog, more possibilities opened to the point of overwhelming. After a few frenzied hours, there was nothing to do but flip back to the casual clothing to find a pair of Capri pants and a strappy halter, then flash forward to the patio section for a grill that the perfect plastic boyfriends could use to hurry up some burgers and dogs.

It’s an old person waxing nostalgic for me to wonder if our paper-based game of old inspired more creativity than today’s online virtual universe. Gamers arguably begin developing skills that may prove highly marketable when they get their growth. The Sears Catalog Game honed what, exactly? An instinct for shopping and “happily ever after” fantasies?