M/C Journal https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal <h1>M/C Journal</h1> <p><em>M/C Journal</em> was founded (as "M/C – A Journal of Media and Culture") in 1998 as a place of public intellectualism analysing and critiquing the meeting of media and culture. <em>M/C Journal</em> is a fully blind-, peer-reviewed academic journal, open to submissions from anyone. We take seriously the need to move ideas outward, so that our cultural debates may have some resonance with wider political and cultural interests. Each issue is organised around a one-word theme (<a href="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/archive">see our past issues</a>), and is edited by one or more guest editors with a particular interest in that theme. Each issue has a feature article which engages with the theme in some detail, followed by several shorter articles.</p> M/C - Media and Culture en-US M/C Journal 1441-2616 <p>Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:</p><ol><li>Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licenced under a <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/" rel="license">Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivatives 4.0 Licence</a> that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.</li><li>Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.</li><li>Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (see <a href="http://opcit.eprints.org/oacitation-biblio.html" target="_new">The Effect of Open Access</a>).</li></ol> “My Little Influencer” https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2948 <h1>Introduction</h1> <p>Wooden toys have been a staple in many family homes. Even LEGO's iconic plastic building blocks had humble beginnings as wooden toys (Lauwaert). Arguably, the materiality of wooden toys evokes normative feelings of nostalgia for a simpler past, where the uncomplicated nature of the wooden product provided the space for all sorts of imaginative play. It is through this lens that we find the adaptation of wooden toys into playsets that emulate particular vocations, like a doctor's kit and a carpenter's toolbox, an interesting entry point to consider the boundary of what is an acceptable toy within the contemporary wooden toy genre. And it is the blurry nature of this boundary, as exemplified by public outcry regarding a wooden vlogger set that had a ringlight, which is the subject of this article. </p> <p>In Australia in May 2022, global supermarket chain Aldi released a set of wooden toys for children aged 3+ based on various technologies used in contemporary jobs in the creative industries (Wannis). These ‘futuristic’ role-play toy sets (Kanna)—which sat alongside more ‘traditional’ vocation sets about transport, cooking, and manufacturing—included a wooden laptop set, a DJ set, and a vlogger set. The vlogger set came with a rope-like ringlight on a tripod, a wooden point-and-shoot camera, mobile phone device, and remote microphone with a receiver (see fig. 1 &amp; 2). The wooden vlogger set replicates the real-life experience of using a ringlight, a round, donut-like light that often attaches to a recording device or a tripod to create an even lighting effect. The ringlight has become a symbol of content creation on social media and the Influencer industry—a cultural practice and line of work that often evokes negative connotations (Abidin, "Aren’t These"). And we see these negative connotations evidenced through an instance of public criticism on social media about the wooden vlogger set, which stands as a proxy for more significant concerns about children and digital media.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/fig1.png" alt="" width="350" height="308" /></p> <p><strong><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/fig2.png" alt="" width="350" height="319" /></strong></p> <p><em>Fig. 1 &amp; 2: Outer box of wooden vlogger set, sold at Aldi in May 2022. (Photo by authors.)</em></p> <p>First shared as a story on Instagram by a private account, a follower and journalist then re-shared an image of the box for the wooden vlogger set to Twitter with the caption ‘it’s a no for me’. Many public comments under this tweet agreed with the original poster’s sentiment, calling the toy ‘exploitative’ and ‘dire’, exclaiming ‘wtf [what the fuck]’ and ‘absolutely not’. Other comments mocked the toy by joking ‘like and subscribe’ and rebranded it as ‘my little influencer’; a take on the popular 1980s toy series My Little Pony. This public opposition to the wooden vlogger set stands out as an interesting case study to interrogate how the convergence of wooden toys with contemporary technologies (re)surfaces moral panic regarding children and digital media.</p> <p>The wooden vlogger set, and specifically the symbolism of the toy ringlight, forms the basis of a case study into how digital technologies provoke moral panic about children’s (future) media practices. We highlight in this article that while moral panic about young people and their relationship with new media is a longstanding practice, the development of new media technologies—including the ringlight which is used to aid digital media production—evokes what Marwick calls <em>technopanic, </em>that is, exaggerated fears about young people's online practices which result in the denial or removal of access to said technologies. While we take the stance that content creation on social media is a valid and valuable practice, in this article we highlight how toys like the wooden vlogger set continue to be met with trepidation from some adults due to their connections with taking selfies and the Influencer industry on social media—as evidenced by the social media comments mentioned above. Furthermore, we argue in this article that these technopanics, evidenced by the public outcry on social media to the wooden vlogger set, obscure the opportunity that toys that replicate digital media technologies can afford, such as developing media literacy through playful, offline, and analogue ways.</p> <p>In the first section of the article, we argue that the toy ringlight acts as a proxy for media practices that endorses young children spending time online in ways that some consider problematic. We argue that these fears are an illustration of <em>technopanic</em>. In the second section of the article, we argue how the toy ringlight offers children a way to connect with imagined futures (and the present) by mimicking the everyday media practices they see elsewhere—through their families, media consumption, and popular culture. Studies have shown how children’s play can sometimes be based on popular culture, including television programs (Marsh and Bishop). We argue that as children today watch content creators on YouTube Kids and their parents use technology, they are learning about everyday media practices. The wooden vlogger set offers a way for children to explore those practices. We conclude the article by advocating that opposition to the wooden vlogger set is misdirected energy, as the critical skills of media literacy can be nurtured precisely through play with toys like the ringlight and wooden vlogger set.</p> <h1>Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children!</h1> <p>The public outcry over this wooden vlogger set is another example of <em>moral panic </em>regarding children and their participation with the media. Moral panic is defined as an overreaction to a perceived social problem; they are often temporal, in the sense of being short-lived, and the media are known as a driving factor that reproduces and compounds the supposed concerns (Critcher; Hall). Historical illustrations of moral panics are known to involve youths and youth culture with the example of ‘mod and rockers’ in the 1960s (Cohen), ‘youth gangs’ in the 1980s (Zatz), and more recently, the ‘Tide-Pod Challenge’ that conjured panic about youths eating dishwashing pods for clout on social media (Sleight-Price et al.). By framing public opposition to the wooden vlogger set as an example of moral panic, we aim to draw attention to the media ecology which this toy signifies, and critically unpack the ways in which it plays into longstanding concerns about children and new media.</p> <p>To critically examine the moral panic about the vlogger set, we first draw attention to the vocation imitated through the wooden toy: a vlogger. The term ‘vlogger’ stands for ‘video-blogger’, a dominant form of user-created content shared on social media platforms like YouTube, that centres on recording the ‘ordinary’ aspects of one's life (Burgess and Green). It is important to underscore that engaging in practices of vlogging does not inherently mean that this is one's vocation, as a person can vlog as a hobby or creative outlet. But the more contemporary term associated with being a vlogger, that is, an ‘Influencer’, muddles the conception of what it means to vlog due to the increasing platformisation of cultural production (Duffy et al.). An Influencer is an ordinary Internet user who has accumulated “a relatively large following on blogs and social media through the textual and visual narration of their personal lives and lifestyles” who then “monetise their following by integrating advertorials into their blog or social media posts” (Abidin, "Aren’t These" 3). Advertorials—a term that combines ‘advertising’ and ‘editorial’—are the “highly personalised, opinion-laden promotions of products/services that Influencers personally experience and endorse for a fee” (Abidin, "Micro­microcelebrity" par. 3). The increasing commercialisation of content creation on digital media platforms has been met with criticism regarding the erosion of authenticity (Arriagada and Bishop). This is because Influencers are seen to adapt their media practices, and arguably part of themselves, to fit the logics of the platform, such as producing particular types of content to increase views, like taking ‘selfies’.</p> <p>One of the key signifiers of vlogging or being an Influencer on social media is ‘the selfie’, a self-made image of oneself, for which the ringlight plays a central role. Ringlights are used “to take brighter, clearer, high-resolution photographs” or videos, wherein the “even” lighting avoids casting “unsightly shadows” on faces and bodies (Abidin, "Aren’t These" 12). It is this utility of the ringlight that evokes conceptions that dismiss posting selfies as “frivolous and self-absorbed” (Tiidenberg and Gómez Cruz 78). Selfies have been argued as promoting “negative feminine stereotypes” such as “feminine vanity and triviality” as they are seen to be performative of particular conceptions around beauty (Burns 1716-1718). As such, Abidin argues in “‘Aren’t These Just Young, Rich Women Doing Vain Things Online?’: Influencer Selfies as Subversive Frivolity”, drawing on the work of Dobson and Coffey, that selfies anchor moral panics over the safety and wellbeing, particularly of women, online. Again, while we take the stance that no value judgement ought to be cast towards the use of ringlights in touching up appearances, as lighting is often used as a tool in both everyday and commercial media production, we argue that the toy ringlight brings forth these anxieties around vanity for some adults.</p> <p>The toy ringlight manifests these grievances about Influencers and, specifically, child influencers. Controversy about child influencers or ‘kidfluencers’ continues to fuel debate about the presence and exploitation of children in online media entertainment. A media practice known as “sharenting”, where parents share footage of their children as they grow up online (Blum-Rose), means that children can amass large followings on social media and become “micro-microcelebrities” (Abidin, "Micromicrocelebrity"). Notably, one of the public comments in opposition to the wooden vlogger set situated their grievance in the fact that the toy is designed for children aged 3+; as though the toy advocates for the notion of kidinfluencers—a prospect framed in the comment as inherently problematic. While the existence of kidfluencers is complex in nature—as both rewarding and challenging outcomes surmount from the practice—concerns about children’s privacy and online exploitation experiences dominate the issue. The problematic nature of child influencers is exemplified through notorious cases such as YouTube channel DaddyOFive, where the children’s reactions to ‘pranks’ were exploited for views (Leaver and Abidin). And issues regarding children promoting products or services online are raised through examples such as child unboxing videos on YouTube (Craig and Cunningham).</p> <p>Concerns regarding child influencers understandably call for greater consideration of how children participate with online media practices. It is essential to critically examine exploitative commercialisation practices and champion children’s right to privacy (Livingstone et al.; Verdoodt et al.). At the same time, it is important to remember that not all media produced by children, or by parents with children, are inherently harmful. The notion that children have this innate innocence that needs protection from the media is an established trope known to spur moral panic.</p> <p>Panic around mass media and their ‘bad’ influence on youth and youth culture, including children, is not a new phenomenon (Springhall). For example, media theorist Neil Postman famously argued in the 1980s that the “new media environment, with television at its centre, is leading to the rapid disappearance of childhood” (286). It is an argument that suggests that children’s increasingly mediated lives through communication technologies ‘force’ them to live in an ‘adult’s world’; thus eroding their childhood. We argue that the toy ringlight in the wooden vlogger set stimulates this same type of thinking, as though playing with the toy will ‘force’ children into the ‘adult world’ of social media production—which is not exclusively true. Through this lens, we also extend our argument that the opposition to the toy is not only a moral panic but, specifically, a <em>technopanic</em>.</p> <p>Panics occur when adults begin to be excluded from the ways young people engage with the media (Leick). The toy ringlight—as a proxy to ‘unsavoury’ new media practices—thus taps into a generational concern. A concept that helps explain this phenomenon is what Marwick calls a <em>technopanic</em>. Technopanics relies on the idea that harm will come to children through the use of new media technologies, and thus a justification is made to restrict access. In this way, the potential benefits of engaging with new media technologies, like the toy ringlight, are ignored in favour of focussing on the negative and exaggerated harms the media cause (Buckingham). This opposition fails to recognise that as technologies and media practices emerge, there are new risks but also new opportunities for children (Livingstone).</p> <h1>Developing Media Literacy through the Toy Ringlight</h1> <p>Ringlights are now prolific, not only among Influencers or those involved in social media production. Interest in ringlights has grown considerably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with searches for the term rising dramatically in March 2020 (Google Trend for ‘Ring Light’). Although the toy ringlight in the wooden vlogger set is not digital, in that there are no electronic components and it does not connect to any networks, there are opportunities for the toy to help children develop digital media literacy understandings from an early age through playful exploration. Above, we have discussed how adults perceive the toy ringlight and how it mirrors the everyday and commercial media practices of adults, which can be confronting for some. Here, we examine how children could explore the toy ringlight through play. Children learn about technology through everyday familial practices (Plowman and Stevenson). Those children without access to a ringlight in their everyday life will likely treat the toy differently from what the toy creators anticipated. However, children who share technology practices with their families (e.g. seeing parents use a ringlight for Zoom meetings) or learn these through popular culture (e.g. seeing ringlights used by their favourite content creators on YouTube Kids) will have a different set of practices more closely aligned to the intended use of a toy ringlight to play and experiment with.</p> <p>Ringlights are part of the fabric of everyday life for many people and their use is not inherently positive or negative. Instead, they contribute to our increasingly complex media practices. Toys and everyday tools provided across different aspects of children’s lives offer ways to engage with and transfer knowledge of cultural and everyday experiences (Sheina et al.). The ringlight as an object can provide opportunities for children to play with the material practices of media production in ways that reflect the cultural experiences and practices they are part of. Bird contends that technologies, including non-working technologies such as old keyboards and phones, provide children with opportunities to engage with concepts related to the digital, as they bring to life experiences they have observed through imaginative play. We argue that the toy ringlight is situated within the concept of <em>converged play</em>, where the boundary between digital and non-digital play has blurred significantly (Marsh; Wood et al.). The material and the digital can be attended to when we consider how young children engage in play (Marsh et al.).</p> <p>Through play with material objects, like the wooden vlogger set and the toy ringlight, children engage with their worlds and learn the processes, practices, and concepts of media production. Pretend play can support children’s exploration of digital ideas (Vogt and Hollenstein) as they learn to communicate and tell stories. In a media production sense, Buckingham says that children and young people can deepen their understanding of the media by imitating media forms and styles. Playing with technology can serve similar purposes to playing with traditional toys (Robb and Lauricella). Similarly, we argue that children playing with toys that replicate social media production, such as the wooden vlogger set, are also developing early understandings of media literacy.</p> <p>As young children tell stories, play, and communicate with friends through new digital technologies, they develop an understanding of the media. Media literacy, the ability to critically engage with the media in our everyday lives (Australia Media Literacy Alliance), develops over time (Potter). The toy ringlight does not have to be positioned as problematic as per the technopanic we described earlier. Instead, it offers opportunities for children to explore and reflect on the key concepts of media literacy: <em>technologies</em>, <em>institutions</em>, <em>representations</em>, <em>languages</em>, <em>audiences</em>, and <em>relationships</em>.</p> <p>There are two scenarios where the concept of <em>technologies</em> could be central to children's play using the wooden vlogger set and toy ringlight. Firstly, the toy has multiple components that work together. Children can explore how the camera, light and lapel microphone connect to the device. They can consider if they need all these components and play the different roles required to operate the technology. Secondly, by incorporating the toy into their play, children can develop understandings of the role of digital technology in their lives and how it impacts or shapes media practices. Technologies allow or prevent certain choices from being made (Lüders; Williamson). The wooden vlogger set operates similarly, although children can use the toy outside of these constraints, resulting in forms of disruption. The practices of engaging with media technologies can be bound socially and culturally (du Gay et al.), and through materials (Burnett and Merchant); as children, the wooden vlogger set, and their context come into relation with each other.</p> <p>While the technology is visible to children and adults in this case, working in conjunction with the notion of using technology is the idea of how we use technology to distribute or share our media productions. This refers to the concept of <em>institutions</em>, which offers a lens for how to examine the business of the media and who benefits from media production and distribution—including media platforms—politically, socially, and economically (Alvarado). The inclusion of the small device that looks like a mobile phone in the wooden vlogger set hints at the toy privileging sharing and distribution practices. The various app icons painted on the wooden toy phone provide an opportunity for children to play with the idea of sharing their productions with others. Some children might play with ideas of uploading their productions to YouTube or other social media platforms if that is something they have been exposed to, integrating the digital and non-digital.</p> <p>Media productions do not exist in a technological vacuum. We use media technologies to communicate meaning and tell stories—we (re)present people, places, events, and ideas for a range of purposes (Masterman) through the construction of <em>codes</em> and <em>conventions</em> (Buckingham). Through incorporating the wooden vlogger set into their play, children can experiment with different media forms and <em>representations, </em>where they might, for instance, depict characters (e.g. heroes or villains), locations (e.g. school, the supermarket or space), events (e.g. going to the hairdresser or making food), and simple ideas (e.g. it is cold in winter). While some children may create imaginative worlds where the toy ringlight is part of a wider dramatic story, as per the examples just provided, there are also opportunities for children to act out and produce different forms of media, for example a television show. Children often draw on popular culture understandings to practise and re-enact scenarios (Gillen et al.; Merchant). In doing this, children play with the part of a narrative and consider how media texts are constructed, an important aspect of media <em>languages</em>.</p> <p>As they play with media production ideas, children can decide who might view their content and how they can ensure their <em>audience</em> understands their message—essentially playing with how to encode and decode texts (Morley). As they engage in dramatic play, children might also show different understandings of popular culture texts they enjoy, offering insights into how children understand media productions aimed at their age group, including those produced by child influencers. The wooden vlogger set, most importantly, is a material through which children can consider the<em> relationships</em> between media producers and their audiences (Dezuanni).</p> <p>This brings us to the crux of where we believe the outrage about the wooden vlogger set and toy ringlight lies. The toy ringlight normalises ideas around children developing relationships through and with the media—perhaps as an Influencer or perhaps as a casual vlogger. But the toys of today may not even prepare children for the cultural practices of tomorrow. Thus, while the outcry towards the wooden vlogger set and toy ringlight is just another cycle of moral panic about youth and emerging technologies, we hope that by positioning the toy as an opportunity for media literacy education, the discussion can move forward.</p> <h2>Acknowledgement</h2> <p>This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child through project number CE200100022.</p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Abidin, Crystal. 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"Chicano Youth Gangs and Crime: The Creation of a Moral Panic." <em>Contemporary Crises</em> 11 (1987): 129-158.</p> Aleesha Rodriguez Amanda Levido Copyright (c) 2023 Aleesha Rodriguez, Amanda Levido http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-25 2023-04-25 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2948 “The <em>Internet of Life</em>” https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2954 <h1>Introduction</h1> <p>Exploring the ways in which children merge education, play and connection in their digital device use, this article critiques the established definitions of the Internet of Things and the Internet of Toys and suggests an alternative. Using evidence emerging from <em>The Internet of Toys: Benefits and Risks of Connected Toys for Children</em>, we deconstruct these traditional terms, and advocate for a revised terminology. Such a reconsideration helps frame children’s use of digital devices and the important roles these play in children’s everyday lives.</p> <p>The Internet of Things is defined by Mascheroni and Holloway as “physical objects that are embedded with electronics, sensors, software and connectivity that support the exchange of data”. These objects have become omnipresent in Western society, resulting in different subsets of the Internet of Things, such as the Internet of Toys. Such connected toys are physical toys that are (just as the Internet of Things is) connected to the Internet through Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi (Mascheroni and Holloway). The features of such toys include network connectivity, sensors and voice/image recognition software, and controllability and programmability via apps on smartphones or tablets (Holloway and Green). CogniToys Dino, Fisher-Price Smart Toy Bear, Skylanders, Hello Barbie, Cloudpets, and Wiggy Piggy Bank are just a few examples of these connected playthings (Ihamäki and Heljakka; Mascheroni and Holloway; Shasha et al.). The ‘Internet of Toys’ category can thus be understood as physical toys with digital features (Ihamäki and Heljakka). However, Ling et al. argue that, “if the item is to be included in the IoT[hings] devices and … if the object is also used for play, then despite its designed purpose, this internet connected item becomes a member of the subset of the IoToys” (Ling et al.). Therefore, the conceptualisation of toys should not be limited to products designed for play. This raises questions about the concept of the Internet of Toys, and whether the distinction between the Internet of Things and the Internet of Toys is (still) relevant.</p> <p>We argue that there is no longer a meaningful distinction to be made between the Internet of Toys and the Internet of Things: instead, all such phrases indicate fragmentary attention to the <em>Internet of Life</em>. The <em>Internet of Life</em> can be defined as: <em>devices which encompass all facets of online connectivity and technological management, and the interpolation of the digital with the everyday</em>.</p> <h1>The Research Project</h1> <p>In 2018, the Australian Research Council funded a Discovery grant investigating <em>The Internet of Toys: Benefits and Risks of Connected Toys for Children.</em> Initially the project gave each household involved in the case study a Cozmo robot, to see how the toy was used and integrated into the household. The project foundered somewhat as the robot was initially played with but after a short while the children stopped engaging with Cozmo. Researchers believed this was due to novelty, Internet connectivity issues and the overly complicated nature of the toy. Parents had hoped their children would learn to code through using the robot but were not always willing to or capable of helping the child to navigate this aspect of the toy. In this regard Cozmo failed their expectations. After a short hiatus on the project, it was stripped back to its original purpose, to explore how households define Internet-connected toys, and the risks and benefits of playing with them. The qualitative data forming the basis of this article come from the second iteration of the project and interviews conducted in 2021 and 2022.</p> <p>The academics working on this research are increasingly questioning the relevance of these terms in today’s world. Ethnographic (Rinaldo and Guhin) one-on-one interviews with Australian children aged 6–12 have revealed just how diverse the digital technologies they play with have become. Those conversations and technology tours (Plowman) demonstrate the extent to which these digital devices are seamlessly integrated into children’s daily lives. Referring to many digital devices (such as the iPad and other tablets) as “toys”, children appear unaware of the distinction made by adults. Indeed, children mobilise elements of education, communication, self-actualisation, curiosity, and play within all their digital engagements.</p> <p>While parents may still be encouraged to distinguish between the educational use of digital devices and children’s use of such technology for entertainment, the boundary between the two is becoming more and more blurred. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies that have been implemented within many Australian, English, and American schools expose children to digital devices within multiple contexts, frameworks, and environments, encouraging ubiquity of use. Laptops and tablets originally provided for school and educational purposes are also used for play. Seiter suggested that parents believe that a computer should be used by their children for serious matters such as learning or “purposeful” play, but children’s use patterns convert the tool into the toy. This elision of purpose may be referred to as “edutainment”, or the “toyification of education”, which suggests that education is increasingly reinforced by, and benefits from, “toyish” elements or dimensions (Ihamäki and Heljakka).</p> <p>Tablets offer children a diverse range of digital play options. Touch and swipe technology means that, from before their first birthday, “children are no longer only observants of digital technologies, but they are players and users, with tablets becoming the digital toy of choice” (Fróes 43). This is reinforced in much recent academic literature, with Brito et al., Healey et al., and Nixon and Hateley, for example, referring to tablets as “toys”. This is in line with the evolution of these devices from computer to educational tool to child-friendly toy. Fróes argues that the tablet supports “playful literacy”: “the ability to use, interact, relate, communicate, create, have fun with and challenge digital tools through playful behavior”. Having fun encourages and reassures children while they learn about, and become familiar with, these technologies. This, in turn, supports the valuable skill-building and scaffolding (Verenikina, citing Vygotsky) necessary for when a child begins using a tablet in an educational context once they start school.