Toy Design Project

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?


  • I agree on the fact that play should be free, and that it always shoud proffer fun and amusement. But what about the idea of play as work? When your job is so funny that it becomes play? Like Georg Jensen describes in his book, The Dream Society, "Hard fun is really good work". By this he refers to the fact that the job of industrial designers must contain play and entertainment to achieve creativity and innovation. This is again a way of making fun toys. You actually have to play and have fun at work in order to make fun toys. So now the question is what kind of play is so fun that it makes you want to not stop working?

    Magne E. H.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 14, 2005 at 9:27 AM  

  • It's like the old chicken and egg debate: Is fun really good work, or is good work really fun?
    In the book Flow it is recommended that any work that is made into a kind of game turns fun. It depends on the rules of the game and interests of the worker of course, but still.
    If you have a job you find boring or unrewarding, try to make it fun. If you have a job that is fun the quality of your work will improve as a result.
    The importance of play in the development of toys and games I think is a matter about getting involved in the field at hand. If you do not play as research or testing, how can you design playthings?

    By Blogger Espen, at February 15, 2005 at 1:26 PM  

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