Toy Design Project

Monday, February 28, 2005

"Correct toys"

Posted by Hello
I visited a shop here in Oslo called Riktige Leker on Saturday. This is a shop that specializes in toys that are politically or ethically correct. The kind of toys parents wants their children to play with, as opposed to toys the children themselves want to play with. This includes educational toys and toys of a more home-made style.

Although many toys were of the kind one would expect in a shop like this (Teddybears, puppets, doll's houses, marbles, Meccano and Brio toys), there were some examples of more commercial toys there:

  • They have the greatest selection of Playmobile toys I have seen in Oslo. These are plastic toys similar to Lego only in a bigger scale and without the building aspect.
  • They have a lot of Legos here, but not the licensed collections such as Star Wars, Harry Potter or Spider-Man.
  • They have My Little Pony here. These pony-dolls are still popular even though the cartoons haven't been shown on Norwegian TV since the early 90's.
  • They sell Kaptein Sabeltann action figures here. This is about the only commercial multimedia children's' concept Norway has ever produced.

This indicates to me that this store is not entirely consistent when it comes to their core concept of correct toys. They refuse to sell toys that are commonly viewed as commercial, and yet toys that were originally commercial but have lost their place in the limelight are welcome. Also Norwegian and Scandinavian brands are more than welcome even though they have strong commercial aspects. It seems American and Asian toys are frowned upon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

External input

Posted by Hello
Today I had a meeting with two of my friends about the project. They both study special education /pedagogy (or whatever it is called in English), one works part time in a kindergarden and the other has a small son and some other children in the family. Although the agegroup is somewhat different or borderline different from my project, I still thought it could be useful.

Some of the useful things that came up:

  • Boys do not know how to cooperate. They are almost always in competitive mode and when forced to cooperate due to the toy or game, they turn to fighting instead.
  • Girls play roleplay. Even when they play with the boys' toys together with the boys, they still try to turn the play into roleplay.
  • It is always more attractive to play with others than to play alone. When given a choice, a kid will always drop a toy in favor of another if that other is being played with by others.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Drawing manga

Posted by Hello
Doing all this research really gets me sleepy sometimes, so I try to get some drawing done whenever I feel I have the time.
Since the toy-crazes the last years have been focused on a Japanese manga drawing style, I thought I'd train a bit on that. So far I've mostly copied original manga work, but I'm getting to the point where I feel I can do something on my own now. This drawing is one of my own I did yesterday. I used a blue pencil to do the sketching and regular Copic markers for the colors. I'm not so good with the bodies yet, though. So I left that out on this one, instead focusing on just the head.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Transportable toys

The possibility to take a toy outdoors to play with or to bring it to a friends house to play with is important. A toy that one can play with together with friends and their toys has more value than a toy that is only playable at ones own home. Toys like Lego is only playable at your own home and not mixable with your friends legos simply because it would be a complex task to transport and impossible to distinguish ownership of the individual pieces after the play is done. Although the sheer mass of Legos one child can have will compensate for this to some degree, as several friends can play with the toys of one child.

A toy that offers the possibility for the owner to go out and play with other children and their toys will become more popular than other toys as the community surrounding it will promote it even further. This is apparent in toys like Beyblade and Pokémon (Both the Game Boy games and Trading Card games). If the Pokémon video games were only available on a stationary platform the trading of monsters would be impossible, and competitive play would not be as fun because only one player could use his hard earned collection of monsters. The possibility for a player to own a piece of the game creates for the game a value that goes beyond the simple boundaries of the game itself. The possibilities to collect and trade pieces of a game will make the building of a community almost inevitable.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Psychological gratifications of play

In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to a state of consciousness he calls flow where a person enjoys his activities to such a degree that he is wholly concentrated on that activity alone and ignores other disturbances. Achieving this state on a regular basis creates happiness in life. If a person experiences flow in his everyday life and work, that person is truly happy and content with his life situation.

Would it not be valuable to base development of toys on this theory? In my opinion the whole point of toys and play is to make the players to enjoy themselves and be happy. And this is supported by the rhetorics of the self that Brian Sutton-Smith describes. Play can also have many other purposes like learning and developing skills, and training for real life situations. But it is my opinion that the primary purpose of play is entertainment and fun, and play that is not enjoyable will soon be abandoned no matter how valuable it is as a tool of development. If the players for some reason are unable to abandon play they find unpleasant, it can no longer be qualified as play. As defined by Caillois: play must be free, and the player must be free to stop playing at any time.