</p> <p>The omnipresence of screens challenges parents who believe that to be a good parent is to mediate their child’s digital engagement (Page Jeffery). Although the focus on “screen time” (the amount of time that children spend on their screens) is increasingly critiqued (e.g. Livingstone and Blum-Ross), some research suggests that, on average, parents underestimate their child’s daily screen time by more than 60 minutes (Radesky et al.). This conflicts with other research that argues that parents' preferred approach to mediation is setting clear rules regarding media usage, particularly in terms of time spent in device use (Valcke et al.; Brito et al.). Ironically, even though parents voice concern regarding their children’s technology use and digital footprints (Buchanan, Southgate, and Smith), they feel a “necessary culture of care” (Leaver) that may incite them to use their own technology to monitor their children’s data and behaviour. Such strategies can lead to “intimate surveillance” becoming a normalised parenting practice (Mascheroni and Holloway), while modelling to children their caregivers’ own reliance on devices.</p> <p>Hadlington et al. state that tablets may offer a barrier against the offline, “real” world. Children may become immersed in digital engagement, losing awareness of their surroundings, or they may actively use the tablet as a barrier between themselves and their environment. Parents may feel concern that their child is cutting themselves off from the family, potentially undermining family relationships and delaying the development of social skills (Radesky et al.). In contrast, Desjarlais and Willoughby’s article describes how children’s digital activities, for example chatting with friends, can be a useful starting point for social relationships. Hietajarvi et al. could not identify significant negative effects from using chat functions whilst studying, and suggest that digital engagement has a negligible effect on academic progress.</p> <p>While it is possible to characterise tablets and other digital devices as “toys”, this fails to capture the full contribution of such technology in children’s daily lives. Tablets, such as the iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy’s Tab range, function as a significant bridge that connects both children’s and adults’ everyday lives.</p> <h1>The <em>Internet of Life</em></h1> <p>While the suggestion of an <em>Internet of Life</em> may require further investigation and refinement, this article proposes to define the term as follows: <em>devices which encompass all facets of online connectivity and technological management, and the interpolation of the digital with the everyday. </em>We argue that there is no longer a meaningful distinction to be made between the Internet of Toys and the Internet of Things: all such phrases indicate fragmentary attention to the <em>Internet of Life</em>. Digital devices cannot be bound by narrow definitions and distinctions between “things” and “toys”. Instead, these devices transcend the boundaries of “toys” and “things”, becoming relevant to all facets of people’s everyday lives. This is increasingly evident in lives of young children, as demonstrated by the one-on-one interviews with Australian child participants (aged 6–12). When asked if they could show the researcher some of their toys, every child produced their tablet, or spoke about it, if it was not within their reach at that time. Defining their tablets as toys, children nonetheless described myriad ways in which they were used: for leisure and entertainment, education, sociality, self-expression, and to satisfy their curiosity amongst others. Parents sometimes wondered at how children navigated technology without seeming to need assistance and noted that children could easily outstrip their parents’ skill level. Even so, parents described their struggle to “allow” their children screen time, finding it difficult to believe that it’s okay for their child to use a device for extended periods of time. Interestingly, when parents were asked if they were willing to model the behaviour they expected of their children—time limits on devices, going outside and playing—they struggled to imagine themselves doing so. As one parent said: “everything's there [on the device]. It's just so hard because everything I do, and need, is there”. This perspective reinforces our assertion that digital devices are inherently and instinctively interwoven within daily life: not toys, not things.</p> <p>Maybe the concept of the <em>Internet of Life</em> will support parents’, educators’, policy-makers’, and academics’ richer appreciation of the multitude of ways in which children use devices. It may also recognise how device use includes the acquisition of life skills, in both digital and IRL (“in real life”) domains. A reframing of digital devices may aid recognition of the benefits and experiences they offer the young (and old). Such a perspective might assuage significant parental guilt and take the sting out of increasingly frequent debates around screen time quality versus quantity (Livingstone and Pothong). This article now addresses some parents’ and children’s comments relating to their engagement with the <em>Internet of Life</em>.</p> <h1><strong>Parents’ Perspectives</strong></h1> <p>Seeking to explain what parents understand by the concept of play, Hayes (a father of three) suggested: “children entertaining themselves hopefully positively … . [They’re] doing something either physical or educational or it’s benefitting them in some way and having fun and relaxing”, while the mum from a different family, Farida, feels that play is “something that brings about joy, really” (a mother of two).</p> <p>Parents experience challenges in assigning different regulations around digital device usage to children in the same family, reflecting their different circumstances. Thus Bethany, mother to Aiden (11, below) and older sibling Sophie (13), differentiates her approach to regulating her children’s play in digital spaces:</p> <blockquote> <p>With him [Aiden] I don’t feel so bad when he – having a downtime because I know he’s quite active whereas [Sophie] my daughter’s not, she’s the complete opposite and she will sit on there usually, ‘cause she’s chatting to her friend Gemma who’s over east but, she’ll try and sit on there for two or three hours just doing really mundane boring stuff. (Mum, Bethany)</p> </blockquote> <p>Interestingly, for both Sophie and Aiden, their use of digital devices is a reassuring opportunity to retreat. One of the many advantages of chatting online to a distant friend is that it’s a space separate from the everyday contexts of classroom politics.</p> <p>Mum to Bryce (8, male), Farida identifies specific benefits in her son’s digital device use across a range of skills and competencies.</p> <blockquote> <p>[He] has actually improved significantly with his communication skills and his maths skills like his problem-solving and reasoning. Like he’s trying to, for instance, work out how much money he’s got to scam off me to get the things that he wants, adds it all up, works out his amount of money that he’s got to ask for so he can buy all the stuff that he’s looking for. So that has really improved. (Farida)</p> </blockquote> <p>Some parents might see games that teach children how to calculate what they need to achieve what they want as an annoyance due to a trivial extra expense, but Bryce has a range of learning challenges. Consequently, Farida is delighted with the progress she sees: “his trajectory has actually been quite astounding, and I do think that a lot of it is to do with the fact that he’s built up so many of these other skills from his hand eye co-ordination, his communication skills and stuff from digital play”.</p> <h1><strong>Children’s Perspectives</strong></h1> <p>Children’s own perspectives on their use of digital devices were varied but speak to the development of individual competencies and the managing of important friend- and family-based relationships. So, Aiden (11) characterised his use of such digital media as “calming. Since there’s nothing to really lose in the game or anything, it’s not like ‘oh you stuffed something up, you have to restart the whole thing’.” He adds, as if this is a significant benefit, “it’s more if you stuff something up it’s fine, you can just get it back again”. Aiden is in a children’s elite sport squad and explains “I do football for four hours. Then I have piano lesson for 30 minutes. I’m really tired”. His digital sphere is a welcoming place of safety and relaxation where there are no consequences when things go wrong.</p> <p>For Lisa, also 11, her digital device is for communicating. Explaining that she has “Snapchat, Messages and TikTok and I think that’s it”, Lisa says that she and her friend from school “normally just chat to each other and we’ll chat about what we’re doing”. She adds that sometimes “we’ll roleplay”. As Lisa continues there’s an implicit acknowledgement of the risks around collaborating with others in play spaces. Speaking of her friend, she notes “she used to play this game, Brook Game, and she doesn’t really do it anymore. In Brooking Gaming you roleplay with people and you can do jobs and stuff”. Digital play and device use may be a place of relaxation, but it’s also a place of negotiation and of learning to compromise as a price of sharing experiences with friends.</p> <p>Killian’s (12 years old, male) example of gaming implicates the ways he negotiates autonomy and connection with his older brother. Explaining that “I talk to my friends over Discord which is a social thing and that”, Killian explains how (older brother) “Xander helped me set up the safety settings”. The boys worked together to find a means through which their toys and games allowed them to bypass technical barriers preventing full service on their mobile devices. They had originally thought<em>:</em> “we could text each other” but because their devices were set so they “won’t allow us—Xander had Discord on his phone and—he did. I could text him via that”. A variety of remote communication strategies support Killian’s and Xander’s connected play in different spaces. The interviewer notes, “so you prefer playing individually like that because you just have that one screen to yourself, that solo experience, but still playing together?”, allowing Killian to add “Yes, and also Xander doesn’t hit me every time I do something that Xander doesn’t like”. Killian subsequently identifies himself as something of negotiator, working out the different rules and settings for the different areas in his life. Saying he uses his iPad “kust for stuff I’m interested in, or something that I found out is good, that I want”, he also says he has a workaround for if “the website’s blocked or then—stuff like that—or, I want to watch it at home”.</p> <p>One of the implications of these examples is that parents tend to develop over-arching narratives about their children’s digital device use and compartmentalise concerns, differentiating them from positive aspects of children’s online activities. Children’s experiences, however, speak to lessons around learning skills, managing relationships and conflicts, negotiating autonomy, absence, and different rules in different spaces. In these respects, children’s multifaceted use of digital devices is indeed creating an <em>Internet of Life</em>.</p> <h1><strong>Reimagining Children’s Digital Activity</strong></h1> <p>Engagement with digital devices and online activities has become a core part of childhood development (Borisova). The reimagining of the concepts of the Internet of Things and the Internet of Toys as the <em>Internet of Life</em> allows children, parents, researchers, and policy-makers to broaden their understanding of what it means to grow up in a digital world. Defining an <em>Internet of Life</em> and conceptualising digital devices as an inherent part of the everyday, allows greater understanding and appreciation of how, what, and why children use such devices, and the potential benefits (and risks) they may afford. This perspective also empowers children’s understandings of what digital devices are, and how the digital environment relates to them, and their daily lives. This article argues for a need to widen understandings of children’s digital device use, including the role that Internet-connected toys play in fostering social and digital literacies, to explore the multifaceted and ubiquitous nature of tablets and other digital devices (Ihamäki and Heljakka).</p> <p>Previous research on children’s digital engagement, along with a large portion of public reporting, has focussed on the risks and harms that children are exposed to, rather than the potential benefits of digital engagement, along with the rights of a child to digital access (CRC; Odgers and Jensen; Third et al.). The <em>Internet of Life</em> recognises that children’s digital engagement includes some exposure to risks, but also reflects the potential benefits that this exposure can have in terms of helping navigate these risks and problem-solving. It allows digital engagement to be reframed as a normal part of daily life and everyday routines, expanding understandings of how children engage with digital devices.</p> <p>Parents and children alike spoke about their tablets and the myriad of ways in which they used them: as a toy, for leisure, entertainment, formal education, sociality, and to satisfy their own curiosities to name but a few. Not only do these devices satisfy parental expectations, in that children can navigate them without assistance, but children can also outstrip a parent’s skill level rapidly. This is pleasing to some parents who do not possess such skills to teach their child. However, parents still struggle to “allow” their children screentime and justify to themselves that it is okay for their child to be on their own device for extended periods of time.</p> <p>The distinction between the overarching Internet of Things and the subset of the Internet of Toys, as well as the categorisation of these devices as “education-only” or “entertainment-only”, does not accurately represent children’s engagement with and use of digital devices. Children’s multi-faceted and multi-layered digital activities offer a complex interplay of motivations and intentions, pleasures and challenges, intrinsic and extrinsic. 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DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.009. </p> <p>Verenikina, I. “Scaffolding and Learning: Its Role in Nurturing New Learners.” <em>Learning and the Learner: Exploring Learning for New Times</em>, eds. P. Kell, W. Vialle, D. Konza, and G. Vogl. 2008.</p> Kelly Jaunzems Carmen Jacques Lelia Green Silke Brandsen Copyright (c) 2023 Dr Kelly Jaunzems, Dr Carmen Jacques, Professor Lelia Green, Silke Brandsen http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-25 2023-04-25 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2954 Playing with Barbie https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2959 <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Introduction </strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Play activities with toys give children joy while fulfilling their imagination. Toys also perform an educational function by representing social and cultural information. Ellis argues that imagery of disability in children’s toys convey messages about who we want to be included in the future as well as reflecting what we valued in the past. Through toys adults communicate what kind of world they think children should be prepared for. While Barbie has been heavily criticised for conveying problematic messages about race, gender, and body image to children, within the disability community Mattel’s 1996 “wheelchair” Barbie Share-a-Smile Becky has been positively remembered as a significant representation of disability, albeit not without its problems (see Ellis; Garland-Thomson).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">In 2020, Mattel produced a wider variety of Barbie dolls with disabilities along with the concept of “purposeful play” for creating positive impact and supporting diversity. While these dolls were marketed globally, they were largely produced in Indonesia. In this country disability dolls began to be marketed as key to inclusivity. However, it remains unclear how toys and playing activities can be utilised to educate and advocate for disability in Indonesia – normalising differences in a country where disabled people are still largely viewed as subjects of charity. It was not until 2016 when Indonesian disability law shifted from a charity-based to a more rights-based approach (Tsaputra). Referring to existing literature on play-based learning concepts and toys as popular culture, in this article we will use the Barbie case study to discuss how the idea of disability is communicated through toys in the Indonesian context.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">In the following section we will firstly discuss how toys can educate children on issues of diversity and inclusivity. We argue that toys as a form of popular culture can create positive representations for disability. We then discuss the Barbie case study and how Mattel, as the parent company that produces Barbie dolls, markets the ideas of multicultural representation through their dolls to the global market, including Indonesia. We then discuss the challenges faced by the Indonesian toy industry and conclude the article by highlighting the challenges and opportunities to promote disability-themed toys, including the factors in influencing decision-making of buying toys, and diverse cultural perspectives in Indonesia.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Diversity in the Toy Box</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">We argue that disability is shaped by, and reflected in, culture. This cultural approach to disability recognises the influence of attitudes, beliefs, and values across time and place. While disability is most often located in medical discourses, social and cultural approaches recognise that disability is more than an individual medical condition or limitation. Indeed, academic approaches to disability have developed far beyond clinical studies, law, and public policy, to enter the Humanities (Brown). For example, the study of disability arts, culture, and media advances a critique of disability representations in dominant cultural systems (Hadley and McDonald). Karl Knights, an autistic writer with cerebral palsy, states the importance of disability representations in popular everyday objects such as disabled emojis and dolls as part of daily conversation (Knights). How disability is represented in popular media such as books, movies, and toys – despite being viewed only as everyday entertainment objects – provides identities to disabled people, empowering them to have more access to society.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">In this article, we opt to use identity-first language (‘disabled people’, ‘disabled children’) as we intend to put a person’s disability identity before the person. The choice to use identity-first language is aligned with the minority model (or also referred as the diversity model) of disability. From the minority model’s perspective, Dunn and Andrews emphasise identity-first language that views disability as “a function of social and political experiences occurring within a world designed largely for nondisabled people” (259). The person-first language (‘people or person with disability’) will also be used interchangeably in this article, as in the Indonesian context this term is broadly used.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Toys educate children about diversity. “Diversity in the toybox” is viewed as one means to address the multiracial and multicultural spectrum through child’s play activities and toys (<em>New York Times</em>). Toys can be used to “produce and challenge prevailing norms of race, gender, class, ability, and nation” (Bowersox 139) – thus educating children about diversity through play with a variety of toys representing similarities and differences in the human body, such as skin colour and other aspects of physical appearance including disability and impairment. In children’s classrooms, there is a current drive to encourage more diverse toys, acknowledging multiculturalism and strengthening the self-esteem of children who are represented by these toys (Shah). Other studies find that toys can facilitate play routines among children with disabilities, while for non-disabled children toys representing disabilities can reduce their anxieties and prejudice toward their friends who have disabilities (O’Neill et al.). Conversely, research also shows findings where children with Down’s Syndrome prefer to play with a typical doll rather than a doll with Down’s Syndrome appearance – reflecting their views toward typical developing individuals as being more attractive (Saha et al.).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">In 2015, a campaign called #toylikeme was launched in the UK to advocate for more positive representations of disability in toy products from global brands, and brands like Lego, Mattel, and Playmobil quickly gained international attention (toylikeme). In response to this campaign, Playmobil issued a statement later that year announcing their plan to release a new toy set that include characters with disabilities (toylikeme), and a year after, Lego launched their first mini figure with wheelchair. Throughout this article we focus on instances of physical disability and difference such as mobility impairment and vitiligo (a long-term condition where pale white patches develop on the skin) in our discussion of the representation of disability in children’s toys.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Dolls with Disability: Selling Inclusivity and Diversity in a Fashion</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Decades prior to the #toylikeme campaign, toys with disability began to be marketed to the wider public. In the 1970s, popular action figures in the forms of amputee and cyborg action figures such as G.I. Joe’s Mike Power and the Six Million Dollar Man were released, while in 1996 Mattel launched “Share-a-Smile Becky” – a friend of Barbie who is a wheelchair user (Ellis). Despite the Becky doll receiving positive responses from the media and 6,000 dolls being sold within the first two weeks of its release, the wheelchair did not fit into Barbie’s Dreamhouse (<em>Forbes</em>). This caused public criticism towards Mattel for not considering access to the Dreamhouse for the Becky doll – a situation that also reflects the reality where people with disability are excluded from the public space (Ellis).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Twenty years after the Becky doll was discontinued – the last version was Becky the Paralympic Champion in 1999 – Mattel announced upcoming additions to their Barbie's Fashion Doll line, Barbie Fashionistas. The Fashionistas were first introduced in 2009 and were intended to bring a greater sense of diversity to Barbie. The popular line now features a Barbie doll with a wheelchair and another Barbie doll wearing a removable prosthetic leg, which marks Mattel’s campaign on disability representation and diversity inclusion (<em>Forbes</em>). Mattel provides a wide variety of dolls with different body types (petite, curvy, tall), skin tones, eye colours, and hairstyles, and claimed their line as “the most diverse doll line in the marketplace” (Mattel). In their public community report, the company claims their efforts are to initiate a “Play Fair” campaign to address racism and injustice, which includes increasing Black representation across Barbie’s products and content (Mattel).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Mattel’s global strategy to market ideas of diversity and inclusivity is also part of their efforts for strengthening their image and brand value, as well as creating social bonding with stakeholders. Wheelchairs and a doll with a wheelchair appear to be one of the most requested items from their consumers (Ahmed et al.). With this strategy, the toy company views their position as a leading toy brand and, by introducing disabilities in the fashion doll line, they can introduce conversations amongst children about disabilities through their play activities. From the very beginning of Barbie’s inception in the 1950s, the toy was designated to be a fashion doll. With fashionable attires and accessories, Mattel shows that dolls in a wheelchair and wearing prosthetic legs or having specific physical conditions such as vitiligo (loss of skin colour) or alopecia (hair loss) can be fashionable and stylish, thus providing a playful source of entertainment to children (Ahmed et.al.).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">This initiative was welcomed by consumers and the media, as it ignited many positive conversations and discussions through social media and online news. This includes Indonesia, as some leading Indonesian news media featured Mattel’s inclusivity campaign with the launching of Barbie’s Fashionistas diverse doll line (<em>Tempo</em>), although the doll with disability itself did not appear in the country’s marketplace until 2022. The media highlighted the launch of Barbie dolls with disabilities as one of the new toy trends for 2020 (<em>CNN Indonesia</em>).</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Disability, Stigma, and Discrimination </strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Based on the 2020 National Survey in Indonesia, around 9 per cent or 22.5 million individuals within the Indonesian population have a disability (Rahmi et al.). Since 2011, Indonesia has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and has passed the Law No. 8 of 2016 concerning Persons with Disabilities. This Law provides a legal basis regarding the position and rights of persons with disabilities (Nurhayati and Ambari). Nevertheless, people with a disability in Indonesia still face challenges in some critical areas, such as accessing health services, education, and entering the labour market and employment (Syiranamual and Larasati). Disabled people are among the most stigmatised groups in the country, and they largely face discrimination and poor treatment from society. For example, intellectually disabled children often experience bullying in schools and being neglected by their parents, which leads to limited social life and activities (Handoyo et al.). Cultural beliefs among Indonesians also influence how people view disability, perceiving that having a child with disability is disgraceful and a result of karma (Riany et al.).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">It is necessary to develop strategies for eliminating this stigmatisation of disabled people and promoting more inclusivity in Indonesian society. Providing better understanding about disability and promoting representations of different disabilities through daily activities such as play will allow children to develop more positive perceptions of disabled people. Indonesia provides a particularly compelling example because, as we argue in this article, the mass production of these dolls has had an impact on disability representation in that country.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Marketing Disability-Themed Toys in Indonesia </strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Indonesia is one of largest producers of toys, particularly dolls. Indonesia, with a total population of 273 million by 2021 and with a growing middle-class, will be considered as an attractive target market. The total consumption of the Indonesian toy market itself indicated prominent growth from 2012 to 2021: its value increased at an average annual rate of 5.7% (Indexbox).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Indonesia is known as home to one of largest toy factories in the world, and approximately half of the toy dolls globally are produced in Indonesia. The Asia Toy and Play Association, a non-profit that provides a platform for dialogue between various stakeholders in the toy industry, highlighted that as a market, Indonesia is important to buyers and sellers. For example, PT Mattel Indonesia is reportedly contributing more than 35 percent of the total export value of toys from Indonesia to the world. This US-based company has two factories in the country, the east plant, which produces Barbie dolls, and the west plant, which produces die-cast cars under the Hot Wheels brand. Mattel also involves small and medium industries (SMEs) in the production process. The company, which has been operating in Indonesia since 1992, has a production capacity of 85 million fashion dolls and 120 million toy cars per year. It has successfully exported children's toys made in Indonesia to various countries in the Asia Pacific and Europe, as well as to the Unites States.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Challenges from Regulations and Consumers’ Influencing Factors</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Despite the potential of having a large market of potential consumers, there are some challenges faced by the Indonesian toy industry in marketing their products. Firstly, specific regulations for products conformity assessment regarding national standard of toys manufacturing – the Indonesian National Standard (SNI, or Standar Nasional Indonesia) – were issued in 2013. While this standard regulates the safety of toys, it is also considered to be one of the challenges facing the toy industry (Lembaga Penyelidikan Ekonomi dan Masyarakat), including local toy manufacturers. The implementation of such standards can increase cost significantly, due to the complexities of testing and certification procedures (Susanto).