12 August 2007

Overplayed

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"We've spoken with a health-care specialist who believes that the intensity of your research efforts is unhealthy."

OK, so Sharkrunners has issued me with a health warning, and I was up until 3am last night scrabbing in Facebook with Australians. In my defence, I was deliberately staying up late to get a good view of the Perseids meteor shower. And, anyway, neither Sharkrunners nor Facebook Scrabble can be played with any real intensity. In Scrabble, you're kept in check by the turn-taking (why do all of my opponents take so bloody long to make a move?) and in Sharkrunners you're waiting to be alerted to an encounter. According to area/code, the developers of Sharkrunners, ships in the game move in real-time towards sharks that are representations of real-world white sharks with GPS units attached to their fins.

So it's intermittent play and in that sense reminds me of Twitchr, Matt's mobile play prototype. In Twitchr, digital birds visit your mobile phone and you have a short, intense moment in which to snap them. I like these playful interruptions.

In other (non)news, I also like Wii bowling. Because I win.

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No chance of overplaying that one, my arms couldn't take it.

Posted at 05:09 PM in Games, Nonsense, Play, Presence, Slowness, Social software, Toys | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

16 April 2005

Elfs: electronic life forms

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'Elfs' are small mechanical systems powered by solar energy that behave as natural living systems in many aspects. The immediate compassion for these life forms is an amazing experience, even though their abilities are very limited... The light-sensitive 'elfs' desperately use their chaotic sounds and noisy movements to call the attention of the outside world.

The sound of a thin beaded metal chain dropping to the bottom of the jar caught my attention when I was walking past the elfs this morning in Kiasma.

Somewhat related: Needies

Posted at 01:37 PM in Toys | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

20 February 2005

Uncanny toys

When I first came to understand RFID, at the Digital ID World conference in 2003, I became excited about how it could be used to create things that tell you stories. I was mostly thinking about books and other items that people collect, and some way of communicating the lifecycle, or social life, of those collectables. What I didn't think about at all, and certainly wouldn't have expected to see so soon, was RFID's use in mass-market toys. WorldChanging reports on two new toys that bring the uncanny world of animate toys closer:

Naoru-kun, a new doll by Bandai... speaks 150 phrases and responds when it's shaken hands, hugged, petted, etc. But when Naoru-kun gets sick, kids have to use one of the items including "syringe," "candy" and "medicine." The doll reads RFID tags embedded in these items and responds accordingly.

Little Tikes has a series of toy kitchens full of interactive technology. The MagiCook Kitchen, for example, comes with pretend food embedded with electronic tags that can be read by sensors on the stovetop which then respond with the appropriate comment.

Freud taught us that "children do not distinguish at all sharply between living and inanimate objects" and that "children have no fear of their dolls coming to life, they may even desire it", so seemingly animate toys make a lot of sense. Do you think they're more likely to be broken by children following that "first metaphysical stirring" described by Charles Baudelaire in The Philosophy of Toys:

The child twists and turns his toy, he scratches it, shakes it, bangs it against the wall, throws it on the ground. From time to time, he forces it to resume its mechanical motions, sometimes backwards. Its marvellous life comes to a stop. The child... finally prises it open... But where is its soul?

See also:

  • near near future: When objects refuse to interact with their users
  • textually.org on StuffBak: uniquely numbered labels for portable items that could get lost
  • Bruce Sterling on 'spime', in Wired magazine
  • Adaptive Path: User Expectations in a World of Smart Devices

    Posted at 03:25 PM in Children and teens, Collecting, Identities for things, Mimicry, Toys | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    New toy aesthetics

    In its lead up to the New York Toy Fair, which starts today, the New York Times has a feature about age compression in the toy industry: Gadget or Plaything? Let a Child Decide. It's not news that toys are incorporating more advanced electronics than before, or that children are aspiring to own gadgets - like mobile phones and the iPod - rather than toys; what is really interesting is how this is influencing toy aesthetics:

    So compelling is the desire for high-technology products that some toymakers are not only creating more technologically advanced products, but also giving them a less toylike look. Razor USA's electric-powered bikes and scooters - the Dirt Rocket for boys and the Pocket Mod for girls... look like scaled-down versions of adult-size models...

    Even colors of toys, many point out, are being recast to reflect a greater emphasis on technology. There are likely to be more gray, white and silver finishes in this year's Toy Fair, a departure from the traditional bright primary colors.

    "Kids are very trendy," Ms. Rice [the Toy Industry Association specialist] said, so a toy "has to have style, it has to have a techno-feel, look sleek and have the right colors."

    (See also the edgier versions of the classic Looney Tunes characters for the new series, Loonatics, set in 2772.)

    So, as increasingly infantilised adults seek more teeny, blob-like, playful devices, their children are trying to get their hands on pared down, stylish electronics. Result: toy-gadget hybrids.

    In a similar report on age compression in the toy industry, written in 2002, Dorothy G. Singer, a senior research scientist at Yale University's department of psychiatry, argued against the move from playthings to electronics:

    Many tech toys and CD-ROM games squelch kids' capacity for imaginative play, she said, in part by limiting the way they think, producing what she calls 'convergent thinking.'

    'You have to answer the way the computer wants you to,' Singer said. But 'when a child plays with dolls, blocks or Legos, they can be anything, anyone, go anywhere -- their imagination soars.'

    In related news, Hasbro has developed a new gaming console for three to seven year olds, which is similar to EyeToy but with educational games based on popular animated children's TV shows like SpongeBob SquarePants.

    "It's definitely an attractive target area for growth given that kids are becoming tech savvy much earlier," said [entertainment industry analyst] Anita Frazier... "Educational toys account for 50 percent of all toy sales to kids aged five years or under. This is a category where parents make the primary purchase decision, not the kids. It's definitely a hot area for toymakers."

    [... According to] Jim Silver, an industry analyst and publisher of the Toy Book and Toy Wishes magazines, "The difference between ION and other electronic learning systems like LeapFrog's Leappad is that this is a game that makes kids move, play and learn all at the same time."

    Posted at 01:55 PM in Children and teens, Toys | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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