If a toy or a game offers such little enjoyment that it is abandoned because of it, it is a failure as a product. It does not fulfill its primary purpose: to offer entertainment, to be fun. And such a product will never achieve sustainable sales. Maybe initial sales will be high because of intense marketing or the product promising educational value, but once the true inadequacies of the product is revealed, the sales will drop. Word-of-mouth will ensure this either through a non existence of such or through a negative content of such. Thus it is the best interest of the manufacturers of toys to produce as enjoyable or fun toys as possible, leaving all other priorities as secondary.

That only leaves one question: How does one make fun toys?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Warhammer community

The Warhammer games has a great community of followers both as real life gaming clubs and online communities. It's a part of what makes the game/hobby so great. Yesterday I asked some questions on a big forum dedicated to the game Warhammer 40k: 40kOnline. What I'm wondering about is why people choose to play warhammer instead of other games that are easier to take part in. So far I've gotten some good replies, and I'm hoping for more. Take a look yourself.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Craze toys

At the moment I'm looking into the history of past and current craze or trend toys. I found out at Wikipedia that the best word for my purpose is craze or fad and not trend or cult. Unfortunately I know of no translation of the word craze in Norwegian, so I'm not quite sure whether I should change the title of the project to craze-toys or not.

Anyway, the toy brands I'm looking into are Star Wars, Pokémon, Beyblade and warhammer. Star Wars because it was the first really big craze (at least in Europe); Pokémon because it was the first big craze for the kids today, and because it is a very interesting concept incorporating the collecting aspect very well; Beyblade because it is the successor to Pokémon, and because the concept combines a physical toy with cartoons (like transformers); Warhammer because it's so different yet still popular. It's not really a craze, but more of a cult-toy. It's not being advertised through any normal channel, it is instead dependent largely on word of mouth and activities within the stores. And because I find it so interesting I collect them myself...

For those that are unaware of what Warhammer is: it is a miniature tabletop wargame, where a player must buy, paint and collect an entire army of miniatures before he can actually play the game. I included a picture of one of my models. This is from the Sci-Fi version of the game, called Warhammer 40000. It is a Farseer of the Eldar, a kind of elf-general if you will.

Posted by Hello


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Game or toy?

I just read an old essay by Chris Crawford yesterday on definitions of "game", and suddenly realized something: Role-playing games, whether tabletop or MMORPG, are not games, they're toys.

According to Crawford, a game is a plaything that is a challenge that is a conflict that is not a competition.

A Role-playing game do not fit under the definition of games in that it does not have defined goals, and therefore cannot be classified as a challenge.
It does not have a clearly defined opponent either. Sure the player is tossed into conflict all the time, fighting monsters and such, but there is no player clearly trying to oppose you. So the are no real conflicts in RPG's.

The only other alternative is that RPG's are toys.

"Toys" are playthings without defined goals. A player uses a toy in an unstructured fashion, without pursuing an explicit goal.

And if one considers the focus on storytelling in RPG's, the similarities are even greater. It seems to me that playing RPG's are really closer to playing with dolls than playing games. One makes up a story as one plays.

This kind of scares me.
I've been playing RPG's for a long time now, and I really enjoy them. To compare them to playing with dolls seems degrading somehow.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Got some new books

Over the weekend I got the rest of the books I ordered: The Ambiguity of play and Flow, the classic work on how to achieve happiness. So far I have mostly read the first because it deals with the different ways of approaching and defining play, and that is the most important thing for me at this time in the research. The author, Brian Sutton-Smith, makes a lists of the different rhetorics of play and explains what separates them from each other and accounts for their history.
What is interesting and fortunate is that the chapter that describes the rhetoric I think will be of most use to me, also refers to the other book: Flow... This rhetoric Sutton-Smith calls the rhetoric of self, and basically focus on the individuals experiences with play. Something I think is the primary criteria for people when they choose which game to play or toy to play with; It must be fun.

Both the Ambiguity of play and Man, Play and Games are fairly difficult books to read (Well, for me as English is not my first language, anyway). They're written for scholars in a theoretical form of English, and I find it rather over-complicated and sleep enhancing. Luckily for me that the Flow-book is in a more normal form of English, as it is written for the "lay-audience". I can't wait to move on to that book and put the others down.