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Secondly, in Indonesia, there are multiple factors influencing consumers (in this case, parents) to buy toys for their children (Ulfa and Djamaludin). The main priority is the location of the point of sale. Other priorities include factors such as the toys’ usage, price, and materials. Product information and physical aspects of the toys (e.g., size and form such as soft and hard toys) are the least priority considered by the parents (Ulfa and Djamaludin, 69). These findings suggest that consumer literacy in buying toys is the least important – a factor that needs to be addressed in promoting and marketing disability-themed toys in Indonesia.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>The Need for Product Narratives on Toys Representing Disability</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">A more recent study by Octaviani and Ichwan found that the Internet is the strongest influence on the consumption patterns of imported toys by children and parents in Indonesia. Although online shopping has been widely used by toy consumers, the study shows that parents in Indonesia within the age group of 20-40 years old do not prioritise reading product information, warning information, and cautions about the use of toy products. The main concern to parents is the price and material of toy products. Octaviani and Ichwan also highlighted that parents’ decisions to purchase toys have not been informed by product literacy.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">While previous studies (Ulfa and Djamaludin; Octaviani and Ichwan) have shown how parents in Indonesia make decisions to purchase toys, another study in the United Kingdom highlights parents’ attitudes may influence responses to toys with disability and impairments (Jones et al.). This study shows that among parents of children without disabilities – who support their children having friendships with their disabled peers – their responses toward disability representation in toys are likely to be more positive (Jones et.al.). This indicates that toy manufacturers should consult with parents through open dialogue around disability and impairment when they consider messages of diversity and disability through their products.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">While there are arguments that toys representing disability and impairment have benefits for all children, negative attitudes towards disabled people are still common in society (Dixon et al.). As mentioned in the previous section of this article, stigma and discrimination are often experienced by disabled people in Indonesia, and they remain underrepresented in society and the media. However, since the ratification of the UNCRPD in 2011, the country’s policy perspective has shifted from charity-based to human rights- and social justice-based (Tsaputra). This also calls for a more significant role of the media and other popular forms of culture in opening dialogue and considering alternative ways for more positive representations of disability. </p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">In 2022 Mattel’s official online marketplace in Indonesia introduced a Barbie doll with a skin condition as part of the Fashionistas line – a brunette, tan skin-coloured doll with vitiligo and a curvy body type (fig. 1). The dolls were sold in limited quantities, and in 2023 the male version (Ken) with vitiligo was seen on the shelves of Indonesia’s chain toy stores, and in Barbie official flagship online marketplace (fig. 2). The customers’ reviews in the online store were mainly positive with five stars, but we also found a complaint posted by a disappointed customer: “the product has a defect in the doll’s paint” (Tokopedia). When the online store sold the doll Ken with vitiligo earlier this year, they added more specific information about the product (“The faded spots on this Barbie Ken Malibu is a skin condition called vitiligo, it is NOT a DEFECT. Vitiligo is a disease that causes loss of skin colour in the form of patches.”) and a symbol with caption “celebrating diversity” (Tokopedia).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">During a recent visit to a physical toy store in Jakarta, Indonesia, we (the first and the second author) found that the Ken doll with vitiligo is displayed on the shelf. These dolls are displayed among the other Barbie Fashionistas doll series, under a special section of Barbie. However, when the store assistant approached the second author, they were not well-equipped with product knowledge about this product line. During the check-out process another sales assistant informed us that the doll is supposed to be representative of a condition that shows the loss of colour in skin due to a disease. Toy manufacturers must consider the point of sale for their products and provide comprehensive information of the product in the stores (both online and offline), not only to sell the products but also to support the global campaign of the brand (in the case of Mattel’s Barbie in Indonesia) for promoting diversity and inclusivity to the wider society. </p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/louisejkay/barbie1.jpg" alt="Barbie" width="520" height="692" /></p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><em>Fig. 1: Barbie fashionistas line, with vitiligo in the middle (author’s documentation).</em></p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/louisejkay/barbie-2.jpg" alt="Ken" width="562" height="748" /></p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><em>Fig. 2: Ken with vitiligo (third on the top row) on the shelves in an Indonesian toy store (author’s documentation)</em></p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Conclusion: Where to Go Next?</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Within the Indonesian context, inclusivity and diversity are facing challenges due to numerous cultural complexities. This is particularly true when discussing the possibilities for children to have more positive aspirations around equality and diversity through everyday activities such as play. Pranoto and Hong reveal that young Indonesian children (aged 4-6) aspire to have material wealth (such as getting presents in the form of toys, dolls, flowers, clothes, money, etc.) as opposed to doing well at school (including long-term education, reading, getting rewards from the teacher, etc.). Interestingly, the study suggests that different ethnic backgrounds inform children’s aspirations (Pranoto and Hong). For example, people with a Sundanese ethnicity value the importance of higher social status in society while groups representing the Javanese ethnic group appreciate more family values in society (Pranoto and Hong). Thus, it is argued that different ethnicities have different values on material and non-material things. This argument can be considered when discussing how toys and playing activities can shape the understanding of disability in children – whether different cultural backgrounds can influence their expectations on more complex issues such as inclusivity and diversity.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Most toys, including dolls, have positive impacts within children’s play and everyday lives (Ahmed et al.; Jones et al.; O'Neill et al.). However, when it comes to inclusion, diversity, and disability, these same studies indicate complex implications for children’s future lives and their ability to accept and normalise inclusion, diversity, and disability. As a form of popular culture, toys not only function as play and entertainment tools, but also contain the possibility to influence children’s experience and perceptions. The discussion in this article is limited to exploring existing literature and some preliminary observations on the topic of toys to educate children on issues of diversity and inclusivity. Considering the limitations of research discussing how disability-themed toys and play activities can influence children’s understanding on disability, in Indonesia, we suggest future qualitative research explores these implications for Indonesian children. We also recommend further exploration focussing on parents’ attitudes to toys representing disability in Indonesia, as this will give an insight into the possibilities of marketing these toys (and communicating the ideas and aims of the product). We ask if the Internet – as the preferred e-commerce platform – has more possibilities of opening access for parents to buy these types of toys for their children. Should Mattel rethink their strategy in making these products more available in the market, including in Indonesia? Further research with well-grounded methodologies and extensive data is required to provide the answers. However, we hope this article will begin the much-needed discussions and generate ideas for research on disability toys in Indonesia.</p> <h2 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>References</strong></h2> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Ahmed, Jashim Uddin, et al. “Barbie in a Wheelchair: Mattel’s Respect to Customer Voice.” <em>FIIB Business Review </em>9.3 (2020):181–186.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><em>BBC News</em>. “Lego Reveals New Disabled Figures after an Online Campaign”. 28 Jan. 2016. 10 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-35429774">https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-35429774</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Bowersox, Jeff. “Playing with Diversity: Racial and Ethnic Difference in Playmobil Toys.” <em>Consumption Markets &amp; Culture</em> 25.2 (2022): 139–158.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Brown, Steven. “What Is Disability Culture?” <em>Disability Studies Quarterly</em> 22. 2 (2002): 34-50.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Dixon, Simon, et al. “The Disability Perception Gap: Policy Report”. <em>Scope</em>, May 2018. 17 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.scope.org.uk/">https://www.scope.org.uk/</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Dunn, Dana, et al. “Person-First and Identity-First Language: Developing Psychologists’ Cultural Competence Using Disability Language.” <em>American Psychologist</em> 70.3 (2015): 55–264.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Ellis, Katie. “Changing Representations of Disability in Children’s Toys as Popular Culture.” <em>The Routledge Handbook of Disability Arts</em>, eds. 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"Barbie Dolls and Emojis Make Disability Part of the Conversation." <em>The Guardian</em>, 25 Feb 2019. 17 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/25/disability-barbie-dolls-emojis">https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/25/disability-barbie-dolls-emojis</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Lembaga Penyelidikan Ekonomi dan Masyarakat. “Baseline Study on Capacity and Supply Chain of Toy Industry in Indonesia.” FEB Universitas Indonesia, 2020. 5 Apr. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.atpa.asia/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/SEATA-Baseline-Study-EXECUTIVE-SUMMARY.pdf">https://www.atpa.asia/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/SEATA-Baseline-Study-EXECUTIVE-SUMMARY.pdf</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Mattel. <em>Purposeful Play: 2020 Citizen Report</em>. 2021. 7 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://corporate.mattel.com">https://corporate.mattel.com</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><em>New York Times</em>. “How to Diversify Your Toy Box”. 3 Aug. 2020. 10 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/03/parenting/multiracial-toys-diversity-play.html">https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/03/parenting/multiracial-toys-diversity-play.html</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Octaviani, Rani C., and Fadlin N. 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A Case Study from Indonesia.” <em>Transdisciplinary Research and Education Center for Green Technologies</em>. Kyushu University, 2022. 619-628.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Syiranamual, Martin, and Dyah Larasati. “Disability Situation Analysis, Challenges and Barriers for People with Disability in Indonesia.” The National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K), 2020. 10 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://tnp2k.go.id">https://tnp2k.go.id</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><em>Tempo</em>. “Ada Kursi Roda, Mattel Produksi Barbie Dengan Disabilitas.” 20 Feb. 2019. 7 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://difabel.tempo.co/read/1177603/ada-kursi-roda-mattel-produksi-barbie-dengan-disabilitas">https://difabel.tempo.co/read/1177603/ada-kursi-roda-mattel-produksi-barbie-dengan-disabilitas</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Tokopedia. “Barbie Ken Fashionistas Brown Hair Malibu (Vitiligo) – Mainan Boneka.” 2022. 11 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="http://www.tokopedia.com/barbieflagship/barbie-ken-fashionistas-brown-hair-malibu-vitiligo-mainan-boneka">https://ww.tokopedia.com/barbieflagship/barbie-ken-fashionistas-brown-hair-malibu-vitiligo-mainan-boneka</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">toylikeme. “Playmobil Backs toylikeme with Upcoming Line of Characters.” toylikeme.org. 14 Feb. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.toylikeme.org/playmobil-backs-toy-like-me-with-upcoming-line-of-characters/">https://www.toylikeme.org/playmobil-backs-toy-like-me-with-upcoming-line-of-characters/</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Ulfa, Milatul, and Moh Djemjem Djamaludin. “The Influence of Parent’s Perception and Involvement in Purchasing Decision of Toys for Children.” <em>Journal of Consumer Sciences</em> 1.1 (2016): 59-71.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><em>Vivanews</em>. “Indonesian Toy Industry Exports Increase Almost 30% This Year.” 12 Dec. 2022. 5 Apr. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.viva.co.id/english/1554142-indonesian-toy-industry-exports-increase-almost-30-this-year">https://www.viva.co.id/english/1554142-indonesian-toy-industry-exports-increase-almost-30-this-year</a>&gt;.</p> Hersinta Indrati Kurniana Katie Ellis Copyright (c) 2023 Hersinta, Indrati Kurniana, Katie Ellis http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-25 2023-04-25 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2959 Play Is a Child’s Work (on Instagram) https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2952 <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Where children’s television once ruled supreme as a vehicle for sales of kids’ brands, the marketing of children’s toys now often hinges on having the right social media influencer, many of them children themselves (Verdon). As Forbes reported in 2021, the pandemic saw an increase in children spending more time online, many following their favourite influencers on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. The importance of tapping into partnering with the right influencer grew, as did sales in toys for children isolated at home. We detail, through a case study approach and visual narrative analysis of two Australian influencer siblings’ Instagram accounts, the nature of toy marketing to children in 2023. Findings point to the continued gendered nature of toys and the concurrent promotion of aspirational adult ‘toys’ (for example, cars, high-end cosmetics) and leisure pursuits that blur the line between what we considered to be children’s playthings and adult objects of desire.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>To Market, to Market</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Toys are a huge business worldwide. In 2021, the global toys market was projected to grow from $141.08 billion to $230.64 billion by 2028. During COVID-19, toy sales increased (Fortune Business Insights). The rise of the Internet alongside media and digital technologies has given toy marketers new opportunities to reach children directly, as well as producing new forms of digitally enabled play, with marketers potentially having access to children 24/7, way beyond the previous limits of children’s programming on television (Hains and Jennings). Children’s digital content has also extended to digital games alongside digital devices and Internet-connected toys. Children’s personal tablet ownership rose from less than 1 per cent in 2011 to 42 per cent in 2017 (Rideout), and continues to grow.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Children’s value for brands and marketers has increased over time (Cunningham). The nexus between physical toys and the entertainment industry has grown stronger, first with the Disney company and then with the stand-out success of the <em>Star Wars</em> franchise (now owned by Disney) from the late 1970s (Hains and Jennings). The concept of transmedia storytelling and selling, with toys as the vehicle for children to play out the stories they saw on television, in comics, books, movies, and online, proved to be a lucrative one for the entertainment company franchises and the toy manufacturers (Bainbridge). All major toy brands now recognise the power of linking toy brands and entertaining transmedia children’s texts, including online content, with Disney, LEGO and Barbie being obvious examples.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Gender and Toys: Boys and Girls Come Out to Play</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Alongside the growth of the children’s market, the gendering of children’s toys has also continued and increased, with concerns that traditional gender roles are still strongly promoted via children’s toys (Fine and Rush). Research shows that girls’ toys are socialising them for caring roles, shopping, and concern with beauty, while toys aimed at boys (including transportation and construction toys, action figures, and weapons) may promote physicality, aggression, construction, and action (Fine and Rush). As Blakemore and Center (632) suggested, then, if children learn from toy-play “by playing with strongly stereotyped toys, girls can be expected to learn that appearance and attractiveness are central to their worth, and that nurturance and domestic skills are important to be developed. Boys can be expected to learn that aggression, violence, and competition are fun, and that their toys are exciting and risky”. Recently there has been some pushback by consumers, and some toy brands have responded, with LEGO committing to less gendered toy marketing (Russell).</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>YouTube: The World’s Most Popular Babysitter?</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">One business executive has described YouTube as the most popular babysitter in the world (<em>Capitalism.com</em>). The use of children as influencers on YouTube to market toys through toy review videos is now a common practice (Feller and Burroughs; De Veirman et al.). These ‘reviews’ are not critical in the traditional sense of reviews in an institutional or legacy media context. Instead, the genre is a mash-up, which blurs the lines between three major genres: review, branded content, and entertainment (Jaakkola). Concerns have been raised about advertising disguised as entertainment for children, and calls have been made for nuanced regulatory approaches (Craig and Cunningham). The most popular toy review channels have millions of subscribers, and their hosts constitute some of YouTube’s top earners (Hunting). Toy review videos have become an important force in children’s media – in terms of economics, culture, and for brands (Hunting). Concurrently, surprise toys have risen as a popular type of toy, thanks in part to the popularity of the unboxing toy review genre (Nicoll and Nansen). <em>Ryan’s World</em> is probably the best-known in this genre, with conservative estimates putting 10-year-old Ryan Kanji’s family earnings at $25 million annually (Kang). <em>Ryan’s World</em>, formerly <em>Ryan’s Toy Review</em>, now has 10 YouTube channels and the star has his own show on <em>Nic Junior</em> as well as across other media, including books and video games (<em>Capitalism.com</em>). Marsh, through her case study of one child, showed the way children interact with online content, including unboxing videos, as ‘cyberflaneurs’.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">YouTube is the medium of choice for most children (now more so than television; Auxier et al.). However, Instagram is also a site where a significant number of children and teens spend time. Australian data from the e-Safety Commission in 2018 showed that while YouTube was the most popular platform, with 80 per cent of children 8-12 and 86 per cent of teens using the site, 24 per cent of children used Instagram, and 70 per cent of teens 13-17 (e-Safety Commissioner). Given the rise in social media, phone, and tablet use in the last five years, including among younger children, these statistics are now likely to be higher. A report from US-based <em>Business Insider</em> in 2021 stated that 40 per cent of children under 13 already use Instagram (Canales). This is despite the platform ostensibly only being for people aged 13 and over. Ofcom (the UK’s regulator for communications services) has discussed the rise of ‘Tik-Tots’ – young children defying age restrictions to be on social media – and the increase of young people consuming rather than sharing on social media (Ofcom).</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Insta-Kidfluencers on the Rise</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Marketers are now tapping into the selling power of children as social media influencers (or kidfluencers) to promote children’s toys, and in some cases, parents are happy to act as their children’s agents and managers for these pint-size prosumers. Abidin ("Micromicrocelebrity") was the first to discuss what she termed ‘micro-microcelebrities’, children of social media influencers (usually mothers) who have become, through their parents’ mediation, paid social media influencers themselves, often through Instagram. As Abidin noted: “their digital presence is deliberately commercial, framed and staged by Influencer mothers in order to maximize their advertorial potential, and are often postured to market even non-baby/parenting products such as fast food and vehicles”. Since that time, and with children now a growing audience on Instagram, some micro-microcelebrities have begun to promote toys alongside other brands which appeal to both children and adults. While initially these human ‘brand extensions’ of their mothers (Archer) appealed to adults, their sponsored content has evolved as they have aged, and their audience has grown and broadened to include children.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Given the rise of Instagram as a site for the marketing of toys to children, through children themselves as social media influencers, and the lack of academic research on this phenomenon, our research looks at a case study of prominent child social media influencers on Instagram in Australia, who are managed by their mother, and who regularly promote toys. Within the case study, visual narrative analysis is used, to analyse the Instagram accounts of two high-profile child social media influencers, eleven-year-old Australian Pixie Curtis and her eight-year-old brother, Hunter Curtis, both of whom are managed by their entrepreneur and ‘PR queen’ mother, Roxy Jacenko. We analysed the posts from each child from March to July 2022 inclusive. Posts were recorded in a spreadsheet, with the content described, hashtags or handles recorded, and any brand or toy mentions noted. We used related media reports to supplement the analysis. We have considered ethical implications of our research and have made the decision to identify both children, as their accounts are public, with large follower numbers, promote commercial interests, and have the blue Instagram ‘tick’ that identifies their accounts as verified and ‘celebrity’ or brand accounts, and the children are regularly featured in mainstream media. The children’s mother, Jacenko, often discusses the children on television and has discussed using Pixie’s parties as events to gain publicity for the toy business. We have followed the lead of Abidin and Leaver, considered experts in the field, who have identified children and families in ethnographic research when the children or families have large numbers of followers (see Abidin, "#Familygoals"; Leaver and Abidin). We do acknowledge that other researchers have chosen not to identify influencer children (e.g., Ågren) with smaller numbers of followers. The research questions are as follows:</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">RQ1: What are the toys featured on the two social media influencer children’s sites?</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">RQ2: Are the toys traditionally gendered and if so, what are the main gender-based toys?</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">RQ3: Do the children promote products that are traditionally aimed at adults? If so, how are these ‘toys’ presented, and what are they?</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Analysis</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">The two child influencers and toy promoters, sister and brother Pixie (11) and Hunter (8) Curtis, are the children of celebrity, entrepreneur and public relations ‘maven’, Roxy Jacenko. Jacenko’s first business was a public relations firm, Sweaty Betty, one she ran successfully but has recently closed to focus on her influencer talent agency business, the Ministry of Talent, and the two businesses related to her children, <em>Pixie’s Pix</em> (an online toy store named after her daughter) and <em>Pixie’s Bows</em>, a line of fashion bows aimed at girls (Madigan). Pixie Curtis grew up with her own Instagram account, with her first Instagram post on 18 June 2013, before turning two, and featuring a promotion of an online subscription service for toys, with the hashtag #babblebox. At time of writing, Pixie has 120,000 Instagram followers; her ‘bio’ describes her account as ‘shopping and retail’ and as managed by Jacenko. Pixie is also described as the ‘founder of Pixie’s Pix Toy Store’. Her brother Hunter’s account began on 6 May 2015, with the first post to celebrate his first birthday. Hunter’s page has 20,000 followers with his profile stating that it is managed by his mother and her talent and influencer agency.</p> <h2 style="font-weight: 400;">RQ1: What are the toys featured on the two children’s Instagram sites?</h2> <p style="font-weight: 400;">The two children feature toy promotions regularly, mostly from Pixie’s online toy shop, with the site tagged @pixiespixonline. These toys are often demonstrated by Pixie and Hunter in short video format, following the now-established genre of the toy unboxing or toy review.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Toys that are shown on Pixie’s site (tagged to her toy store) include air-clay (clay designed to be used to create clay sculptures); a Scruff-a-Luv soft toy that mimics a rescue pet that needs to be bathed in water, dried, and groomed to become a ‘lovable’ soft toy pet; toy slime; kinetic sand; Hatchimals (flying fairy/pixie dolls that come out of plastic eggs); LOL OMG dolls and Mermaze (both with accentuated female/made up features). LOL OMG (short for Outrageous Millennial Girls) are described as “fierce, fashionable, fabulous” and their name taps into common language used to communicate while texting. Mermaze are also fashion and hair styling dolls, with a mermaid’s tail that changes colour in water.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">While predominantly promoting toys on <em>Pixie’s Pix</em>, Pixie posts promotions of other items on her Website aimed at children. This includes practical items such as lunch boxes, but also beauty products including a skin care headband and scented body scrubs.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Toys shown on Hunter’s Instagram site are often promotions of his sister’s toy store offerings, but generally fall into the traditional ‘boys’ toys’ categories. The posts that tag the <em>Pixie’s Pix</em> store feature photos or video demonstrations by Hunter of toys, including trucks, slime, ‘Splat balls’ (squish balls), Pokémon cards, Zuru toys’ ‘Smashers’ (dinosaur eggs that are smashed to reveal a dinosaur toy), a Bubblegum simulator for Roblox (a social media platform and game), Needoh Stickums, water bombs, and Hot Wheels.</p> <h2 style="font-weight: 400;">RQ2: Are the toys traditionally gendered and if so, what are the main gender-based toys?</h2> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Although both children promote gender-neutral sensory toys such as slime and splat balls, they do promote strongly gendered toys from <em>Pixie’s Pix</em>. Hunter also promotes gendered toys that are not tagged to <em>Pixie’s Pix</em>, including <em>Jurassic World</em> dinosaur toys (tying into the film release). One post by Hunter features a (paid) cross-promotion of PlayStation 5 themed Donut King donuts (with a competition to win a PlayStation 5 by buying the donuts). In contrast, Pixie posts a paid promotion of a high-tea event to promote My Little Ponies.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Hunter’s posts of toys and leisure items that do not tag Pixie’s toyshop include him on a go-kart, buying rugby gear, and with an ‘airtasker’ (paid assistant) helping him sort his Nerf gun collection. There are posts of both children playing and doing ‘regular’ children’s activities, including sport (Pixie plays netball, Hunter rugby), with their dog, ice-skating, and swimming (albeit often at expensive resorts), while Hunter and Pixie both wear, unbox, and tag some high-end children’s clothes brands such as Balmain and promote department store Myer.</p> <h2 style="font-weight: 400;">RQ3: Do the children promote products that are traditionally aimed at adults? If so, how are these ‘toys’ presented, and what are they?