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20 February 2005

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


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Try as I might, I have failed in spades to get excited in any way about LeapPad or any other similar product.

They use American accents, and are American stories (most particularly and obviously the Disney one) and what they are actually doing is selling lack of responsibility to parents. Your kid can learn to read! And you can sit down and have a cup of tea while they do it. Or better still, go and watch TV.

No. No. No. No. No.

You sit down, with your child. You bond, over words. You roll them around your mouth and you relish them together. You make animal noises and you create tunes. You laugh, they leanr repetition, they learn what things are. You show them, for example a different, new picture of a duck and they recognise it without you having to say what it is.

You do it together. It's what being a parent is all about. And, it's infinitely cheaper! On a different note, I think the RFID speaking cooking toys *rock*!

Posted by: Cait at 2 Mar 2005 22:39:42