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The Play Ethic and The Toy Industry


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Delivered by Pat Kane at the TIE conference, Brussels, 9 April 2008.

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The Play Ethic and The Toy Industry

  1. 1. PLAYING OUR PART TOCHANGE LIVESAn overview of the role of toys andplay in today’s societyPat Kane author of “The Play Ethic”
  2. 2. Play is moving to the centre of ourvalue-systems in the West, afternearly two centuries sitting on thesidelines of the industrial age.
  3. 3. In the 00’s, play is a positivemainstream lifestyle identityLondon, 7 April, 9am-12pm
  4. 4. In the 00’s, play is also a mainstream political goal - atnational level… ‘Yes we can’ From the ‘I need’ to the ‘I want’ to the ‘I can’ generation “In society, the spectators are taking the stage, and becoming players themselves” - D. Miliband
  5. 5. And a mainstream political goal - at global level… 1989 UN Convention on the rights of the child, General Assembly Resolution 44/25, Article 31 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. The 2007 Unicef report on Britain’s poor environment for children has been a huge spur to reform… How will toy-makers participate in this?
  6. 6. New scienceof play -bringingmanyinsights tothe role ofplay, toysandtechnologyin childrens’(and adults’)lives ….
  7. 7. “Scientists who study play, in animals andhumans alike, are developing a consensusview that play is something more than away for restless kids to work off steam;more than a way for chubby kids to burnoff calories; more than a frivolous luxury.Play, in their view, is a central part ofneurological growth and development -one important way that children buildcomplex, skilled, responsive, sociallyadept and cognitively flexible brains.”Play is “adaptive potentiation” (Sutton-Smith) - we do theexperiments, and take the risks, of play, to increase our“response abilities”, to improve our survival rate alongside othercomplex social animals.
  8. 8. Society, culture, technology,national and internationalpoliticians and hard scienceare now all taking playseriously…. Shouldn’t this bea golden age for toy-makers? In 2007, we know why it isn’t… …Let’s explore how it could be…
  9. 9. PLAY, TOYS AND THE NETDriven by the Millenials/Gen Y and their younger brothers andsisters, we are becoming a society that is accustomed to playingtogether through communication networks.Can toy manufacturers match, or tap into, this playful energywe see children and young adults exerting in the virtual world?
  10. 10. PLAY, TOYS AND THE NET: OPPORTUNITIES?A lot of parental worry aboutthe net - toy makers can create‘safe havens’ by extending the‘good play’ inherent in theirbrands on line. A ‘Spore’ toy, designed by Spore player, made by EA… could kids develop their own toy-objects online - and could they be 3D-printed, either locally or mail-order?
  11. 11. PLAY, TOYS AND ‘QUALITY-OF-LIFE’In an acceleratingsociety, ’a chance toplay together - athome, on holiday orin a third space (likeStarbucks) - becomesa preciousopportunity forchildren, adults andfamilies to restorebalance. How cantoys and games playing Cranium atbecome the Xmas opportunity for that? 
  12. 12. PLAY, TOYS AND ‘QUALITY-OF-LIFE’Quality-of-life canalso be anxietiesaboutconsumerism,aboutenvironmentalwastefulness…the ‘inconvenienttruths’Some discomfortin this ‘post-materialist’world-view forthe toy industry Who is this man?
  13. 13. PLAY, TOYS AND‘QUALITY-OF-LIFE’ “Our epidemics of addiction could be“Play is to work as caused by the lackwaking is to of restorative playdreaming – that is, in our lives – weplay is restorative… lose ourselves inA history of play thrills and pillscreates a pool of because we dontgood feelings that have thefamilies can draw on opportunity to findin hard times…” ourselves in play”.“Play is also an aerobic workout for the human capacity tochange. Perhaps a sustained immaturity is an advantage in aconstant world of change. To stop playing is to stop developing”
  14. 14. PLAY, TOYS AND EDUCATIONKids completely absorbedby digital games and toyswith ascending levels ofdifficulty…… but bored andunengaged with thetraditional topics andmethods of the curriculum.Is there a chance for toy-makers to bridge this hugegap?
  15. 15. PLAY, TOYS AND EDUCATION Toys have always been informal opportunities for learning - from baseball cards to Pokemon…
  16. 16. PLAY, TOYS AND EDUCATIONPLAY - “the capacity toexperiment with yoursurroundings as a form ofproblem solving”Other “core skills for the newparticipatory culture” in thisreport were:PERFORMANCE, SIMULATING NEWWORLDS, REMIXING,MULTITASKING, USING DIGITALTOOLS WELL, SHARING …Surely some opportunityKNOWLEDGE, JUDGEMENT, for innovative toys there?NAVIGATING ACROSS MEDIA,TOLERANCE OF PERSPECTIVES…
  17. 17. PLAY, TOYS AND HUMAN NATURETOYS DON’T HAVE TO BECOME INSTRUMENTS OF EDUCATION ANDWELL-BEING… THEY CAN BE HORRIBLE TOO - IT’S NATURAL!“In the tough play-cultures of the schoolyard, children learn allthose necessary arts of trickery, deception, harassment,divination and foul play that their teachers won’t teach them butare most important in successful human relationships inmarriage, business and war.” Brian Sutton-Smith, Toys asCulture, 1994
  18. 18. PLAY, TOYS AND HUMAN NATURECRITICS SAY THAT HEAVILY‘BRANDED/SCRIPTED’ TOYSLIMIT CHILDREN’SIMAGINATION. BUT HOWUNLIMITED IS CHILDREN’SIMAGINATION ANYWAY?MAYAN CHILDREN teachtheir younger siblings howto pretend in the most David Lancy, an anthropologist at Utahpedestrian of ways, State University: ‘‘Children’s make-‘‘focusing their attention believe and, by extension, other playon washing, caring for forms, is constrained by the roles,babies and cooking’’ scripts and props of the culture they live in.”
  19. 19. PLAY YOUR PART TO CHANGE LIVES THAT MEANS AN EVEN GREATER RESPONSIBILITY TO CREATE RICH NARRATIVES AND STORIES FROM TOY MAKERS AND PROGRAM MAKERS… A GREAT HUMANISTIC AND ARTISTIC CHALLENGE!HOW DO YOU MEET THAT CHALLENGE? SOME ADVICE FROM ‘MAJOR FUN’ (BERNIE DE KOVEN, DEEPFUN.COM)1. Make your workplaces fun.2. Connect your departments.3. Dont just design for kids, design with kids.4. Dont waste our time with a Star Wars version of Monopoly that plays just like Monopoly. Give us the kind of Monopoly Luke and Darth played when they were kids.5. And make it fun and profitable, in equal parts.