</h2> <p style="font-weight: 400;">The Cambridge dictionary provides the following two definitions of toys, with one showing that ‘toys’ may also be considered as objects of pleasure for adults. A toy is “an object for children to play with” while it can also be “an object that is used by an adult for pleasure rather than for serious use”. The very meaning of the word toys shows the crossover between the adult and children’s world. The more ‘adult’ products promoted by Pixie are highly gendered, with expensive bags, clothes, make-up, and skin care regularly featured on her account. These are arguably toys but also teen or adult objects of aspiration, with Pixie’s collection of handbags featured and the brand tagged. The bag collection includes brightly coloured bags by Australian designer Poppy Lissiman. Other female-focussed brands include a hairdryer brand, with photos and videos posted of Pixie ‘playing’ at dressing up and ‘getting ready’, using skincare, make-up, and hair products. These toys cater to age demographics older than Pixie. Hunter is pictured in posts on a jet-ski, and in others with a mobile and tablet, or washing a Tesla car and with a helicopter. The gendered tropes of girls being concerned with their appearance, and boys interested in vehicles, action, and competitive (video) games appear to be borne out in the posts from the two children.</p> <h1 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>Discussion and Conclusion</strong></h1> <p style="font-weight: 400;">As an entrepreneur, Jacenko has capitalised on her daughter’s and son’s personal brands that she has co-created by launching and promoting a toyshop named after her daughter, following the success of her children’s promotion of toys for other companies and Pixie’s successful hairbow line. The toy shop arose out of Pixie promoting sales of fidget spinners during the pandemic lockdowns where toy sales rose sharply across the world. The children are also now on TikTok, and while they have a toy review channel on YouTube it has not been posted on for three years. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Instagram is one of the main channels for the children to promote the toyshop.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">In an online newspaper article describing the success of Pixie’s toyshop and the purchase of an expensive Mercedes car, Jacenko said that the children work hard, and the car was their “reward” (Scanlan). “The help both her brother and her [Pixie] give me on the buying (every night we work on new style selections and argue over it), the packing, the restocking, goes well beyond their years”, Jacenko is quoted as saying. “We’ve made a pact, we must keep going, work harder. Next, it’s a Rolls Royce.”</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Analysis of the children’s Instagram pages shows highly gendered promotion of toys. The children also promote a variety of high-end, aspirational tween, teen, and adult ‘toys’, including clothes, make-up, and skincare (Pixie) and expensive cars (Hunter and Pixie). Gender stereotyping has been found in adult influencer content (see, for example, Jorge et al.) and researchers have also pointed to sexualisation of young girl influencers on Instagram (Llovet et al.). Our research potentially echoes these findings. Posts from the children regularly include aspirational commodities that blur the lines between adult and child items of desire.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Concerns have been raised in other academic articles (and in government reports) regarding the possible exploitation of children’s labour by parents and marketers to promote brands, including toys, on social media (see, for example, Ågren; De Veirman et al.; <a href="https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/28742/documents/173531/default/">House of Commons</a>; Masterson). The French government is believed to be the only government to have moved to regulate regarding the labour of children as social media influencers, and the same government at time of writing was debating laws to enshrine children’s right to privacy on social media, to stop the practice of ‘sharenting’ or parents sharing their children’s images and other content on social media without their children’s consent (Rieffel). Mainstream media including <em><a href="https://www.teenvogue.com/story/influencer-parents-children-social-media-impact">Teen Vogue</a></em> (Fortesa), and some influencers themselves, have also started to raise issues relevant to ‘kidfluencers’. In the state of Utah, USA, the government has introduced laws to stop children under 18 having access to social media without parents’ consent, although some view this as potentially having some negative impacts (<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/27/podcasts/the-daily/social-media-instagram-tiktok-utah-ban.html">Singer</a>). The ethics and impact of toy advertorials on children by social media influencers, with little or no disclosure of the posts being advertisements, have also been discussed elsewhere (see, for example, House of Commons; Jaakkola), with Rahali and Livingstone offering suggestions aimed key stakeholders. It has been found that beyond the marketing of toys and adult ‘luxuries’ to kids, other products that potentially harm children (for example, junk food and e-cigarettes) are also commonly seen in sponsored content on Instagram and YouTube aimed at children (Fleming‐Milici, Phaneuf, and Harris; Smith et al.). Indeed, it could be argued that e-cigarettes have been positioned as playthings and are appealing to children.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">While we may bemoan the loss of innocence of children, with the children in this analysis posed by their entrepreneurial mother as purveyors of material goods including toys, it is useful to remember that perhaps it has always been a conundrum, given the purpose of toy marketing is to make commercial sales. Children’s toys have always reflected and shaped society’s culture, often with surprisingly sinister and adult overtones, including the origins of Barbie as a male ‘sex’ toy (Bainbridge) and the blatant promotion of guns and other weapons to boys (for example the famous Mattel ‘burp’ gun of the 50s and 60s), through advertising and sponsorship of television (Hains and Jennings). Recently, fashion house Balenciaga promoted its range of adult bags using children as models via Instagram – the bags are teddy bears dressed in bondage outfits and the marketing stunt caused considerable backlash, with the sexually dressed bears and use of children raising outrage (Deguara). Were these teddy bags framed as children’s toys for adults or adult toys for children? The line was blurred. This research has limitations as it is focussed on a case study in one country (but with global reach through Instagram). However, the current analysis is believed to be one of the first to focus on children’s promotion of toys through Instagram, by two children’s influencers, a relatively new marketing approach aimed at children. As the article was being finalised, the children’s mother announced that as Pixie was transitioning into high school and wanted to focus on her studies rather than running a business, the toy business would conclude but <em>Pixie’s Bows</em> would continue (Madigan).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">In the UK, recent research by Livingstone et al. for the Digital Futures Commission potentially offers a way forward related to this phenomenon, when viewed alongside the analysis of our case study. Their final report (following research with children) suggests a Playful by Design Tool that would be useful for designers and brands, but also children, parents, regulators, and other stakeholders. Principles such as adopting ethical commercial models, being age-appropriate and ensuring safety, make sense when applied to kidfluencers and those that stand to benefit from their playbour. It appears that governments, society, some academics, and the media are starting to question the current generally unrestricted frameworks related to social media in general (see, for example, the ACCC’s ongoing enquiry) and toy and other marketing by kids to kids on social media specifically (House of Commons). We argue that more frameworks, and potentially laws, are required in this mostly unregulated space. Through our case study we have highlighted key areas of concern on one of the world’s most popular platforms for children and teens, including privacy issues, commodification, and gendered and ‘stealth’ marketing of toys through ‘advertorials’. We also acknowledge that children do gain playful and social benefits and entertainment from seeing influencers online. Given that it has been shown that gendered marketing of toys (and increased focus on appearance for girls through Instagram) could be potentially harmful to children’s self-esteem, and with related concerns on the continued commodification of childhood, further research is also needed to discover the responses and views of children to these advertorials masquerading as cute content.</p> <h2 style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>References</strong></h2> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Abidin, Crystal. "Micromicrocelebrity: Branding Babies on the Internet." <em>M/C Journal </em>18.5 (2015). &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1022">https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1022</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">———. "#Familygoals: Family Influencers, Calibrated Amateurism, and Justifying Young Digital Labor." <em>Social Media + Society </em>3.2 (2017).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">ACCC. "Digital Platform Services Inquiry Interim Report Number 5 – Regulatory Reform." Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Digital%20platform%20services%20inquiry%20-%20September%202022%20interim%20report.pdf">https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Digital%20platform%20services%20inquiry%20-%20September%202022%20interim%20report.pdf</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Ågren, Ylva. "Branded Childhood: Infants as Digital Capital on Instagram." <em>Childhood </em>(2022).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Archer, Catherine. "Pre-Schooler as Brand Extension: A Tale of Pixie’s Bows and Birthdays." <em>Digitising Early Childhood</em>. Eds. Lelia Green et al. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2019. 58-73.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Auxier, Brooke, et al. "Parental Views about YouTube." <em>Pew Research</em> Centre,<em> 28 </em>July 2020. &lt;<a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parental-views-about-youtube/">https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parental-views-about-youtube/</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Bainbridge, Jason. "Fully Articulated: The Rise of the Action Figure and the Changing Face of ‘Children's’ Entertainment." <em>Entertainment Industries</em>. Routledge, 2014. 31-44.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Blakemore, Judith E. Owen, and Renee E. Centers. "Characteristics of Boys' and Girls' Toys." <em>Sex Roles </em>53 (2005): 619-33.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Canales, Kate. "40% of Kids under 13 Already Use Instagram and Some Are Experiencing Abuse and Sexual Solicitation, a Report Finds, as the Tech Giant Considers Building an Instagram App for Kids." <em>Business Insider</em> 2021. &lt;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/kids-under-13-use-facebook-instagram-2021-5">https://www.businessinsider.com/kids-under-13-use-facebook-instagram-2021-5</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;"><em>Capitalism.com</em>. "Ryan Kaji: Charismatic Kid Youtuber Played His Way to a Multi-Million Dollar Fortune." <em>26 </em>Sep. 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.capitalism.com/ryan-kaji/">https://www.capitalism.com/ryan-kaji/</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Craig, et al. "Toy Unboxing: Living in an (Unregulated) Material World." <em>Media International Australia </em>163.1 (2017): 77-86.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Cunningham, Hugh. <em>Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500</em>. Routledge, 2020.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Deguara, Brittney. "Everything You Need to Know about Balenciaga's 'Disturbing' Ad Campaign." <em>Kidspot</em> 29 Nov. 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.kidspot.com.au/news/everything-you-need-to-know-about-balenciagas-disturbing-ad-campaign/news-story/cf89133794a3cc7fc20a70fdd68911f6">https://www.kidspot.com.au/news/everything-you-need-to-know-about-balenciagas-disturbing-ad-campaign/news-story/cf89133794a3cc7fc20a70fdd68911f6</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">De Veirman, Marijke, Liselot Hudders, and Michelle R. Nelson. "What Is Influencer Marketing and How Does It Target Children? A Review and Direction for Future Research." <em>Frontiers in Psychology </em>10 (2019): 2685.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">E-Safety Commissioner. "Young People and Social Media Usage." 2018. &lt;<a href="https://www.esafety.gov.au/research/youth-digital-dangers/social-media-usage">https://www.esafety.gov.au/research/youth-digital-dangers/social-media-usage</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Feller, Gavin, and Benjamin Burroughs. "Branding Kidfluencers: Regulating Content and Advertising on YouTube." <em>Television &amp; New Media </em>23.6 2022: 575-92.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Fine, Cordelia, and Emma Rush. "'Why Does All the Girls Have to Buy Pink Stuff?' The Ethics and Science of the Gendered Toy Marketing Debate." <em>Journal of Business Ethics </em>149 (2018): 769-84.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Fleming‐Milici, Frances et al. "Prevalence of Food and Beverage Brands in 'Made‐for‐Kids' Child‐Influencer YouTube Videos: 2019–2020." <em>Pediatric Obesity </em>2023: e13008.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Fortune Business Insights<em>. “</em>Toys Market Size, Share &amp; COVID-19 Impact Analysis, by Product Type (Dolls, Outdoor and Sports Toys, Building and Construction Set, Infant and Preschool Toys, Games &amp; Puzzles, and Others), by Age Group (0-3 Years, 3-5 Years, 5-12 Years, 12-18 Years, and 18+ Years), by Distribution Channel (Online and Offline), and Regional Forecast, 2021-2028.” 2021. &lt;<a href="https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/toys-market-104699">https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/toys-market-104699</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Hains, Rebecca C., and Nancy A. Jennings. "Critiquing Children's Consumer Culture: An Introduction to the Marketing of Children's Toys." <em>The Marketing of Children's Toys: Critical Perspectives on Children's Consumer Culture</em>. Eds. Rebecca C. Hains and Nancy A. Jennings. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. 1-20.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee UK. "Influencer Culture: Lights, Camera, Inaction?" 2022. &lt;<a href="https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/28742/documents/173531/default/">https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/28742/documents/173531/default/</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Hunting, Kyra. "Unwrapping Toy TV: Ryan’s World and the Toy Review Genre’s Impact on Children’s Culture." <em>The Marketing of Children’s Toys: Critical Perspectives on Children’s Consumer Culture</em>. Eds. Rebecca C. Hains and Nancy A. Jennings. Cham: Springer International, 2021. 105-24.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Jaakkola, Maarit. "From Vernacularized Commercialism to Kidbait: Toy Review Videos on Youtube and the Problematics of the Mash-Up Genre." <em>Journal of Children and Media </em>14.2 (2020): 237-54.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Jorge, Ana, et al. "Parenting on Celebrities’ and Influencers’ Social Media: Revamping Traditional Gender Portrayals." <em>Journalism and Media </em>4.1 (2023): 105-17.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Kang, Jay Caspian. "The Boy King of YouTube." <em>The New York Times Magazine</em> 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/05/magazine/ryan-kaji-youtube.html">https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/05/magazine/ryan-kaji-youtube.html</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Latifi, Fortesa. "Influencer Parents and the Kids Who Had Their Childhood Made into Content." <em>Teen Vogue</em>, 10 Mar. 2023. &lt;<a href="https://www.teenvogue.com/story/influencer-parents-children-social-media-impact">https://www.teenvogue.com/story/influencer-parents-children-social-media-impact</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Leaver, Tama, and Crystal Abidin. "From YouTube to TV, and Back Again: Viral Video Child Stars and Media Flows in the Era of Social Media." <em>Selected Papers of Internet Research</em> (2018).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Livingstone, Sonia, et al. "Digital Futures Commission – Final Report." 2023. &lt;<a href="https://digitalfuturescommission.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/DFC_report-online.pdf">https://digitalfuturescommission.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/DFC_report-online.pdf</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Llovet, Carmen, et al. "Are Girls Sexualized on Social Networking Sites? An Analysis of Comments on Instagram of Kristina Pimenova." <em>Beyond the Stereotypes? Images of Boys and Girls, and Their Consequences.</em> Eds. Dafna Lemish and Maya Götz. Göteborg: Nordicom, 2017.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Madigan, Mary. “B&amp;T Exclusive: Roxy Jacenko to Close Sweaty Betty by Month's End.” <em>B&amp;T</em> 4 Nov. 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.bandt.com.au/bt-exclusive-roxy-jacenko-to-close-sweaty-betty-at-months-end/">https://www.bandt.com.au/bt-exclusive-roxy-jacenko-to-close-sweaty-betty-at-months-end/</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">———. "Roxy Jacenko’s Daughter Pixie Curtis Has Announced a Huge Life Change before Her 12th Birthday." <em>News.com.au </em>21 Feb. 2023. &lt;<a href="https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/kids/roxy-jacenkos-daughter-pixie-curtis-has-announced-a-huge-life-change-before-her-12th-birthday/news-story/ff6fda8895d4a682eb0f1b9fd6c3311c">https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/kids/roxy-jacenkos-daughter-pixie-curtis-has-announced-a-huge-life-change-before-her-12th-birthday/news-story/ff6fda8895d4a682eb0f1b9fd6c3311c</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Marsh, Jackie. "‘Unboxing’ Videos: Co-Construction of the Child as Cyberflâneur." <em>Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education </em>37.3 (2016): 369-80.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Masterson, Marina A. "When Play Becomes Work: Child Labor Laws in the Era of ‘Kidfluencers’." <em>University of Pa. Law Review </em>169 (2020): 577.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Nicoll, Benjamin, and Bjorn Nansen. "Mimetic Production in Youtube Toy Unboxing Videos." <em>Social Media + Society</em> 4.3 (2018).</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Ofcom. "Living Our Lives Online – Top Trends from Ofcom’s Latest Research." 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2022/living-our-lives-online">https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2022/living-our-lives-online</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Rahali, Miriam, and Sonia Livingstone. "#SponsoredAds: Monitoring Influencer Marketing to Young Audiences." <em>Media Policy Brief</em> 23. London: Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Sciences, 2022. &lt;<a href="https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/113644/7/Sponsoredads_policy_brief.pdf">https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/113644/7/Sponsoredads_policy_brief.pdf</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Rieffel, Ysé. "French MPs Examine Bill on Children's Right to Privacy on Social Media." <em>Le Monde </em>5 Mar. 2023. &lt;<a href="https://www.lemonde.fr/en/france/article/2023/03/05/french-mp-proposes-bill-to-protect-children-s-privacy-on-social-media_6018268_7.html">https://www.lemonde.fr/en/france/article/2023/03/05/french-mp-proposes-bill-to-protect-children-s-privacy-on-social-media_6018268_7.html</a>&gt;</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Rideout, Victoria. "The Commonsense Census: Media Use by Kids Zero to Eight." 2017. &lt;<a href="https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/csm_zerotoeight_fullreport_release_2.pdf">https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/csm_zerotoeight_fullreport_release_2.pdf</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Russell, Helen. "Lego to Remove Gender Bias from Its Toys after Findings of Child Survey." <em>The Guardian </em>11 Oct. 2021. &lt;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/oct/11/lego-to-remove-gender-bias-after-survey-shows-impact-on-children-stereotypes">https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/oct/11/lego-to-remove-gender-bias-after-survey-shows-impact-on-children-stereotypes</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Scanlan, Rebekah. "Roxy Jacenko Buys Daughter, 9, $270,000 Car as Toy Business Booms." <em>News.com.au </em>3 Aug. 2021. &lt;<a href="https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/roxy-jacenko-buys-daughter-9-270000-car-as-toy-business-booms/news-story/14bd181e6a24235f85276f16596d359a">https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/roxy-jacenko-buys-daughter-9-270000-car-as-toy-business-booms/news-story/14bd181e6a24235f85276f16596d359a</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Singer, Natasha. "A Sweeping Plan to Protect Kids from Social Media." <em>New York Times The Daily Podcast</em>. Ed. Michael Barbaro. 2023. &lt;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/27/podcasts/the-daily/social-media-instagram-tiktok-utah-ban.html">https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/27/podcasts/the-daily/social-media-instagram-tiktok-utah-ban.html</a>&gt;.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Smith, Marissa J., et al. "User-Generated Content and Influencer Marketing Involving E-Cigarettes on Social Media: A Scoping Review and Content Analysis of YouTube and Instagram." <em>BMC Public Health </em>23.1 (2023): 530.</p> <p style="font-weight: 400;">Verdon, Joan. "Santa’s Top Toy Sellers This Year Are Influencers." <em>Forbes </em>14 Nov. 2021. &lt;<a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanverdon/2021/11/14/santas-top-toy-sellers-this-year-are-influencers/?sh=67621a7b1235">https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanverdon/2021/11/14/santas-top-toy-sellers-this-year-are-influencers/?sh=67621a7b1235</a>&gt;.</p> Catherine Archer Kate Delmo Copyright (c) 2023 Catherine Archer, Kate Delmo http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-25 2023-04-25 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2952 The Future Is Furby https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2955 <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/f1.jpg" alt="" width="1663" height="1016" /><br /><em>Fig. 1: “Pink Flamingo Furby” (2000), “Peachy Furby Baby” (1999), and “Owl Furby” (1999)</em></p> <h1>Sunlight Up (“Dah-ay-loh oo-tye”): Introduction</h1> <p>As playthings at the junction of human experience and imagination, toys like Furby present an interesting touch point to explore cultural imaginations, hopes, and fears about zoomorphic robots and AI toys. This year marks their 25th anniversary. Created by Dave Hampton and Caleb Chung, Furby publicly debuted at the American International Toy Fair in 1998. Originally released by Tiger Electronics, this toy was later sold to Hasbro in 2005 to 2007. Since their introduction to the market, Furbys have been occupying our shelves and basements, perceived as “annoying little owl-like dolls with embedded sound-recording chips” (Gullin) that speak their own language “furbish” (shown throughout in parenthesis). Early reportage likened Furby to all kinds of cute critters: mogwais, hamsters, and <em>Star Trek</em>’s tribbles. Narratively Furbys are framed as a benevolent, alien species, living in space in a cloud known as Furbyland. For motivations not revealed, Furbys, in looking down on our planet, were so struck by the beautiful view of nature and its signs of peacefulness — “no worry (boo boh-bay)” — that they jumped, plummeting to us like tiny fluffy asteroids. Little did they know that their arrival would spark an intergalactic diplomatic incident.</p> <p>During its introduction in 1998, the initial discourse in media reportage emphasised anxieties of the unknown. What lies beneath the surface of Furby, as a toy that might blur the line between the real and imagined for children? What technologies might it harbour? As a hybrid of technology and animal, Furby appeared as a creepy-cute cultural icon that simultaneously delighted and horrified children and adults alike. Today adult fans reimagine Furby through play and customisation as part of their reflections on their childhood experiences of this cultural moment, and as a way of exploring new futures. Furby provides an opportunity to reflect on adults’ interactions with toys, including parents, members of the public, and fans motivated by nostalgia. At the time of its release Furby presented adults with moments of “dissonance” towards new horrifying technologies that “might occur at the seams [of] … monumental cultural shifts” (Powell 4). But for adult fans today, as a childhood memory, the toy represents both strangeness and future possibilities; it has become a tool of “disrupt[ing] and challeng[ing] beliefs and connections” (Rand 9).</p> <p>In this article I primarily analyse the “original” Furbys of 1998 to 2002, but also mention a range of later versions. This includes: the Emoto-tronic Furbys (2006) which were designed to have more expressive faces; the Furby Boom (2003), a toy whose personality changes according to the level of care it is provided with; and the Furby Connect (2016), which has bluetooth capacity. This discussion is supported by a thematic analysis of 3800 news articles about Furby from 1998 to 2000, visual analysis of both the original and customised iterations of Furby, as well as my reflections as a member of the Furby fandom community. </p> <h1>You Play? (U-nye-loo-lay-doo?): Furby Encounters</h1> <p>A key part of the discourse around Furby since its introduction in 1998 was, “who would want one?” Indeed, the answer at the time appeared to be “several million of us, the toy demons hope” (Weeks). After their release in American toy stores on 2 October 1998 in limited supplies, a Furbish frenzy ensued, resulting in altercations between shoppers and staff (e.g. Munroe; Warmbir; Associated Press). Aged 10, I recall my little black and white Furby, Coco, waiting for me on the shelves of the electronics section of Big W in Australia, fortunately with no such commotion.</p> <p>Furby is classed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s first AI toy, but it was certainly not the first electronic toy to enter the market; at the time of Furby’s release, Tickle Me Elmo and My Interactive Pooh presented competition, and by the late 1980s there was already concern about how electronic pet toys might erode emotion and connection (Turkle, “Authenticity”; Turkle, “Nascent”). Speculation over the reason for the Furby mass hysteria ensued. Some suggested the appeal was the toy’s status symbol status (Beck), whereas others cited its broad appeal: “it's not gender specific; it doesn't appeal to a particular age group; and most important, it's affordable and doesn't require additional equipment or a computer” (Davis). Some experts offered their commentary of the cyberpet phenomena in general, suggesting that it is a way of dealing with isolation and loneliness (<em>Yorkshire Post</em>). Indeed, all of these features are important to note when we consider the transformation of Furby into queer icon.</p> <p>Central to Furby’s cultural narrative is the idea of contact, or a meeting between robot and user; through play children “teach” their new pet Earth’s new ways (Marsh, “Coded”; Marsh, “Uncanny”). And with this contact also comes a sense of the unknown: what lies beneath the creature’s surface? In their study of zoomorphic robots, Hirofumi Katsumi and Daniel White suggest that Donna Haraway’s work on animal encounters might help us understand this idea of contact. As “animal-like” creature, Furby recalls the transformative potentials of meeting with the more-than-human. Furby’s presence on toy shelves, in classrooms and in homes was one of the first times society had to consider what it meant to “enter the world of becoming with” zoomorphic robots, and to reflect on “who or what ... is precisely at stake” in this entanglement (Haraway 19). What do we learn about ourselves and the unknown through our encounters with Furby?</p> <h1>“Monster” (Moh-moh): Technological Threat, Monstrous Other</h1> <p>In media reportage, Furby is framed as both new and innovative, but also as a threatening fluffy anarchist. With its technology largely unknown, Furby at the time of its release presented society with a sense of “technohorror” and “imaginings of [social] collapse” (Powell 24). A common concern was that Furby might record and repeat inappropriate language in an act of rebellion. Occasionally tabloid newspapers would report claims such as, "MUM … was horrified when she sat down to play with her daughter's new Furby toy and it squeaked: "F*** me" (<em>The Sun</em>). Some concerns were quite serious, including that Furby could emit electromagnetic fields that would create interference for medical devices and aircraft instruments; this was later disproven by engineers (Tan and Hinberg; Basky; <em>Computer Security</em>). Other urban myths pointed to a more whimsical Furby, whose sensors had the capacity to launch spacecraft (Watson).</p> <p>One persistent concern was the surveillance potentials of Furby. In 1999 the US National Security Agency (NSA) issued a ban on Furby in their Fort Mead headquarters, with concern that they might record and repeat confidential information (Gullin; Ramalho; Borger). This was denied by Tiger Electronics, who emphatically stated “Furby is not a spy” (<em>Computer Security</em>). Engineers performing “autopsies” on Furbys quickly put much of this anxiety to rest (Phobe). This was met with mirthful rebuttals of how future Furbys might be transformed into cute and ubiquitous “wireless furby transmitters” to gather intelligence in warzones (Gullin). As a result, the initial anxiety about surveillance and toys dissipated.</p> <p>However, academics continue to remind us of the real risks of smart toys (e.g. Lupton; Milkaite and Lievens). The 2016 Furby Connect, equipped with voice recognition and Bluetooth capacities has been shown to be hackable (Williams). Further, Maria Ramalho has reported Snowden’s 2014 claims that both NSA and the UK Government Communication Headquarters have been accessing the data collected. In this context, Furby has become “Big Brother transmogrified into ambiguous, cute” unaccountable creature (Ramalho). Through this, we can see how our entanglement with Furby as an object of technohorror speaks both to our anxieties and the real possibilities of technology.</p> <p>In order to craft a narrative around Furby that speaks to this monstrous potential, many have drawn comparisons between Furby and the character Gizmo from the <em>Gremlins</em> franchise. This reference to Gizmo appears in the majority of the media articles sampled for this research. Gizmo is a “mogwai” (trans. demon) with both cute and monstrous potential; like Furby, it also has the potential to transform into a threat to “good society” (Chesher 153-4). This comparison speaks to <em>Gremlins</em> as an anti-technology statement (Sale). However, when we consider how media rhetoric has framed Furby as something to be tamed and controlled, it’s important we approach this comparison with caution in light of the Orientalist underpinnings of the <em>Gremlins</em> franchise. Wendy Allison Lee highlights how <em>Gremlins </em>reflects xenophobic themes of invasion and assimilation. While Gizmo is a “cute, well-behaved” character who “strives to assimilate” much like how Furby might, through play with children, it also harbours a threat to order. In this encounter are resonances of “racist love” that can sometimes underpin our affection for cuteness (Bow). Further reflection is needed on how we might unentangle ourselves from this framing and imagine more inclusive futures with toys like Furby.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/f2.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>Fig. 2: Interactive Gizmo, a “Furby Friend” produced by Hasbro, Tiger and Warner Bros in 1999</em></p> <h1>Big Fun! (Dah doo-ay wah!): Queer Re-Imaginings of Furby</h1> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/f3.jpg" alt="" width="1663" height="1203" /><br /><em>Fig. 3: Party time!</em></p> <p>Adult fans around the world now gather under the “Furby” banner, participating in a colourful array of playful mischief. Reddit forum <em>r/furby</em> (11,200 subscribers) creates a fun space to enjoy the whimsy of Furby, transforming the figure into a sweet and kind companion. Under this umbrella, <em>r/oddbodyfurby</em> (997 subscribers) explore the horrifying potentials of Furby to its playful and surprising ends, which I discuss in this section. In other forums, such as <em>Furby Collectors and Customisers</em> (4.1k members) on Facebook, these different interests come together in a playful and creative space. There was also an active community on Tumblr, where some of the most creatively generative activities around Furby have occurred (Tiffany). In Japan, there is a lively community of fans on Twitter who dress and photograph Emoto-tronic Furbys in a range of cute and charming ways. This forms part of a broader network of creatives, such as “Circuit Benders” who tear down toys and rework them into instruments in a process known as “frankensteining”, such as <em>Look Mum No Computer</em>’s Furby Organ (Deahl).</p> <p>As fans and artists, people act as “queer accessories” to help Furby escape the world and narrative that sought to enclose it, so it might enact its revenge or transcend as a non-binary queer icon (Rand 9-11). As small, collectible and customisable friends, images of happy and creepy Furbys are part of a network of cute media that provides my generation with a source of comfort during times of precarity, occupying our spaces with their own vitality and presence as soothing companions (e.g. Stevens; Allison; Yano). Cuteness as media also lends itself to hybridisation; a mixing and matching with seemingly “opposing” aesthetics.</p> <p>For many fans, the charm of Furby lies in its nostalgic pull as a creature of childhood creepy-cute nightmares. Indeed, it seems that early concerns that Furby may “blur the line between the real and imagined for many children” were in fact valid (Knowlton). While we knew they weren’t “alive” in the true sense, to us they appeared “sort of alive” as our everyday environments became increasingly technological with a dazzling array of electronics (Turkle, “Authenticity”). As Allison (179) explains, we had to “adjust to a world where the border between the imaginary and the real” began to shift rapidly, leaving us open to dream, imagine, and craft narratives populated by a fear of the mechanised undead.</p> <p>Many Millennials were convinced as children that their Furby was waiting for them in the dark, watching, chuckling (“he he heeeee”). Patrick Lenton, diarising his adventures with a rescue Furby this year recalls his childhood toy as “a riot of noise and fury, the kind of demonic household terror”. Some adults, recalling these memories now refer to Furby as “it” or “evil” (Marsh, “Uncanny” 59). In 2020, adult Furby fans, thinking back to their childhood toys, speculated if the positioning of Furby’s eyes at the front of its head meant it was a predator (Watson). Some suggested that their short legs meant they are ambush predators, their infra-red sensor enabling them to detect prey in the dark. Other playful lore suggested that they were made of real cat and dog fur. Through this act of imaginative play, adults reach back to the playful horrors of their childhoods, combining their sense of dread with glee. This has been recently animated by films such as <em>The Mitchells vs. The Machines</em> (2021), where Furbys equipped with “PAL” chips transmogrify into a horrific pack of menacing creatures, and exact revenge.</p> <p>The main contributing factor to this experience is in part the puppetry of Furby. The 1999 Furby presents an exaggerated performance that is both “alive” and “unalive”, its wild rocking, owlish blinking, and cackling creating a sense of “dread and creeping horror” (Freud 2; Marsh, “Uncanny”). Through a blend of animation and imagination, agency is diffused between toy and child to give Furby “life” (Silvio 423). Interestingly, studies of the 2016 Furby Connect and its friendly and social programming that is designed to encourage positive care and engagement has counteracted some of this experience for children (Marsh, “Uncanny” 54). Likewise, in discussing the 2013 Furby Boom Chesher (151) describes this animation as “zany”, working with Sianne Ngai’s conceptualisation of this aesthetic and its relationship to cuteness. While some might praise these later developments in the Furby franchise as having saved another generation of children from nightmares, compared to the original Furby these later editions are less popular among fans; perhaps there is less “material” to work with.</p> <p>Fans as adults now draw on Furby as a playful and cute text to experiment with and hybridise with a variety of horrifying and surprising potentials. This leans into Furby’s design as a chimera, as it uses a combination of cute features to create a “short-hand” for life and also evoke the “idea” or “character” of appealing animals that form part of cultures “charismatic megafauna” (Nishimura 179; Stuck and Rogers; Gn). With cat-like ears, a tuft of hair that drifts with sympathetic movement, two wide eyes, framed with coquettish false lashes, a bird’s beak, and two paws, Furby both suspends and confounds our disbelief. Following the principles of the Kindchenschema (Lorenz) to a “100% ratio” its body is reduced to a round form, its most dominant feature its large eyes (Borgi, Cogliati-Dezza, Brelsford Meints, and Cirulli). While large eyes generally are thought to have an affective pull to them (Harris 4), their fixed placement in the original Furby’s skull creates a dead-pan gaze, that morphs into a Kubrik stare as the toy tilts forward to greet the viewer.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/f4.jpg" alt="" width="1663" height="1109" /><br /><em>Fig. 4: Kindschenschema at work in Furby’s design</em></p> <p>Furby fans mischievously extend this hybridisation of Furby’s body further through a range of customisation practices. Through “skinning”, Furby’s faux fur surfaces are removed and replaced with a fantastic array of colours and textures. Through breaking into their mechatronic shell – a practice known as “shucking” – their parts are repaired or modified. This results in a range of delightfully queer, non-binary representations of Furby with a range of vibrant furs, piercings, and evocative twinkling and gentle eyes (“tee-wee-lah!”). These figures act as both avatars and as companions for fans. Sporting earrings and rainbow bead necklaces, they are photographed resting in grassy fields, soft crochet rainbows, and bookshelves: they are an expression of all that is joyful in the world.</p> <p>Some fans push the customisation further to create whimsical creatures from another dimension. Some Furbys appear with moss and lichen for fur, sprouting tiny toadstools. Furbys are also transformed into “oddbodies” of varying species. Some appear both as winged fairies, and as transcendental multi-eyed and winged “biblically accurate” angels. Others are hybridised with plush toys or are reworked into handbags. Some veer into the realm of body horror, using doll limbs and bodies to create humanoid forms. The most iconic is the “long furby”, created by Tumblr user FurbyFuzz in 2018. Elongated and insect-like, the Long Furby wriggles into homes and curls up on soft furnishings. Collectors gather “haunted photos from the dark recesses of the internet” to document their escapades (Long Furby). Sometimes, hybridised Furbys appear not through creator interventions but rather emerge from nature itself. One such mythical creature is Murby, an original Furby unearthed in 2013 on an old farm property. Once toy, now woodland spirit, Murby gazes upon and blesses fans with dreamy, clouded eyes, its body an entanglement of thick moss, rich earth and time.</p> <p>Furby’s queerness, strangeness, and hybridity speaks to fans in different ways. Personally, as a neurodivergent person, I experience the coding and the playful reimaginings of Furby as a reflection of my own life experience. Neurodivergent people have a high capacity for care and empathy for objects as curiosities, supports, and friends (e.g. Atherton and Cross; White and Remington; Clutterbuck, Shah and Livingston). Like Furby, I am an alien whom people want to tame. My body and movement are treated with the same infantilising bemusement and suspicion. I feel like a chimera myself; an entanglement of many parts that make a whole, each on their own charming, but together forming a chaotic attempt to connect with neurotypicals. For me, what lies beneath Furby’s surface is my own psyche; rescuing and customising Furbys is a symbolic act, a creative expression of my desire to transcend and resist ableist forces. Together my Furbys and I revel in our strangeness in solidarity, plotting our mischievous revenge (“party time!”). This micro-level resistance will not overturn ableism but brings me a sense of reprieve as I work with my allies to bring socio-cultural change.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/f5.jpg" alt="" width="1663" height="1053" /><br /><em>Fig. 5: The author, Furby Queen. Photo by Sherbet Birdie Photography.</em></p> <p>Through their creative work, fans explore how Furbys could be reimagined. While fannish activities may at first glance appear fringe or frivolous, they hold up a mirror to our own limitations, anxieties, and practices as a society. The future is Furby.</p> <h1>Go to Sleep Now (U-nye-way-loh-nee-way): Conclusions</h1> <p>As a source of technohorror and queer potential, Furby provides a vessel by which we can imagine the futures of toys. Through encounter and contact, this seemingly harmless fluffy robot brought about disruption and chaos as a threat to securities and social fabrics. Adult fans, now recalling this cultural moment, lean into this creature’s promise of new possibilities, queering its cultural narrative. Through exploring adults’ interactions with toys, we explore new potentials for change and futures that are playful and creative.</p> <h2>Acknowledgments</h2> <p>This article was produced with the support of a Vitalities Lab Scholarship and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society. I also thank Deborah Lupton and David Eastwood for their support in the production of an arts-based project that draws on this research into cyberpet histories.</p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Allison, Anne. <em>Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination</em>. 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London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.</p> <p>Milkaite, Ingrida, and Eva Lievens. “The Internet of Toys: Playing Games with Children’s Data?” <em>The Internet of Toys: Practices, Affordances and the Political Economy of Children’s Smart Play</em>. Eds. Giovanna Mascheroni and Donell Holloway. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.</p> <p>Lee, Wendy Allison. “Cute. Dangerous. Asian American. 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But Furby Frenzy Drives Desperate into Long Lines.” <em>Chicago Daily Herald</em>, 28 Nov. 1998: 4.</p> <p>Watson, Averie. “A Dark Furby Theory May Reveal Them as Flesh-Devouring Predators.” <em>CBR</em>, 20 Nov. 2021. &lt;<a href="https://www.cbr.com/dark-furby-predator-theory/">https://www.cbr.com/dark-furby-predator-theory/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>White, Rebecca, and Anna Remington. “Object Personification in Autism: This Paper Will Be Very Sad If You Don’t Read It.” <em>Autism</em> 23.4 (2018): 1042–1045.</p> <p>Williams, Al. “Mission Impossible: Infiltrating Furby.” <em>Hackaday</em>, 26 Nov. 2017. &lt;<a href="https://hackaday.com/2017/11/26/mission-impossible-infiltrating-furby/">https://hackaday.com/2017/11/26/mission-impossible-infiltrating-furby/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Weeks, Linton. “The Great Furby Fuss.” <em>The Washington Post</em>, 24 Nov. 1998. &lt;<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1998/11/24/the-great-furby-fuss/30a0a340-658a-4609-ae07-f38ff368c7c4/">https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1998/11/24/the-great-furby-fuss/30a0a340-658a-4609-ae07-f38ff368c7c4/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Yano, Christine. “Reach Out and Touch Someone: Thinking through Sanrio’s Social Communication Empire.” <em>Japanese Studies</em> 31.1 (2011): 23–36.</p> <p><em>Yorkshire Post</em>. “Cyberpets – Harmless Fun or Addictive Craze?” 9 Nov. 1998: 9.</p> Megan Catherine Rose Copyright (c) 2023 Megan Catherine Rose http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-25 2023-04-25 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2955 Toy, Vehicle, or Equipment? https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2960 <p>In this article we consider the ways that parents and children construct an object that has long been associated with North American childhood: the bicycle. We ask the question: is the bicycle a toy or a tool? At first glance, this seems like a straightforward distinction. For example, if an object serves a useful purpose, we classify it a tool. Hammers are tools because they help drive nails into wood. If the object serves no apparent purpose other than our own intrinsic enjoyment, it is a toy. Kites are toys because we gain no instrumental benefit by flying them; kites offer us only amusement and entertainment. Of course, it is not as clear as this. Sometimes toys become tools as ingenious and resourceful people find new uses for them. Tools become toys as we discover other objects that fulfill a function more efficiently or affordably. At times, we engage in public debates about the classification of objects as toys or tools. We saw this recently, when educators debated whether the fidget spinner was a toy that distracted students from learning or a tool that helped students focus on learning (Silver). These examples show that the meanings that objects hold are not inherent to the object but are actively constructed through social processes and situated in specific historical, geographical, and political contexts.</p> <p>Understanding how we make meaning of objects is important because meanings impact on how objects circulate through everyday life and how they are used and valued. In a culture that values work over leisure, tools are socially valued yet ‘toy’ is a word loaded with judgment; although toys are objects of delight they are also associated with superficiality, consumerism, and a desire for status (Whitten). As manufacturers of ‘educational toys’ certainly understand, the construction of an object as a tool or toy shapes when, where, and by whom that object should be used, including the spaces they are allowed to occupy and the ways that children are permitted to engage with and use them (Brougère).</p> <p>The bicycle is many things at once: it moves through space, it requires physical effort of the rider, and it is self-propelled. As an object, the bicycle has also held different meanings depending on the cultural, historical, and political context. Hoffman (6) calls the bicycle a ‘rolling signifier’ in that ‘it carries a diversity of signification depending on its location in time and space’. Throughout its 150-year history in North America, the bicycle has been a leisure-based status symbol of the progressive urban elite, a symbol of women’s liberation, and a transportation vehicle of the working poor, and the focus of a fitness craze (Turpin). Starting out as an adult leisure activity, the bicycle began to be associated with childhood in the 1950s, when the bicycle manufacturing industry began to turn its attention to selling bicycles to children rather than adults (Turpin 1). Through the 1950s and 1970s, advertisements and television shows began to represent the bicycle as a vehicle for childhood freedom, highlighting the bicycle as the quintessential childhood gift and the moment of learning to ride a bicycle a childhood milestone (Turpin; McDonald).</p> <p>Although still constructed as an “indelible part of childhood” (Turpin, 1), the bicycle, and childhood, have changed since the days when the bicycle first gained its iconic status. Although new styles of bicycling (e.g., BMX, mountain) have emerged, the actual bicycling of children in terms of the amount of time spent riding and distance travelled has been on the decline for a generation (Cox; McDonald). Changing ideas about children’s health, development, and parental responsibilities to prepare children for their future have also raised anxieties about how, where, and how much time children spend engaged with ‘toys’ versus ‘tools’, and whether children should be playing or moving around outdoors, in the streets, unsupervised and alone (Alexander et al.; Valentine). A growing body of research highlights the ways in which childhood has become increasingly contained, immobilised, and institutionalised (Karsten; Rixon, Lomax, and O’Dell). In this context the object of the bicycle becomes more problematic given its features of mobility, physicality, and rider autonomy.</p> <p>In this article we investigate the ways that children and parents construct meanings of the bicycle in childhood. We draw on data collected in 2019 and 2020 when we interviewed 24 bicycle-riding children (aged 10-16, rode independently at least once per week) and 19 bicycle-supportive parents about their perspectives and experiences of bicycling in the downtown and suburban areas of the small Canadian city in which they lived. As we elaborate below, children constructed the bicycle as a toy that allowed physical and environmental exploration. For parents, these meanings produced anxiety because they relied on children moving through space unsupervised. In the article we will show how parents managed their desires and worries in ways that at times reconfigured the meaning of ‘bicycle’. We point to the central role of emotion in enabling and limiting children’s bicycling opportunities. We close with a discussion of the implications of these findings in the construction and promotion of children’s bicycling.</p> <h1>Children's Constructions of the Bicycle in Childhood</h1> <p>Our interviews with children revealed that while it was appreciated as a vehicle that could get them places faster than walking, children primarily constructed the bicycle as a toy. In fact, children constructed the bicycle as two different types of toys. First, the bicycle was a <em>physical toy</em> that afforded riders the opportunity to connect with their environment in novel ways and in so doing, to experiment with their physicality. For MK (boy, 11) the best part about riding was practicing ‘tricks’, or small manoeuvres with a bicycle like popping it up on one wheel, or jumping the bike over an obstacle. He had a number of favourite ‘trick spots’ – curbs, steps, benches, small hills – spread through the city that he would stop at as he made his way across town. Ross (383) sees this as ‘discipline and disorder’, noting, with respect to children’s unaccompanied school journeys, “the potential for impromptu play responding to features along the route”. She adds that “such free-play can only occur when children are able to set their own agenda, making decisions along the way”, implying that journeys may be more ‘playful’ – and bicycles more ‘toylike’ – when adults are not co-present.</p> <p>MK explained that he liked tricks because there was nothing at stake, other than possibly being teased by his brother. At the same time, friends were a source of inspiration and creativity as kids worked together to test out tricks and record their performances:</p> <blockquote> <p>Q: What do you like about tricks?</p> <p>MK: They’re easy to learn. If you mess one up, no one makes fun of you for it, no one laughs at you.</p> <p>Q: What is your least favourite part about riding?</p> <p>MK: When I do miss a trick, my brother makes fun of me.</p> </blockquote> <p>Alternatively, GL (boy, 15) sought out trails in nearby wooded areas on his mountain bike where he would engage with the rocky and rooted terrain at different speeds. For GL, the fun of mountain biking was that anything could happen:</p> <blockquote> <p>Q: What it's like to do the trails? What happens and what do you like about it?</p> <p>GL: Just the craziness of the unexpected sometimes. And like, the downhill obviously, not [to] have to do anything and just roll down the hill through all these roots and rocks and stuff. It is quite challenging.</p> </blockquote> <p>Second, the bicycle was an <em>adventure toy</em> that afforded children the opportunity to explore the local environment with no agenda other than to take in the surroundings and see what’s there. Whereas with riding for transportation “you’re trying to get somewhere, maybe going faster to try to get there faster, obviously, but for leisure you're just having fun enjoying it and just looking around, you see what's around you” (GL). Perhaps less risky than trick riding, adventure riding still required some bravery as it required the rider to venture into the unknown. Given this, it was the experience of exploring and discovering their surroundings that engendered joy and exhilaration. Children enthusiastically described their journeys and the special spots and surprising moments they experienced along the way. Whereas trick and trail riding required focus and intensity, adventure riding encouraged openness and receptivity. NT (boy, 10) explained, “there's no rules that you [need] to go here. It's, just, you can bike wherever you want. And do whatever. Like it's not somebody pushing you to go a certain speed or slow down or anything. I really like that.”</p> <p>Being afforded the autonomy to move as they wanted through space was the most treasured aspect of bicycle-riding. TL (girl, 12) explained, “I get to go places that I wouldn't normally get to go when I’m with other people. And then I get to choose where we go”. SG (girl, 12) related her experience of freedom on a bicycle to her right to autonomy: “you can do whatever you want and however you want, and its your own opinion and you don't have to follow anybody else's. You can be free.”</p> <p>In a culture that values productivity and improvement, toys are sometimes dismissed as objects with little value other than to provide amusement or fill time. This is why we often see toy manufacturers working to establish associations between toys and various improvement-oriented or utilitarian purposes, as this helps legitimise toys as good, valuable, and necessary (Brougère). However, the descriptions above highlight the richness of experience that comes from engaging with objects <em>as toys</em>. Commonalities across these two uses of the bicycle were the elements of creativity, curiosity, and low-stakes outcome, and an emotional experience of joy, satisfaction, and exhilaration.</p> <h1>Parents’ Constructions of the Bicycle in Childhood</h1> <p>Among parents, the construction of the bicycle as a childhood toy provoked a wider array of emotions that included joy and exhilaration but also fear and worry. For parents, the lesser worry of the two uses of the bicycle was of the bicycle as a physical toy. Parents appreciated the physical skills that their children learned on the bike and acknowledged, with relatively little concern, that injury might result. One parent (LL) described “falling off the bike or a slip, I mean, it happens to the best of bikers. I'm not worried about my kids in terms of their skill, it would just be an accident”.</p> <p>Vastly more troubling to parents was the construction of the bicycle as an adventure toy as the activity produced by this kind of toy – adventuring on bike – involved children moving greater distances through their environment and without adult supervision. Although parents could understand the joy and exhilaration of adventure riding, they were concerned about the dangers posed by the riding environment. Parents were fearful of cars for how they moved quickly and, speaking from their positionality as drivers, how car drivers paid little attention to bicycles. MM lamented that in her suburban neighbourhood drivers didn’t look for bicycles as they backed out of a driveway. This meant that children on bicycles had to assume responsibility for their own safety, and parents worried whether their child had the decision-making and social capabilities for this:</p> <blockquote> <p>Probably getting hurt would be the biggest [fear], even. If we're out and on a busier road, and he were to wipe out or not be paying attention or something. He's not really in any situations right now where he would be. I'd worry about him being approached by anyone or anything like that. (NT)</p> </blockquote> <p>Concerns related to children travelling alone in public space are longstanding. In the 1990s, Valentine reported that parents feared that their children lacked the capabilities to travel safety on their own in public space, and that these fears inhibited children’s autonomous mobilities. Since then, notions of the ‘vulnerability’ of childhood have worked to intensify and expand parenthood to include ‘risk management’ through supervision and monitoring (Lee et al.). Through this, time spent with children, including time spent chauffeuring children from place to place, has also become associated with parental care. McLaren and Parusel argue that this form of “parental mobility care” is one of the ways in which mothers (and fathers to a lesser degree) implement ‘good mothering’ (1426). One parent (NF) noted that although she was comfortable with her child biking alone, she worried about “feedback I might get from neighbours or whatever, right, judging”. Another parent (MM) illustrates the association between knowing your child’s whereabouts and good parenting:</p> <blockquote> <p>The mom’s let them [friend and brother] already go on the bikes together, right. So, he's got that confidence already built with his brother, and by himself. He shows up at my door and rings the door bell and there he is, waving at me, and I'm like, ‘Oh my god, does his mom know where he is?’ (laughs).</p> </blockquote> <h1>Managing Feelings and Reconfiguring Meanings</h1> <p>Parents simultaneously desired to support their child’s biking and worried about their child travelling alone through public space. They sought ways to manage these competing feelings. Some parents achieved this by reconfiguring their construction of the bicycle in ways that made parental accompaniment more sensible and acceptable. For example, EK, who always accompanied her son on bike rides, highlighted the physical effort required to ride a bicycle and the benefits that resulted from riding, such as greater physical endurance, strength, and skill. In other words, to her the bicycle was less a toy and more a piece of equipment that helped people achieve self-improvement goals. When the focus of riding is fitness, the context of riding – where one travels and with whom – matters only in relation to the achievement of fitness goals. She discussed how she rode with her son so they could fulfill fitness goals together:</p> <blockquote> <p>EK: I want to ride a bike with [son, 12] because I want to have, like, exercise to do, and it’s better. We have YMCA membership, but I prefer outdoors. In the wintertime last year we we were biking at the YMCA on those stationary ones. I enjoy those ones as well.</p> <p>Q: But not the same as going outside?</p> <p>EK: No, we prefer outside. We prefer outdoors.</p> </blockquote> <p>TS, who also accompanied her children on bicycle rides, reconfigured bicycling as an adventurous activity for the family, rather than solely for children. In her interviews, she highlighted bicycling as a way to strengthen family bonds and build great memories from their bike rides together:</p> <blockquote> <p>TS: It's brought us closer together now that we all have a bike. Like, my boyfriend is pretty physical, and he's already got planned out trails he wants to take them on in the summer. So, I think it has brought up some exciting new adventures for us to look forward to and nobody can feel left out because we all can bike together.</p> </blockquote> <p>Certainly, the joy and thrill of riding can be a shared experience for parents and children (McIlvenny). Children did indicate their appreciation for these rides, particularly because they ventured further with parents than they were permitted when riding alone. However, family biking also produced a different kind of bike-riding experience for children, with a shift in position from ‘pilot’ to ‘crew’ and their attention directed inward, toward others in the group:</p> <blockquote> <p>GL (boy, 15): when I'm biking with my friends and family I am always watching out for them, like making sure they're keeping up, or if you're keeping the right pace if you're in the front. When you're by yourself, just like focused on doing, you're not really thinking about anything else.</p> </blockquote> <p>Our intent is not to dismiss the value of the bicycle as child exercise equipment or a family adventure toy. But we do wish to point out the ease with which the bicycle can be made sense of as a range of different-use objects in the context of contemporary childhood. Indeed, in this context, concerns about children’s physical health, development, and preparation for the future have been transforming – both ‘healthifying’ (Alexander et al. 78), and instrumentalising – children’s play for a generation.</p> <p>That said, there were parents who continued to support their children’s engagement with the bicycle as a toy, and their autonomous bike-riding. Although these parents certainly had worries, they connected bicycling to an array of positive emotions – joy, exuberance, pride, calm – and drew on these emotions to bolster their support. Parents often associated these positive emotions with memories of their own childhood biking experiences, which they wanted their children to experience. They also directly observed them in their children, after they returned from a ride. These moments offered parents ‘feedback’ that helped bolster their commitment to holding space for their children’s adventure riding:</p> <blockquote> <p>LL: They're pretty proud when they come home, muddy and dirty. Yeah, they'll tell me things that they saw or just things that would stand out like, ‘oh, the bugs are really bad’, or ‘oh, we found this cool part of a trail’ or [they] don't really meet people that they know on the trail. But yeah, they’ll give me some feedback. ‘RL almost ran into a tree’. ‘JL almost fell off trying to jump a log’: the highlights.</p> </blockquote> <p>The shared experience of the COVID-19 pandemic also connected parents to the emotional experience of bike-riding, bolstering parental support for children’s autonomous bike-riding because the pandemic made the emotional experience of bike-riding so much more apparent to parents. At the time of our spring 2020 interviews, children were just beginning to surface from a three-month lockdown period in which schooling was online, extra-curricular activities had been cancelled, and a public health order had drastically curtailed their movements outside the home. Although now we better understand the extent of the psychological impact of the lockdown on children (Panchal et al.), at that time parents were seeing its impacts on their children first-hand. In this context, the bicycle took on a new meaning as a vehicle that afforded a way for children escape the home and have some time and space to themselves:</p> <blockquote> <p>KK: For [daughter, age 12], definitely there are times that with two younger siblings, she'll just need to go. ‘I'm done. I need space.’ She'll go for a bike ride and that’s a little bit of a calm downtime for her. Right. Anyway, she says she enjoys it, it's healthy and gets her outside and away from your younger siblings.</p> </blockquote> <p>Parents increasingly supported children’s independent riding, again based on their observations of the emotional experience of children’s biking experiences. Both parents and children described these bike rides as mood-changing. Parents were able to recognise how biking offered children a time and space to “cool down” or “unwind from other things that are going on.” JJ [girl, age 13] explained:</p> <blockquote> <p>When I go on bike rides, I was like, kind of in a bad mood. If I'm angry at someone, if I'm sad, if I'm frustrated. Just flick a switch. Like, frustrated to happy; or angry to confident; or something like that. I don't know how it works, but it just boosts my mood every time I go on a bike ride. And then it is a great day.</p> </blockquote> <h1>Conclusion</h1> <p>This article illustrates the different ways that parents and children construct and negotiate meanings of the bicycle in childhood. It highlights the connections between meaning and use, and the ways that different meanings encourage different ways of thinking about how the bicycle should be used, where, with whom, and for what reasons. The analysis also points to the centrality of emotions in the process of meaning-making. In doing so, it builds on previous research that has illustrated now negative emotions (reluctance, worry, fear, anxiety) work to limit children’s mobilities (Fotel and Thomsen; Rixon et al.). At the same time, it also builds on recent research that illustrates the ways that attention to positive emotions (joy, pride, exhilaration, calm) can enable children’s bicycling (Silonsaari et al.) while centring children’s experiences in conversations about play and toys in contemporary childhood.</p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Alexander, Stephanie A., Katherine L. Frohlich, and Caroline Fusco. <em>Play, Physical Activity and Public Health: The Reframing of Children’s Leisure Lives</em>. Routledge, 2018.</p> <p>Brougère, Gilles. "Toys: Between Rhetoric of Education and Rhetoric of Fun." <em>Toys and Communication</em> (2018): 33-46.</p> <p>Cox, Peter. <em>Cycling: A Sociology of Vélomobility</em>. Routledge, 2019.</p> <p>Fotel, Trine, and Thyra Uth Thomsen. “The Surveillance of Children’s Mobility.” <em>Surveillance &amp; Society</em> 1.4 (2003).</p> <p>Furness, Zack. <em>One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility</em>. Temple UP, 2010.</p> <p>Hoffmann, Melody L. <em>Bike Lanes are White Lanes: Bicycle Advocacy and Urban Planning</em>. U of Nebraska P, 2016.</p> <p>Karsten, Lia. "It All Used to Be Better? Different Generations on Continuity and Change in Urban Children's Daily Use of Space." <em>Children's Geographies</em> 3.3 (2005): 275-290.</p> <p>Lee, Ellie, et al. <em>Parenting Culture Studies</em>. Springer, 2014.</p> <p>McDonald, Noreen C. “Children and Cycling.” <em>City Cycling</em> 487 (2012): 211-234.</p> <p>McIlvenny, Paul. "The Joy of Biking Together: Sharing Everyday Experiences of Vélomobility." <em>Mobilities </em>10.1 (2015): 55-82.</p> <p>Panchal, Urvashi, et al. "The Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Systematic Review." <em>European Child &amp; Adolescent Psychiatry</em> (2021): 1-27.</p> <p>Rixon, Andy, Helen Lomax, and Lindsay O’Dell. "Childhoods Past and Present: Anxiety and Idyll in Reminiscences of Childhood Outdoor Play and Contemporary Parenting Practices." <em>Children's Geographies</em> 17.5 (2019): 618-629.</p> <p>Ross, Nicola J. "‘My Journey to School…’: Foregrounding the Meaning of School Journeys and Children's Engagements and Interactions in Their Everyday Localities." <em>Children's Geographies</em> 5.4 (2007): 373-391</p> <p>Silonsaari, Jonne, et al. "Unravelling the Rationalities of Childhood Cycling Promotion." <em>Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives</em> 14 (2022): 100598.</p> <p>Silver, Erin. "Kids Love Those Fidget Spinner Toys. But Are They Too Much of a Distraction?" <em>The Washington Post</em> (2017).</p> <p>Turpin, Robert. <em>First Taste of Freedom: A Cultural History of Bicycle Marketing in the United States</em>. Syracuse UP, 2018.</p> <p>Valentine, Gill. <em>Public Space and the Culture of Childhood</em>. Routledge, 2017.</p> <p>Valentine, Gill. "'Oh Yes I Can.' 'Oh No You Can't': Children and Parents' Understandings of Kids' Competence to Negotiate Public Space Safely." <em>Antipode</em> 29.1 (1997): 65-89.</p> <p>Whitten, Sarah. "Adults Are Buying Toys for Themselves, and It's the Biggest Source of Growth for the Industry." <em>NBC News</em>, 19 Dec. 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/adults-are-buying-toys-s-biggest-source-growth-industry-rcna62354">https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/adults-are-buying-toys-s-biggest-source-growth-industry-rcna62354</a>&gt;.</p> Erin Sharpe Jocelyn Murtell Alex Stoikos Copyright (c) 2023 Erin , Jocelyn, Alex http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-26 2023-04-26 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2960 On That <em>Toy-Being</em> of Generative Art Toys https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2947 <h1>Exhibiting Procedural Generation</h1> <p>Generative art toys are software applications that create aesthetically pleasing visual patterns in response to the users toying with various input devices, from keyboard and mouse to more intuitive and tactile devices for motion tracking. The “art” part of these toy objects might relate to the fact that they are often installed in art galleries or festivals as a spectacle for non-players that exhibits the unlimited generation of new patterns from a limited source code. However, the features that used to characterise generative arts as a new meditative genre, such as the autonomy of the algorithmic system and its self-organisation (Galanter 151), do not explain the pleasure of fiddling with these playthings, which feel sticky like their toy relatives, <em>slime</em>, rather than meditative, like mathematical <em>sublime</em>. </p> <p>Generative algorithms are more than software tools to serve human purposes now. While humans are still responsible for the algorithmically generated content, this is either to the extent of the simple generation rules the artists design for their artworks or only to the extent that our everyday conversations and behaviours serve as raw material to train machine learning-powered generation algorithms, such as ChatGPT, to interpret the world they explore stochastically, extrapolating it in an equivalently statistical way. Yet, as the algorithms become more responsive to the contingency of human behaviours, and so the trained generation rules become too complex, it becomes almost impossible for humans to understand how they translate all contingencies in the real world into machine-learnable correlations. In turn, the way we are entangled with the generated content comes to far exceed our responsibility.</p> <p>One disturbing future scenario of this hyper-responsiveness of the algorithms, for which we could never be fully responsible, is when machine-generated content replaces the ground truth sampled from the real world, leading to the other machine learning-powered software tools that govern human behaviour being trained on these “synthetic data” (Steinhoff). The multiplicities of human worlds are substituted for their algorithmically generated proxies, and the AIs trained instead on the proxies’ stochastic complexities would tell us how to design our future behaviours.</p> <p>As one aesthetic way to demonstrate the creativity of the machines, generative arts have exhibited generative algorithms in a somewhat decontextualised and thus less threatening manner by “emphasizing the circularity of autopoietic processes” of content generation (Hayles 156). Their current toy conversion playfully re-contextualises how these algorithms in real life, incarnated into toy-like gadgets, both enact and are enacted by human users. These interactions not only form random seeds for content generation but also constantly re-entangle generated contents with contingent human behaviors. The <em>toy-being</em> of generative algorithms I conceptualise here is illustrative of this changed mode of their exhibition. They move from displaying generative algorithms as speculative objects at a distance to sticky toy objects up close and personal: from emphasising their autopoietic closure to “more open-ended and transformative” engagement with their surroundings (Hayles 156). (Katherine Hayles says this changed focus in the research of artificial life/intelligence from the systems’ auto-poietic self-closure to their active engagement with environments characterises “the transition from the second to the third wave” of cybernetics; 17.) Their toy-being also reflects how the current software industry repurposes these algorithms, once developed for automation of content creation with no human intervention, as machines that enact commercially promising entanglements between contingent human behaviors and a mixed-reality that is algorithmically generated. </p> <h1><em>Tool-Being</em> and <em>Toy-Being</em> of Generative Algorithms</h1> <p>What I mean by toy-being is a certain mode of existence in which a thing appears when our habitual sensorimotor relations with it are temporarily suspended. It is comparable to what Graham Harman calls a thing’s <em>tool-being</em> in his object-oriented rereading of Heidegger’s tool analysis. In that case, this thing’s becoming either a toy or tool pertains to how our hands are entangled with its ungraspable aspects. According to Heidegger a hammer, for instance, is <em>ready-to-hand</em> when its reactions to our grip, and swinging, and to the response from the nail, are fully integrated into our habitual action of hammering to the extent that its stand-alone existence is almost unnoticeable (<em>Tool-Being</em>). On the other hand, it is when the hammer breaks down, or slips out of our grasp, that it begins to feel <em>present-at-hand</em>. For Harman, this is the moment the hammer reveals its own way to be in the world, outside of our instrumentalist concern. It is the hint of the hammer’s “subterranean reality”, which is inexhaustible by any practical and theoretical concerns we have of it (“Well-Wrought” 186). It is unconstrained by the pragmatic maxim that any conception of an object should be grounded in the consequences of what it does or what can be done with it (Peirce). In Harman’s object-oriented ontology, neither the hammer’s being ready to serve any purpose of human and nonhuman others – nor its being present as an object with its own social, economic, and material histories – explicate its tool-being exhaustively. Instead, it always preserves more than the sum of the relations it has ever built with others throughout its lifetime. So, the mode of existence that describes best this elusive tool-being for him is <em>withdrawing-from-hand</em>. </p> <p>Generative art toys are noteworthy regarding this ever-switching and withdrawing mode of things on which Harman and other speculative realists focus. In the Procedural Content Generation (PCG) community, the current epicentre of generative art toys, which consists of videogame developers and researchers, these software applications are repurposed from the development tools they aim to popularise through this toy conversion. More importantly, procedural algorithms are not ordinary tools ready to be an extension of a developer’s hands, just as traditional level design tools follow Ivan Suntherland’s 1963 <em>Sketchpad</em> archetype. Rather, procedural generation is an autopoietic process through which the algorithm organises its own representation of the world from recursively generated geographies, characters, events, and other stuff. And this representation does not need to be a truthful interpretation of its environments, which are no other than generation parameters and other input data from the developer. Indeed, they “have only a triggering role in the release of the internally-determined activity” of content generation. The representation it generates suffices to be just “structurally coupled” with these developer-generated data (Hayles 136, 138). In other words, procedural algorithms do not break down to be felt <em>present-at-hand</em> because they always feel as though their operations are closed against their environments-developers.</p> <p>Furthermore, considered as the solution to the ever-increasing demand for the more expansive and interactive sandbox design of videogames, they not only promise developers unlimited regeneration of content for another project but promise players a virtual reality, which constantly changes its shape while always appearing perfectly coupled with different decisions made by avatars, and thus promise unlimited replayability of the videogame. So, it is a common feeling of playing a videogame with procedurally generated content or a story that evolves in real time that something is constantly withdrawing from the things the player just grasped. (The most vicious way to exploit this gamer feeling would be the in-game sale of procedurally generated items, such as weapons with many re-combinable parts, instead of the notorious loot-box that sells a random item from the box, but with the same effect of leading gamers to a gambling addiction by letting them believe there is still something more.) In this respect, it is not surprising that Harman terms his object-oriented ontology after object-oriented programming in computer science. Both look for an inexhaustible resource for the creative generation of the universe and algorithmic systems from the objects infinitely relatable to one another thanks ironically to the secret inner realities they enclose against each other.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/figure1.png" alt="" width="1663" height="757" /><br /><em>Fig. 1: Kate Compton, </em>Idle Hands<em>. <a href="http://galaxykate.com/apps/idlehands/">http://galaxykate.com/apps/idlehands/</a></em></p> <p>However, the toy-being of the algorithms, which I rediscover from the PCG community’s playful conversion of their development tools and which Harman could not pay due attention to while holding on to the self-identical tool-being, is another mode of existence that all tools, or all things before they were instrumentalised, including even the hammer, had used to be in children’s hands. For instance, in Kate Compton’s generative art toy <em>Idle Hands </em>(fig. 1), what a player experiences is her hand avatar, every finger and joint of which is infinitely extended into the space, even as they also serve as lines into which the space is infinitely folded.</p> <p>So, as the player clenches and unclenches her physical hands, scanned in real-time by the motion tracking device Leapmotion, and interpreted into linear input for the generation algorithm, the space is constantly folded and refolded everywhere even by the tiniest movement of a single joint. There is nothing for her hands to grasp onto because nothing is ready to respond consistently to her repeated hand gestures. It is almost impossible to replicate the exact same gesture but, even if she does, the way the surrounding area is folded by this would be always unpredictable.</p> <p>Put differently, in this generative art toy, the player cannot functionally close her sensorimotor activity. This is not so much because of the lack of response, but because it is Compton’s intention to render the whole “fields of the performer” as hyperresponsive to “a body in motion” as if “the dancer wades through water or smoke or tall grass, if they disturb [the] curtain as they move” (Compton and Mateas). At the same time, the constant re-generation of the space as a <em>manifold</em> is no longer felt like an autonomous self-creation of the machine but arouses the feeling that “all of these phenomena ‘listen’ to the movement of the [hands] and respond in some way” (Compton and Mateas).</p> <p>Let me call this fourth mode of things, neither ready-to-hand nor present-at-hand, nor withdrawing-from-hand, but <em>sticky-to-hand</em><em>:</em> describing a thing’s toy-being. This is so entangled with the hands that its response to our grasp is felt immediately, on every surface and joint, so that it is impossible to anticipate exactly how it would respond to further grasping or releasing. It is a typical feeling of the hand toying with a chunk of clay or slime. It characterises the hypersensitivity of the autistic perception that some neurodiverse people may have, even to ordinary tools, not because they have closed their minds against the world as the common misunderstanding says, but because even the tiniest pulsations that things exert to their moving bodies are too overwhelming to be functionally integrated into their habitual sensorimotor activities let alone to be unentangled as present-at-hand (Manning).</p> <p>In other words, whereas Heideggerian tool-being, for Harman, draws our attention to the things outside of our instrumentalist concern, their <em>toyfication</em> puts the things that were once under our grip back into our somewhat animistic interests of childhood. If our agency as tool-users presupposes our body’s <em>optimal grip</em> on the world that Hubert Dreyfus defines as “the body’s tendency to refine its responses so as to bring the current situation closer to an optimal gestalt” (367), our becoming toy-players is when we feel everything is responsive to each other until that responsiveness is trivialised as the functional inputs for habitual activities. We all once felt things like these animistic others, before we were trained to be tool-users, and we may consequently recall a forgotten genealogy of toy-being in the humanities.</p> <p>This genealogy may begin with a cotton reel in Freud’s fort-da game, while also including such things as jubilant mirror doubles and their toy projections in Lacanian psychoanalysis, various playthings in Piaget’s development theory, and all non-tool-beings in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. To trace this genealogy is not this article’s goal but the family resemblance that groups these things under the term <em>toy-being</em> is noteworthy. First, they all pertain to a person’s individuation processes at different stages, whether it be for the symbolic and tactile re-staging of a baby’s separation from her mother, her formation of a unified self-image from the movements of different body parts, the child’s organisation of object concepts from tactile and visual feedbacks of touching and manipulating hands, the subsequent “projection of such ‘symbolic schemas’” as social norms, as Barbie’s and Ken’s, onto these objects (Piaget 165-166), or a re-doing of all these developmental processes through aesthetic assimilation of objects as the flesh of the worlds (Merleau-Ponty). And these individuations through toys seem to approach the zero-degree of human cognition in which a body (either human or nonhuman) is no other than a set of loosely interconnected sensors and motors. In this zero-degree, the body’s perception or optimal grip on things is achieved as the ways each thing responds to the body’s motor activities are registered on its sensors as something retraceable, repeatable, and thus graspable. In other words, there is no predefined subject/object boundary here but just multiplicities of actions and sensations until a group of sensors and motors are folded together to assemble a reflex arc, or what Merleau-Ponty calls intention arc (Dreyfus), or what I term sensor-actuator arc in current smart spaces (Ahn). And it is when some groups of sensations are distinguished as those consistently correlated with and thus retraceable by certain operations of the body that this fold creates an optimal grip on the rest of the field.</p> <p>Let me call this enfolding of the multiplicities whereby “the marking of the ‘measuring agencies’ by the ‘measured object’” emerges prior to the interaction between two, following Karen Barad, <em>intra-action</em> (177). Contrary to the experience of tool-being <em>present</em>-<em>at-hand</em> as no longer consistently contributing to our habitually formed reflex arc of hammering or to any socially constructed measuring agencies for normative behaviors of things, what we experience with this toy-being <em>sticky-to-hand</em> is our bodies’ folding into the multiplicities of actions and sensations, to discover yet unexplored boundaries and grasping between our bodies and the flesh of the world.</p> <h1><strong>Generative Art Toys as the Machine Learning’s Daydream </strong></h1> <p>Then, can I say even the feeling I have on my hands while I am folding and refolding the slime is <em>intra-action</em>? I truly think so, but the multiplicities in this case are so sticky. They join to every surface of my hands whereas the motility under my conscious control is restricted only to several joints of my fingers. The real-life multiplicities unfolded from toying with the slime are too overwhelming to be relatable to my actions with the restricted degree of freedom. On the other hand, in Compton’s<em> Idle Hands</em>, thanks to the <em>manifold</em> generated procedurally in virtual reality, a player experiences these multiplicities so neatly entangled with all the joints on the avatar hands. Rather than simulating a meaty body enfolded within “water or smoke or tall grass,” or the flesh of the world, the physical hands scanned by Leapmotion and abstracted into “3D vector positions for all finger joints” are embedded in the paper-like virtual space of <em>Idle Hands </em>(Compton and Mateas). And rather than delineating a boundary of the controlling hands, they are just the joints on this immanent plane, through which it is folded into itself in so many fantastic ways impossible on a sheet of paper in Euclidean geometry. </p> <p>Another toy relative which <em>Idle Hands </em>reminds us of is, in this respect, Cat’s Cradle (fig. 2). This play of folding a string entangled around the fingers into itself over and over again to unfold each new pattern is, for Donna Haraway, a metaphor for our creative cohabitation of the world with nonhuman others. Feeling the tension the fingers exchange with each other across the string is thus, for her, compared to “our task” in the Anthropocene “to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places” (Haraway 1).</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/figure2.png" alt="" width="803" height="621" /><br /><em>Fig. 2: Nasser Mufti, </em>Multispecies Cat's Cradle<em>, 2011. <a href="https://www.kit.ntnu.no/sites/www.kit.ntnu.no/files/39a8af529d52b3c35ded2aa1b5b0cb0013806720.jpg">https://www.kit.ntnu.no/sites/www.kit.ntnu.no/files/39a8af529d52b3c35ded2aa1b5b0cb0013806720.jpg</a></em></p> <p>In the alternative, in <em>Idle Hands</em>, each new pattern is easily unfolded even from idle and careless finger movements without any troubled feeling, because its procedural generation is to guarantee that every second of the player’s engagement is productive and wasteless relation-making. In Compton’s terms, the pleasure of generative art toys is relevant to the players’ decision to <em>trade</em> the <em>control</em> they once enjoyed as tool users for <em>power</em>. And this tricky kind of power that the players are supposed to experience is not because of their strong grip, but because they give up this strong grip. It is explicable as the experience of being re-embedded as a fold within this intra-active field of procedural generation: the feeling that even seemingly purposeless activities can make new agential cuts as the triggers for some artistic creations (“Generative Art Toys” 164-165), even though none of these creations are graspable or traceable by the players. </p> <p>The procedural algorithm as the new toy-being is, therefore, distinguishable from its non-digital toy relatives by this easy feeling of engagement that all generated patterns are wastelessly correlated with the players’ sensorimotor activities in some ungraspable ways. And given the machine learning community’s current interest in procedural generation as the method to “create more training data or training situations” and “to facilitate the transfer of policies trained in a simulator to the real world” (Risi and Togelius 428, 430), the pleasure of generative art toys can be interpreted as revealing the ideal picture of the mixed-reality dreamed of by machine learning algorithms. As the solution to circumvent the issue of data privacy in surveillance capitalism, and to augment the lack of diversity in existing training data, the procedurally generated synthetic data are now considered as the new benchmarks for machine learning instead of those sampled from the real world. This is not just about a game-like object for a robot to handle, or geographies of fictional terrains for a smart vehicle to navigate (Risi and Togelius), but is more about “little procedural people” (“Little Procedural People”), “synthetic data for banking, insurance, and telecommunications companies” (Steinhoff 8).</p> <p>In the near future, as the AIs trained solely on these synthetic data begin to guide our everyday decision-making, the mixed-reality will thus be more than just a virtual layer of the Internet superimposed on the real world but haunted by so many procedurally generated places, things, and people. Compared to the real world, still too sticky like slime, machine learning could achieve an optimal grip on this virtual layer because things are already generated there under the assumption that they are all entangled with one another by some as yet unknown correlations that machine learning is supposed to unfold. Then the question recalled by this future scenario of machine learning would be again Philip K. Dick’s: Do the machines <em>dream of </em><em>(procedurally generated) electronic sheep?</em> Do they rather dream of this easy wish fulfillment in place of playing an arduous Cat’s Cradle with humans to discover more patterns to commodify between what our eyes attend to and what our fingers drag and click? </p> <p>Incarnated into toy-like gadgets on mobile devices, machine learning algorithms relocate their users to the zero-degree of social profiles, which is no other than yet-unstructured personal data supposedly responsive to (and responsible for regenerating) invisible arcs, or correlations, between things they watch and things they click. In the meanwhile, what the generative art toys really generate might be the self-fulfilling hope of the software industry that machines could generate their mixed-reality, so neatly and wastelessly engaged with the idle hands of human users, the <em>dream of electronic sheep </em>under the maximal grip of Android (as well as iOS).</p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Ahn, Sungyong. “Stream Your Brain! Speculative Economy of the IoT and Its Pan-Kinetic Dataveillance.” <em>Big Data &amp; Society</em> 8.2 (2021).</p> <p>Barad, Karen. <em>Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning</em>. Durham: Duke UP, 2007.</p> <p>Compton, Kate. “Generative Art Toys.” <em>Procedural Generation in Game Design</em>, eds. Tanya Short and Tarn Adams. New York: CRC Press, 2017. 161-173.</p> <p>Compton, Kate. “Little Procedural People: Playing Politics with Generators.” <em>Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games</em>, eds. Alessandro Canossa, Casper Harteveld, Jichen Zhu, Miguel Sicart, and Sebastian Deterding. New York: ACM, 2017.</p> <p>Compton, Kate, and Michael Mateas. “Freedom of Movement: Generative Responses to Motion Control.” <em>CEUR Workshop Proceedings</em>, 2282, ed. Jichen Zhu. Aachen: CEUR-WS, 2018.</p> <p>Dreyfus, Hubert L. “Intelligence without Representation: Merleau-Ponty’s Critique of Mental Representation.” <em>Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences</em> 1 (2002): 367-383.</p> <p>Galanter, Philip. “Generative Art Theory.” <em>A Companion to Digital Art</em>, ed. Christiane Paul. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016. 146-180.</p> <p>Haraway, Donna J. <em>Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene</em>. Durham: Duke UP, 2016.</p> <p>Harman, Graham.<em> Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects</em>. Chicago: Open Court, 2002.</p> <p>———. “The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism.” <em>New Literary History</em> 43 (2012): 183-203.</p> <p>Hayles, Katherine N. <em>How We Become Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literatures, and Informatics</em>. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999.</p> <p>Manning, Erin. <em>The Minor Gesture</em>. Durham: Duke UP, 2016.</p> <p>Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. <em>The Visible and the Invisible</em>. Ed. Claude Lefort. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1968.</p> <p>Peirce, Charles S. “How to Make Our Ideas Clear.” <em>Popular Science Monthly</em> 12 (1878): 286-302.</p> <p>Piaget, Jean. <em>Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood</em>. Trans. C. Gattegno and F.M. Hodgson. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962.</p> <p>Risi, Sebastian, and Julian Togelius. “Increasing Generality in Machine Learning through Procedural Content Generation.” <em>Nature Machine Intelligence</em> 2 (2020): 428-436.</p> <p>Steinhoff, James. “Toward a Political Economy of Synthetic Data: A Data-Intensive Capitalism That Is Not a Surveillance Capitalism?” <em>New Media and Society</em>, 2022.</p> Sungyong Ahn Copyright (c) 2023 Sungyong Ahn http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-25 2023-04-25 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2947 American Girl Dolls as Professionals https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2953 <h1><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p>Toys and games are important elements of child growth and development. When children play, they have fun. They also learn to perform and contest ideas making up their culture. The potential professional affiliations and skills offer an illustration of the roles that children learn about in the early years of their lives. Therefore, toys may serve as a site to research professional aspirations. In light of this, a question emerges: what do toys teach about professions and professionalism?</p> <p>As a feminist communication researcher, I study toys primarily intended for girls – the dolls in the American Girl collection. Even though the doll sets demand an excessively high price, this brand has a cultural significance for the girls and women growing up in the United States because of the historical and contemporary connections found in deeply researched stories and intricately designed accessories (Solly). The American Girl brand started in 1986. Mattel, the American toy conglomerate, has owned the American Girl brand since 1998 and describes the brand as helping "generations of girls find courage, build confidence, and spread kindness" ("American Girl"). The original American Girl dolls represented historical figures: for example, Melody Ellison from the era of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and Kit Kittredge from the time of the Great Depression in 1934. In addition to historical personalities, the American Girl depicts contemporary girls, including the Girl of the Year line introduced annually. These dolls portray modern girls who have special talents or hobbies and who navigate their lives and experience adventures through the prism of their talents. For example, Joss Kendrick’s passion is surfing, Gabriela McBride loves dancing and poetry, and Grace Thomas is interested in baking. As a rule, the talents of the Girls of the Year align with professional work and can inspire future generations to choose specific professions or develop professional qualities.</p> <p>To narrow the subject, this essay examines the professional aspirations presented in the stories and media associated with the American Girl doll, Luciana Vega, released in 2018. Luciana is an aspiring 10-year-old astronaut and scientist who dreams to be the first person to walk on Mars. Luciana is unique because she is the first doll among contemporary characters to exclusively engage in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM (Strickland). This doll marks an attempt to address the high barrier for women and underrepresented groups to enter and remain in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan reflects on the importance of Luciana, saying that "a lot of girls are sometimes intimidated by STEM careers" and that characters like Luciana can let "girls of color around the world know they can be astronauts" (Strickland). Therefore, Luciana Vega contributes to the discourse about professions for contemporary girls and women.</p> <p>The focus on professional aspirations represented in toys stems from the research about professionalism, which implies a set of assumptions that are taken for granted yet ambiguous, conflicted – and rarely questioned (Cheney and Ashcraft). The criticism of neoliberalism from the feminist perspective helps examine professionalism critically. Neoliberal feminism celebrates the achievements of individual women in the format of corporate and personal enterprises at the expense of confirming privileges based on race, class, and sexuality (Rottenberg). The essay argues that the lessons about professions and professionalism offered by the American Girl focus on establishing only a symbolic association with professional engagement. The emphasis on personal development through teamwork, leadership, and creativity promotes gendered professional capital that has limited resources to address potential imposter phenomenon and workplace harassment.</p> <h1><strong>Dolls and Professional Aspirations</strong></h1> <p>Scholars who study toys and playthings associate them with opportunities to display and obtain social rules and cultural values. Gender, race, and class norms are part of cultural production in toys (Foss; Rosner, <em>Playing</em>). As a product of culture, toys and texts associated with them represent professional futures and offer lessons about organisational life, professional identities, and work relations. Kuhn and Wolter report that young people tend to follow gender stereotypes in professional planning even in progressive locations, yet this connection between professional aspirations, career choices, and existing expectations is rather weak, suggesting that parental influence, regional or local specificities, educational programming, and other social factors, such as toys and games, may impact individual choices.</p> <p>The American Girl brand promotes an active lifestyle, teaching children to understand who they are and to bring positive changes to their communities. The company does not explicitly mention preparation for careers and professional education. The company emphasises holistic development for girls, where professionalism and career aspirations may serve as implied targets. Barbour, Rolison, and Jensen argue that “individuals construct professional selves that originate in the early socialisation phases of professional training and are further developed as they are immersed in the rules, language, skills, and work of the profession” (137). As such, playing with dolls and engaging with the issues suggested by the toy brand may have an impact on future generations as they explore potential professions and careers and learn what it means to be a professional.</p> <p>The academic research about the American Girl has not discussed professionalism yet. Scholars focus on exploring historic representations to argue that the company romanticises nostalgia to foster consumerism (Rosner, “The American Girl”) or presents a simplified and whitewashed version of history (Marcus; Valdivia). Marshall argues that the American Girl version of girlhood “reflects a gendered pedagogy of consumption rather than any lessons about empowerment or US history” (95). Scholars nevertheless have already noted the affiliations of the American Girl doll characters with neoliberalism. Neoliberalism refers to an approach to political economy that favours free market, economic growth, and capital accumulation. In feminist research, neoliberalism can be understood as “a sensibility or set of themes that privilege market-friendly notions of individualism, responsibility, and capitalization” (Thornton 273). The American Girl brand strives to empower girls, yet the empowerment offered by the brand is wrapped in a neoliberal frame of thinking, calling for girl power, self-determination, and femininity without changing the system that supports gender and other forms of discrimination and inequality (Rybas and Rybas; Zaslow). The criticism of neoliberal feminism provides a framework to examine professional belonging projected for future iterations of work, professions, and talents.</p> <h1><strong>Reading Professions in the American Girl Texts</strong></h1> <p>If Luciana Vega’s character offers lessons about professions and professionalism for the fans who play with the doll and engage with her story, it is important to explore these texts. The texts associated with the American Girl brand range from books that have traditionally defined the brand to mobile apps, short videos, feature or animated movies, and social media snippets that have appeared in recent years. The books create narratives about the characters, while multimedia texts offer alternative formats for the narratives as well as promote activities and engagements inspired by the characters. These texts offer rich data to examine the implications of the character for professionalism and being a professional. Further analysis draws from the content created for the 2018 Doll of the Year: the book <em>Luciana</em> by Erin Teagan and videos on the official American Girl YouTube channel and collected into a playlist.</p> <p>Material objects and discursive constructions of practices associated with work produce professional identification and belonging. Being a professional relies on demonstrating special skills and knowledge in work contexts and maintaining professional identities (Caza and Creary; Caza, Vough, and Puranik). As with other professionals, the character experiences contradictions and dilemmas embedded in the tasks (Ahuja). She evokes professional skills and grows her professional potential through the problems and struggles that she deals with. Based on how the character and spokespersons address situations associated with work and how they communicate about their experiences, the analysis identifies lessons about professions and professionalism.</p> <h1><strong>Lessons about Professions and Professionalism</strong></h1> <p>First, the discussion of lessons about professionalism focusses on the material markers of being a scientist. How do the professionally defined objects, places, and activities signify Luciana’s belonging to the STEM sphere? At the Space Camp, the kids wear space and science clothes, and Luciana receives an official Space Camp flight suit upon check-in. The camp participants move from their habitats, with bunk beds for six campers, to the habitat common area, with screens streaming news from the international space station, and to the mission floor, with spacecrafts, greenhouses, and training equipment. Luciana finds her sense of belonging to the Space Camp through items signifying connections to space explorations. She wears a dress of “the colors of the nighttime sky—blue, red, purple, orange” (Teagan 4) and the star-shaped necklace. She also packs her “favorite pajamas from the planetarium” (Teagan 11) and “a pillow with the solar-system pillowcase” (Teagan 2). The items make her feel comfortable upon her arrival at the camp. The STEM-style objects can stimulate desires to purchase the toys and outfits, such as the lunar habitat, space suit, galaxy-patterned dress for the doll, or science kit, available from the American Girl brand. </p> <p>In addition to the merchandise and branded items, the projects completed by the camp participants are indicative of their professional belonging: The campers perform soil experiments and design robots. The narrative refers to specialised terms (types of rocks and rockets), equipment (goggles, beakers), and scientific routines (wearing safety goggles, labelling samples) to create a world focussed on science. These details show Luciana’s familiarity with the camp space and speak to her abilities needed to complete the activities. The videos posted on YouTube provide additional illustration to the narrative. The spokespersons in the promotional videos as well as guests and hosts in the TV studio during the reveal wear blue overalls and walk through the NASA Centre (“A Day in the Life of Luciana”; “Meet American Girl’s 2018”). These descriptions and demonstrations create excitement about space exploration and make the STEM fields seem attractive and available. However, the price tag of almost $1,500 in 2023 (“Space Camp”) for camp participation keeps the dream of flying to Mars a distant reality for families. The financial barrier, obviously, does not appear in the texts promoted by the American Doll brand. Such silence indicates that each family needs to decide for themselves to what extent they can participate in the world of STEM, and such considerations reinforce class-based stratifications. </p> <p>Further, the discussion focusses on the ways of thinking associated with professionalism. Adams argues that professionalism offers epistemologies that define "what is sayable, what is knowable, what is included, and what is excluded" (332). In other words, professionalism implies a system knowledge necessary for success in the neoliberal economy (Adams; Cheney and Ashcraft). What skills and epistemologies emerge in the texts associated with Luciana Vega?</p> <p>The set-up of Luciana’s story establishes her responsibility for the success. She participates in a week-long space camp without her parents and friends. Even though she has an opportunity to develop her interests and meet new friends, the narrative suggests that Luciana must push back her longing for her family and her worries about the adoption of her new sister to emphasise the camp projects and her dream to be an astronaut. The discourse about work and life balance is significant for the neoliberal feminist analysis because those who are successful can do it all (Rottberg; Thornton). Luciana takes responsibility for adapting to the camp environment and controlling her own development. Luciana’s competitive record illustrates her drive. She obtains an acceptance to join the camp after two rejections, and this achievement communicates her resilience and perseverance necessary for a neoliberal subject (Rottberg).</p> <p>Teamwork, leadership, and creativity are core skills expected from workers in the contemporary economy. Creativity defines neoliberal femininity as it aligns with passion, energy, and stamina (Rottberg; Thornton). Creativity is Luciana’s quality. Alex, one of the trainers, confirms her reputation by saying, "we need creative future astronauts just like you" (Teagan 6). Luciana’s ideas, however, may cause mistakes, as it happens during the building of a rover because she ignores the expectations about the rover’s weight. As the narrative develops, the team needs Luciana’s ideas, especially in designing a robot from junk parts, and the team acknowledges Luciana’s contributions. They note that Luciana has pretty good ideas and that making mistakes is normal. Ella, one of the teammates, concludes that "it’s the person who thinks a little differently from the rest who has the greatest chance of making a difference in this world" (Teagan 133). Even though Luciana’s creativity leads to various results, it is essential for her success as a professional.</p> <p>In addition to creativity, Luciana develops her teamwork and leadership skills. These qualities are required for the success of the camp mission and future professional endeavours. Alex, the camp trainer, says that "for an astronaut team is everything" (Teagan 118). To compete in the robotics challenge, Luciana becomes the captain of one of the teams, and she encourages her team to work in a cohesive and productive manner. The team chooses the name Red Rover by brainstorming and voting, yet the team fails to collaborate in the rover-building challenge because Luciana does not rely on the knowledge of her teammates. Red Rovers get disqualified from the competition, but Luciana leads her team in continuing their experiment, building a successful robot, and even helping the team whose project the girls have damaged. As a result, the team members develop a strong friendship bond and receive an award for building a unique robot. Luciana’s leadership is meaningful for professional aspirations in the neoliberal style because it juxtaposes her character against the other participants of the camp, which promotes the emphasis on taking responsibility for mistakes.</p> <p>Creativity, teamwork, and leadership permeate the simple activities inspired by the 2018 Doll of the Year: making star-shaped cookies, creating a purple hair streak, and organising a space-themed party (AG Life). The short episodes follow the style of videoblogs or reality TV shows created by and for teens and tweens. The five hosts are girls of Luciana’s age who perform activities and share knowledge in an easy-going manner imitating a conversation. Faber and Coulter critique girls’ digital production as an embodiment of neoliberal ideologies built on playful authenticity and the affective glamourisation of entrepreneurial logics. Making star-shaped cookies, creating a purple hair streak, and organising a space-themed party represent science and space exploration only by association, similar to the pyjamas from the planetarium or the star-shaped necklace.</p> <p>Together with the claims for expertise in the STEM sphere and the emerging skills required for success in professional spheres, Luciana experiences difficulties, such as the imposter phenomenon and work harassment. Imposters exhibit doubt in their achievements, think of their success as fraud, and diminish their success (Parkman). In the story, Luciana completes a difficult docking manoeuvre with her team successfully, yet she concludes that the task has been “barely” (Teagan 151) completed. She compares herself to other kids: “my belly was starting to turn. I hadn’t expected there to be so many genius kids here. Did they all want to be astronauts like I did?” (Teagan 29). Luciana doubts her leadership abilities and questions her creativity, suggesting that her existing skills are not enough. In one of the episodes, she almost gives up her captain role, hinting at a potential burn-out situation. She particularly struggles to build connections with Ella, one of her team members, yet she develops a relationship with her after a few trials. These experiences illustrate the challenging process of finding self and connecting with others in a professional context.</p> <p>The creators of Luciana Vega attempt to send a positive message to future experts in the field by welcoming diverse individuals. Luciana states that “astronauts come with hair in all shades and sizes and colors” (Teagan 32). However, the positive message is muffled because it serves as a reaction to a comment by another camp participant, James, who shares that he never saw astronauts with purple hair. The focus on the signature purple hair streak as a sign of diversity exemplifies a simplistic approach to intersectionality and diversity, a common criticism of the American Girl dolls (Marcus; Valdivia; Zaslow). In addition, the exchange about the purple streak in the girl’s hair highlights gender dynamics in the contemporary workplace, pointing at the possibility of workplace harassment. James adds that “it’s the like mom law” (Teagan 32), thus offending Luciana. In organisational contexts, harassers make offensive jokes and engage in insults, making the workplace environment hostile (Griffin), and Luciana encounters this experience. James clashes with Luciana and her team members throughout the narrative. What is important here is not only the professional rivalry that emerges in the narrative and is normalised in competitions, but the reactions that Luciana practices. She <em>ignores</em> the hurtful comments made by James during the spacewalk simulation exercise, yet she shares her resources to help him complete the task. Luciana’s team supports James’s team in the robot design task and transfers sponsorship to the boys’ team. Even though the story line introduces diversity to the workforce, it falls short of addressing instances of potential workplace harassment with force. Luciana seems not yet equipped to address the hostility exhibited by the fellow camp participant. She prioritises teamwork and camp mission at the expense of her own well-being. These emphases contributing to the gendered professional capital (Rottberg) essential for neoliberal progress.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p>The lessons about professions and professionalism offered by the American Girl are complex, if not contradictory. The presence of Luciana Vega in the competitively selected camp is promising, yet the STEM field remains difficult to access. The character experiences the imposter phenomenon even if she has extensive knowledge of science. Science-themed clothes, books, and accessories as well as science-inspired activities may promote an interest in the field. Teamwork, leadership, and creativity establish markers of professionalism and provide resources for cultivating professional epistemology. The current generation of girls and the future generations of women receive exposure to difficulties in developing leadership and teamwork skills and potential work harassment but may learn to address them through self-improvement or individual development. 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"Living in a Hybrid Material World: Girls, Ethnicity and Mediated Doll Products." <em>Girlhood Studies</em> 2.1 (2009): 73-93.</p> <p>Zaslow, Emilie. <em>Playing with America’s Doll</em>. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.</p> Natalia Rybas Copyright (c) 2023 Natalia Rybas http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-25 2023-04-25 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2953 Why <em>Monopoly</em> Monopolises Popular Culture Board Games https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2956 <p class="paragraph"><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/louisejkay/lhpicture-1.jpg" alt="Monopoly convention" width="1510" height="826" /></p> <h1 class="paragraph"><strong>Introduction</strong> </h1> <p class="paragraph">Since the early 2000s, and especially since the onset of COVID-19 and long periods of lockdown, board games have seen a revival in popularity. The increasing popularity of board games are part of what Julie Lennett, a toy industry analyst at NPD Group, describes as the “nesting trend”: families have more access to entertainment at home and are eschewing expensive nights out (cited in Birkner 7). While on-demand television is a significant factor in this trend, for Moriaty and Kay (6), who wouldn’t “welcome [the] chance to turn away from their screens” to seek the “warmth and connection you get from playing games with live human family and friends?” For others, playing board games can simply be about nostalgia. Board games have a long history not specific to one period, geography, or culture. Likely board games were developed to do two things – teach and entertain. This remains the case today.</p> <p class="paragraph">Historically, miniature versions of battles or hunts were played out in what we might recognise today as a board game. Trade, war, and science impacted on their development, as did the printing press, which allowed for the standardisation of rules. Chess had many variations prior to the fifteenth century. Similarly, the Industrial Revolution allowed for the mass production of board games, boosting their popularity across nations, class, and age (Walker 13). Today, regardless of or because of our digital lives, we are in a “board game renaissance” (Booth 1). Still played on rainy days, weekends, and holidays, we now also play board games in dedicated game board cafés like the <em>Haunted Game Café</em> in America, the <em>Snakes and Lattes</em> in Canada, or the <em>Mind Café</em> in Singapore. In the board game café <em>Draughts</em> in the UK, customers pay £5 to select and play one of 800 board games, including classics like <em>Monopoly</em> and <em>Cluedo</em>. These cafes are important as they are “helping manufacturers to understand the kind of games that appeal to the larger section of players” (Atrizton).</p> <p class="paragraph">COVID-19 caused board game sales to increase. The global market was predicted to increase by US$1 billion in 2021, compared to 2020 (Jarvis). Total sales of board games in Australia are expected to reach AU$86 million in 2023, an almost 10 per cent increase from the preceding year (Statista "Board Games – Australia"). The emergence of Kickstarter, a global crowdfunding platform which funds new board games, is filling the gap in the contemporary board game market, with board games generating 20 per cent of the total funding raised (Carter). Board games are predicted to continue to grow, with the global market revenue record at US$19 billion dollars in 2022, a figure that is expected to rise to US$40 billion within 6 years (Atrizton).</p> <p class="paragraph">If the current turn towards board games represents a desire to escape from the digital world, the Internet is also contributing to the renaissance. Ex-Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton hosts the popular Web series <em>TableTop</em>, in which each episode explains a board game that is then played, usually with celebrities. The Internet also provides “communities” in which fans can share their enthusiasm, be it as geek culture or cult fandom (Booth 2). Booth provides an eloquent explanation, however, for the allure of face-to-face board games: “they remind us of our face-to-face past, and recall a type of pre-digital luddism where we can circle around the ‘campfire’ of the game board” (Booth 1-2).</p> <p class="paragraph">What makes a board game successful is harder to define. Phillip Orbanes, an American game designer and former vice-president of research and development at Parker Brothers, has attempted to elucidate the factors that make a good board game: “make the rules simple and unambiguous … don’t frustrate the casual player … establish a rhythm … focus on what’s happening off the board … give ‘em chances to come from behind … [and] provide outlets for latent talents” (Orbanes 52-55). Orbanes also says it is important to understand that what “happens off the board is just as important to the experience as the physical game itself” (Orbanes 51).</p> <p class="paragraph">Tristan Donovan contends that there are four broad stages of modern board games, beginning with the folk era when games had no fixed author, their rules were mutable, and local communities adapted the game to suit their sensibilities. Chess is an example of this, with the game only receiving the fixed rules we know today when tournaments and organisations saw the need for a singular set of rules. Mass production of games was the second stage, marking “the single biggest shift in board game history – a total flip in how people understood, experienced and played board games. Games were no long[er] malleable objects owned by the commons, but products created usually in the pursuit of profit” (Donovan 267). An even more recent development in game boards was the introduction of mass produced plastics, which reduced the cost of board game construction and allowed for a wider range of games to be produced. This was particularly evident in the post-war period. Games today are often thought of as global, which allows gamers to discover games from other regions and cultures, such as <em>Catan </em>(Klaus Teuber, 1995), a German game that may not have enjoyed its immense success if it were not for the Internet. Board game players are broadly categorised into two classes: the casual gamer and the hobby or serious gamer (Rogerson and Gibbs). The most popular game from the mass production era is <em>Monopoly</em>, the focus of this article.</p> <h1 class="paragraph"><strong>The History of <em>Monopoly</em></strong></h1> <p class="paragraph"><em>Monopoly </em>was designed and patented by American Elizabeth Magie (1866-1948) in 1902, and was originally called <em>The Landlord’s Game</em>. The game was based on the anti-monopoly taxation principles of Henry George (1839-1897), who argued that people should own 100 per cent of what they make and the land should belong to everyone. Land ownership, considered George, only benefitted land owners, and forces working people to pay exorbitant rent. Magie’s original version of the game was designed to demonstrate how rents enrich property owners and impoverish tenants. Renters in Australia’s property market today may recognise this side of ruthless capitalism. In 1959 Fidel Castro thought <em>Monopoly</em> “sufficiently redolent of capitalism” that he “ordered the ­destruction of every Monopoly set in Cuba” (McManus). Magie, however, was not credited with being the original inventor of <em>Monopoly</em>: rather, this credit was given to Charles Darrow.</p> <p class="paragraph">In 2014, the book <em>The Monopolist: </em><em>Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal behind the World's Favorite Board Game</em> by Mary Pilon re-established Magie as the inventor of <em>Monopoly</em>, with her role and identity unearthed by American Ralph Anspach (1926-2022), an Adam Smith economist, Polish-German refugee, and anti-Vietnam protestor. According to Pilon, Magie, a suffragette and progressive economic and political thinker, was a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism">Georgist</a> advocate, particularly of his anti-monopolist policies, and it was this that informed her game’s narrative. An unmarried daughter of Scottish immigrants, she was a Washington homeowner, familiar with the grid-like street structure of the national capital. Magie left school at 13 to help support her family who were adversely impacted upon by the Panic of 1873, which saw economic collapse because of falling silver prices, railroad speculation, and property losses. She worked as a stenographer and teacher of Georgist single tax theory. Seeking a broader platform for her economic ideas, and with the growing popularity of board games in middle class homes, in 1904 Magie secured a patent for <em>The Landlord’s Game</em>, at a time when women only held 1 per cent of US patents (Pilon).</p> <p class="paragraph">The original game included deeds and play money and required players to earn wages via labour and pay taxes. The board provided a circular path (as opposed to the common linear path) in which players circled through rental properties and railroads, and could acquire food, with natural reserves (oil, coal, farms, and forests) unable to be monopolised. However, she created two sets of rules – the monopoly rules familiar to today’s players, and anti-monopoly rules in which tensions over human greed and altruism could be played out by participants. Magie started her own New York firm to manufacture and distribute the game, continued the struggle for women’s equality, and raged against wealthy monopolists of the day such as <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Carnegie">Andrew Carnegie</a> (Pilon).</p> <p class="paragraph">By the late 1920, the game, mostly referred to as the ‘monopoly’ game, was popular, but many who played the game were playing handmade versions, likely unaware of the original <em>Landlord’s Game</em>. In 1931, mass-produced versions of the game, now titled <em>Finance</em>, began to appear, with some changes, including the ability to purchase properties, along with rule books. Occurring at the same time as the emergence of fixed-price goods in large department stores, the game, which now included chance cards, continued to be popular. It was Charles Darrow who sold <em>Monopoly</em> to Parker Brothers, even if he did not invent it.</p> <p class="paragraph">Darrow was introduced to one of the variants of the game and became obsessed with the game, which now featured the Community Chest and Free Parking, but his version did not have a set of rules. An unemployed ex-serviceman with no college education, Darrow struggled to provide for his family. By 1932, America was in the grip of the Great Depression, with housing prices collapsing and squatting common in large American cities. Befriending an artist, Darrow sought to provide a more dynamic and professional version of the game and complete it with a set of rules. In 1933, Darrow marketed his version of the game, titled <em>Mr Monopoly</em>, and it was purchased by Parker Brothers for US$7,000 in 1935. Magie received just US $500 (Farzan). <em>Monopoly</em>, as it was rebranded, was initial sold for $2 a game, and Parker Brothers sold 278,000 games in the first year. In 1936, consumers purchased 1.7 million editions of the game, generating millions of dollars in profits for Parker Brothers, who prior to <em>Monopoly</em> were on the brink of collapse (Pilon).</p> <p class="paragraph">Mary Pilon’s<em> The Monopolists</em> also reveals the struggle of Ralph Anspach in the 1970s to sell his <em>Anti-Monopoly</em> board games, which Parker Brothers fought in the courts. Anspach’s game sought to undermine the power of capitalist monopolies, which he had witnessed directly and negatively impact on fuel prices in America in the early 1970s. Hence the aim was to produce a game with an anti-monopolist narrative grounded in the free-market thinking of Adam Smith. Players were rewarded by breaking monopoly ownerships of utilities such as railroads and energy and metal reserves.</p> <p class="paragraph">In preparing his case against Parker Brothers, Anspach “accidentally discovered the true history of the game”, which began with Magie’s <em>Landlord’s Game</em>. Magie herself had battled with Parker Brothers in order to be “credited as the real originator of the game” and, like Anspach, reveal how Parker Brothers had changed the anti-capitalist narrative of the game, making it the “exact opposite” of its original aims (Landlordsgame). Anspach’s court room version of his battle with Parker Brothers was published in 2000, titled <em>Monopolygate: During a David and Goliath Battle, the Inventor of the Anti-Monopoly® Game Uncovers the Secret History of Monopoly®</em><em>.</em></p> <h1 class="paragraph"><strong><em>Monopoly</em> Today</strong></h1> <p class="paragraph"><em>Monopoly</em> is now produced by Hasbro. It is the highest selling board game of all time, with an estimated 275 million units of <em>Monopoly</em> sold (Lee). Fan bases are clearly large too: the official <em>Monopoly</em> Facebook accounts report 9.9m likes (Facebook), and 68% of American households report owning a version of <em>Monopoly </em>(Statista "Which"). At the end of the twentieth century it was estimated that 550 million, or one in 12 people worldwide, had played the game (Guinness World Records "Most Popular"). Today it is estimated that <em>Monopoly </em>has been played by more than one billion people, and the digital <em>Monopoly </em>version has had over 100 million downloads (Johnson). The ability to play beloved board games with a computer opponent or with other players via the Internet arguably adds to the longevity of classic board games such as <em>Monopoly.</em></p> <p class="paragraph">Yet research shows that despite <em>Monopoly </em>being widely owned, it is often not played as much as other games in people’s homes (d'Astous and Gagnon 84). D’Astous and Gagnon found that players in their study chose <em>Monopoly</em> to play on average six times a year, less than half the times they played <em>Cluedo</em> (13 times a year) or <em>Scrabble</em> (15 times). As Michael Whelan points out, Magie’s original goal was to make a statement about capitalism and landlords: a single player would progress round the board building an empire, whilst the others were doomed to slowly descend into bankruptcy. It was “never meant to be fun for anyone but the winner” (Whelan). Despite <em>Monopoly’s</em> longevity and impressive sales record, it is perhaps paradoxical to find that it is not a particularly popular or enjoyed game.</p> <p class="paragraph"><em>Board Game Geek</em>, the popular board game Website, reports in 2023 that the average rating for <em>Monopoly </em>by over 33,000 members is just 4.4 out of 10, and is ranked the 23,834th most popular game on the site (<em>Board Game Geek</em>). This is mirrored in academic studies: for example, when examining Orbane’s tenets for a good board game, d’Astous and Gagnon (84) found that players' appreciation of <em>Monopoly </em>was generally low. Not only is appreciation low for the game itself, it is also low for player antics during the game. A 2021 survey found that <em>Monopoly</em> causes the most fights, with 20% of households reporting “their game nights with friends or family members are often or always disrupted by competitive or unfriendly behaviour”, leading to players or even the game itself being banned (Lemore). Clearly Orbane’s tenet that the game “generates fun” is missing here (Orbanes 52). Commentators ask why <em>Monopoly</em> remains the best-selling board game of all time when the game has the “astonishing ability to sow seeds of discord” (Berical).</p> <p class="paragraph">Despite the claims that playing <em>Monopoly</em> causes disharmony, the game does allow for player agency. Perhaps more than any other board game, <em>Monopoly</em> is subjected to ‘house rules’. <em>Buzzfeed</em> reported 15 common house rules that many people think are official rules. In 2014 the official <em>Monopoly</em> Facebook page posted a video claiming that “68% of Americans have never read the official game rules” and that “49% of Americans had admitted to playing with their own ‘house rules’”. A look through these rules reveals that players are often trying to restore the balance of power in the game, or in other words increase the chance that a player can win. Hasbro has embraced these rules by incorporating some of them into the official rules. By incorporating players' amendments to the game, Hasbro can keep the <em>Monopoly</em> relevant.</p> <p class="paragraph">In another instance, Hasbro asked fans to vote on new tokens, which led to the thimble token being replaced with a Tyrannosaurus Rex. This was reversed in 2022 when nostalgic fans lobbied for the thimble’s return. Hasbro has also been an innovator by creating special rules for individual editions: for example, the <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Longest_Game_Ever_Edition"><em>Longest Game Ever</em></a> edition (2019) slows players down by using only a single dice and has an extended game board. This demonstrates that Hasbro is keen to innovate and evolve the game to meet player expectations. Innovation and responsiveness to fans is one way that Hasbro has maintained <em>Monopoly</em>’s position as highest-selling board game. The only place the original <em>Monopoly</em> rules seem to be played intact are at the official competitions.</p> <h1 class="paragraph"><strong>Collecting and Nostalgia </strong></h1> <p class="paragraph">The characteristics of <em>Monopoly</em> allow for a seemingly infinite number of permutations. The places on the board can be real or fictional, making it easily adaptable to accommodate different environments. This is a factor in <em>Monopoly</em>’s longevity. The number of <em>Monopoly</em> editions are <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_Monopoly_Games_(Board)">endless</a>, with <em>BoardGameGeek</em> listing over 1,300 versions of the game on its site. <em>Monopoly</em> editions range from collector and commemorative editions to <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Metallica_Collector%27s_Edition">music</a>, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Stranger_Things_Edition">television</a>, and <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Pirates_of_the_Caribbean_Collector%27s_Edition">film</a> versions, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/John_Wayne_Collector%27s_Edition">actor</a>-based editions, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Manchester_United_F.C._Edition">sports club</a> editions, editions tied to <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Bratz_Junior_Edition">toy</a> franchises, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Horse_Lovers_Edition">animal lover editions</a>, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Canadian_Edition_(2000_release)">country editions</a>, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Frankfurt_Edition">city editions</a>, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Christmas-opoly">holiday editions</a>, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Corvette_Edition">car brand editions</a>, <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Harley_Davidson_Deluxe_Edition">motor bike editions</a>, as well as editions such as <em><a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Space_Edition">Monopoly Space</a></em>, editions branded to <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/M%26M%27s_Collector%27s_Edition">popular confectionary</a>, <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms._Monopoly">Ms Monopoly</a></em>, and <em><a href="https://www.target.com.au/p/monopoly-go-green-edition-game/64786216">Go Green Monopoly</a></em>. Each of these contain their own unique modifications. The <em>Go Green</em> version includes greenhouses, dice are made from FSC-certified wood from well-managed forests, tokens are made with plant-based plastic derived from sugarcane, a renewable raw material, and players can vie to have monopolistic control over renewable energy firms, solar farms, and bike paths.</p> <p class="paragraph">Licencing agreements allows Hasbro to leverage two sets of popular culture fans and collectors simultaneously: fans of <em>Monopoly</em> and its different versions, and fans of the <em>Monopoly</em> branded collectable, such as the <a href="https://monopoly.fandom.com/wiki/Elvis_Collector%27s_edition">Elvis Collector’s edition</a> and <em><a href="https://www.jbhifi.com.au/products/monopoly-breaking-bad-board-game">Breaking Bad Monopoly</a></em>. Apart from licencing, what else explains the longevity of <em>Monopoly</em>? Fred Davis demonstrates that nostalgia is an important sociological phenomenon, allowing consumers to re-imagine the past via iconic items including toys. Generation Y, also known as Millennials or digital natives, a cohort born between 1982 and 1994 who have grown up with technology as part of their everyday lives, are particularly interested in ‘heritage-inspired’ goods (Marchegiani and Phau). These consumers enjoy the past with a critical eye, drawn by the aesthetic properties of nostalgic goods rather than a direct personal connection (Goulding 575).</p> <p class="paragraph">Popular culture items are a site of widespread collecting behaviour (Geraghty 2). Belk argues that our possessions are used to construct our social selves. Collectors are a special kind of consumer: where consumers use and discard goods as needed, collectors engage with goods as special objects to be maintained and preserved (Belk 254), which is often achieved through ritualistic behaviour (McCracken 49). This is not to say that items in a collection are removed from use entirely: often being used in the normal manner, for example, clothing collectors will wear their items, yet take care of them in the a way they see akin to conservatorship (Hackett).</p> <p class="paragraph">Collections are often on display, often using the flexibility of the Internet as showground, as is the case with Neil Scallon’s world record collection of <em>Monopoly</em>’s 3,554 different versions of the game (<em>World of Monopoly</em>). <em>Monopoly</em> has low barriers to entry for a collector, as many sets retail at a low price-point, yet there are a few sets which are very expensive. The most expensive <em>Monopoly</em> set of all time retailed for US$2 million, and the cost was mainly borne out of the luxurious materials used: “the board is made from 23 carat gold, rubies and sapphires top the chimneys of the solid gold houses and hotels and the dice have 42 full cut diamonds for spots” (Guinness World Records "Most Expensive").</p> <h1 class="paragraph"><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p class="paragraph">The recent resurgence in board game popularity has only served to highlight <em>Monopoly</em>’s longevity. Through clever marketing and leveraging of nostalgia and popular culture fandoms, Hasbro has managed to retain <em>Monopoly</em>’s position as the number one board game, in sales figures at least. Despite its popularity, <em>Monopoly</em> suffers from a reputation as a conduit for poor player behaviour, as one person triumphs at the downfall of the other players. The game dynamics punish those whom fortune did not reward. 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Hackett Jo Coghlan Copyright (c) 2023 Lisa Hackett, Jo Coghlan http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-26 2023-04-26 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2956 Children’s Digital and Non-Digital Play Practices with Cozmo, the Toy Robot https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2943 <h1>Introduction</h1> <p>This article reports on the emerging findings from a study undertaken as part of an international research collaboration (Australia, Belgium, Italy, UK; DP180103922) exploring the benefits and risks of the Internet of Toys (IoToys). IoToys builds upon technological innovations such as smartphone apps that remotely control home-based objects, and wearable technologies that measure sleep patterns and exercise regimes (Holloway and Green). Mascheroni and Holloway summarise the features of IoToys as entities that users can program, with human-toy interactivity, and which have network connectivity. </p> <p>In this discussion we focus on children’s play with a small programmable robot named Cozmo (fig. 1). The robot also has an ‘explorer mode’ in which children can view the world through the eyes of Cozmo, and a camera which can film the robot’s view, accessed through the mobile app. Children are encouraged to personify Cozmo, including feeding the robot and keeping it tuned up. Cozmo also has numerous functions including tricks, a coding lab, and games that utilise three provided ‘Power Cubes’ that encourage child-robot interaction:</p> <ul> <li><em>Keep Away</em> – the player slides the cube closer to Cozmo then pulls away quickly when Cozmo ‘pounces’ – the aim of the game is to ensure Cozmo misses the cube.</li> <li><em>Quick Tap</em> – a colour matching game which involves hitting the cubes (before Cozmo) when the colours match.</li> <li><em>Memory Match </em>– Cozmo shows a pattern of colours, and the player then taps the cubes in the right colour order – each round the pattern gets longer.</li> </ul> <p><em><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/tleaver/cozmopicture1.png" alt="" width="507" height="371" /><br />Fig. 1: Cozmo </em></p> <p>Whilst the toy uses Wi-Fi rather than connecting directly to the Internet, Cozmo was chosen as a focus for the study because many of its characteristics are typical of IoToys, including connectivity, programmability, and the human-toy connection (Mascheroni and Holloway).</p> <p>Children’s play lives have been changed through the development of digital technologies including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and games consoles (Marsh et al.) and inevitably, children’s play experiences now cross a range of boundaries including the “virtual/physical world, online/offline and digital/nondigital” (Marsh 5). As IoToys become more prevalent in the toy market, there is an increasing need to understand how these connected toys transcend digital-material boundaries between toy and media technology. Whilst toys such as Cozmo share similar traits with traditional toys, they also increasingly share characteristics with computing devices (i.e., video games, mobile apps) and domestic media (i.e., Amazon Alexa; Berriman and Mascheroni). The combination of the traditional and digital adds a layer of complexity to children’s play experiences as the interaction between the child and the robot is ‘reconfigured as a bidirectional, multidimensional, multisensory experience’ (Mascheroni and Holloway 5).</p> <p>By asking ‘what types of play does an Internet-enabled toy engender?’, this article examines the capabilities and limitations of Cozmo for children’s play experiences. Currently, there is little reliable information about children’s IoToy use despite the media attention the subject attracts. Many assumptions are made regarding how technological devices offer restricted opportunities for play (see Healey et al.), and therefore it is vital to investigate the benefits and limitations of these new-generation technologies for parents and children. This article contributes to ongoing debates focussing on children’s playful engagement with digital technology and the importance of engaging parents in discussions on different types of play and children’s development.</p> <h1><strong>Methodology</strong></h1> <p>This international study involved thirteen families across four countries (Australia, Belgium, Italy, UK; Appendix 1). Ethical clearance was obtained prior to the commencement of the study. Consent was gained from both the children and the parents, and the children were specifically asked if they could be audio-recorded and photographed by the researchers. Pseudonyms have been used in this article.</p> <p>Families were visited twice by a researcher, with each visit lasting around an hour. Firstly, the children were interviewed about their favourite toys, and the parent was interviewed about their thoughts on their children’s (digital) play practices. This provided background information about the child’s play ecologies, such as the extent to which they were familiar with IoToys. Cozmo was also introduced to the children during the first visit and researchers ensured they were confident using the toy before leaving. Cozmo was left with the children to use for a period of between one and three months before the researcher returned for the second visit. Families were reinterviewed, with a focus on what they thought about Cozmo, and how the children had engaged with the toy in their play.</p> <p>Data were deductively analysed using a revised version of Hughes’s taxonomy of play that takes account of the digital aspect of children’s play contexts. Hughes’s original framework, identifying the types of play children engage in, was developed before the rise of digital media. The revised taxonomy was developed by Marsh et al. (see Appendix 2) in a study that examined how apps can promote children’s play and creativity. Data emerging from this study illuminated how Hughes’s taxonomy can be applied in digital contexts, demonstrating that “what changes in digital contexts is not so much the types of play possible, but the nature of that play” (Marsh et al. 250). The adapted framework was applied to the data as a way of analysing play with Cozmo across digital and non-digital spaces, and selections from the transcripts were chosen to illustrate the categories, discussed in the next section. </p> <h1><strong>Framing Children’s Digital and Non-Digital Play Practices</strong></h1> <p>The findings from the data highlight numerous digital play types (Marsh et al.) that occurred during the children’s interactions with the robot, primarily:</p> <ul> <li>Imaginative play in a digital context in which children pretend that things are otherwise.</li> <li>Exploratory play in a digital context in which children explore objects and spaces through the senses to find out information or explore possibilities.</li> <li>Mastery play in digital contexts in which children attempt to gain control of environments.</li> <li>Communication play using words, songs, rhymes, poetry in a digital context.</li> </ul> <p>Other types of play that were observed include:</p> <ul> <li>Virtual Locomotor play involving movement in a digital context e.g., child may play hide and seek with others in a virtual world.</li> <li>Object play in which children explore virtual objects through vision and touch.</li> <li>Social play in a digital context during which rules for social interaction are constructed and employed.</li> </ul> <h2>Imaginative Play</h2> <p>“Imaginative play” was prevalent in all the case study families, in particular anthropomorphic/zoomorphic play. Anthropomorphic/zoomorphic play can be categorised as imaginative play when children are aware that the object is not real; they display a willing suspension of disbelief. The morphology of social robots is often classified into anthropomorphic (i.e., human-like) and zoomorphic (i.e., animal-like) and different morphologies can elicit differences in how users perceive and interact with robots (Barco et al.). This was the case for the children in this research, who all referred to the fact that the toy was a robot but often described Cozmo as having human/animal attributes. Across the sample, the children talked about Cozmo as if it was a fellow human being or pet. Eleanor (aged 8) stated that “I feel like he’s one of my family”, while Emma (aged 8) said “we sometimes call him ‘brother’ because he is a little bit like family”. Martina (aged 8) observed that Cozmo sometimes has “hiccups'' that prevent him from responding to her queries, reasoning that “it happens by itself because it eats too much”. Louis (aged 9) did not refer to Cozmo as being human, although he did attribute emotions to the toy, mentioning that Cozmo runs in circles whenever he is happy. Sofia’s mother stated that “one thing that made me laugh is that for Sofia it is a puppy. So, she would pet it, give it kisses”. The mother of Aryana (aged 9) commented that “they tried to like treat it like a living thing, not like toy, like a pet . ... They treat it not like something dead or something frozen, something live”.</p> <p>Epley et al. suggest that anthropomorphisation occurs because knowledge that individuals have about humans is developed earlier than knowledge about non-human entities. Therefore, the knowledge children have of being human is drawn upon when encountering objects such as robots. It may be of little surprise that children react like this because, as Marsh (Uncanny Valley 58) argues, “younger children are likely to possess less knowledge about both human and non-human entities than older children and adults, and, therefore, are more likely to anthropomorphise”. Severson and Woodard (2) argue that even in cases where children know the object is not real, the children ascribe feelings, thoughts, and desires to objects in such a serious manner that anthropomorphism is a “pervasive phenomenon that goes beyond mere pretense”.</p> <p>Robot toys such as Cozmo are specifically designed to stimulate anthropomorphism/zoomorphism. Beck et al. have shown that head movements help children identify emotions in robots. Cozmo is programmed to recognise faces and learn names, which inevitably contributes to children feeling an emotional connection. For example, Eleanor (aged 8) remarked that “he was always looking at me and it looked like he was listening to me when I was talking”. The desire for a connection with the robot was so strong for Oscar (aged 7) that he deliberately programmed the robot to respond to him, saying “I can make him do happy stuff which makes me feel like he likes me”. Emma’s mother stated that whenever Emma (aged 8) did something that seemed to make Cozmo happy, she would do those things repeatedly. Emma also referred to Cozmo as having agency, for example, when Cozmo built towers or turned himself into a bulldozer. Even though she made those commands herself via the app, Emma attributed the idea and action to Cozmo.</p> <p>Overall, the children implemented imaginative play practices through the pretence of Cozmo’s ‘human-like’ attributes such as knowing their name, “looking at” and “listening to” them, and displaying different emotions such as love, anger, and happiness.</p> <h2>Exploratory Play</h2> <p>“Exploratory play” usually occurred when the children first received the toy and most of the children immediately wanted to get to know Cozmo’s features and possibilities. Arthur’s father stated that the first thing Arthur (aged 8) did was grab the remote and start clicking buttons to find out what would happen. Oscar’s mother was amazed that her child had played initially for five hours using Cozmo when he did not spend this long with other toys. She explained that he had been exploring what the toy could do: “he was getting it to choose blocks, pick up blocks, do tricks, make faces, and do dances … . He really enjoyed that”.</p> <p>Controlling Cozmo to travel between rooms was an example of “Virtual Locomotor play”, although the robot could also lead to locomotor play in the physical world as children chased after Cozmo or danced with it. Further examples of virtual locomotor play occurred when the robot followed and chased children if they moved from the play area. Oscar (aged 7) enjoyed using this mode to set the robot on a course which led to it ‘spying’ on his younger sister. His mother noted that:</p> <blockquote> <p>because their bedrooms are opposite sides of the hallway, he kept sending Cozmo to go and watch what she was doing and waiting and seeing how long it took her to realise he was there.</p> </blockquote> <p>Jacob (aged 10) also swiftly realised Cozmo’s surveillance potential as he referred to the robot as a “spying machine”. Louis (aged 9) stated that after he had explored all the options Cozmo offers, playing with it became dull. To him, all the fun was in the exploratory play. Other children across the sample also reported that they stopped playing with Cozmo after a while when they felt like there was nothing new to explore.</p> <h2>Mastery Play</h2> <p>“Exploratory play” was also connected to “Mastery play” through programmatic sequencing which enabled the robot to move and follow different directions as requested by the children. For example, Eleanor (aged 8) commented, “I liked to play games with him ... . I liked doing the acting thing”. This involved programming the toy to undertake a series of actions that were sequenced in a performance. For Ebrahim (aged 7), the explorer mode also led to mastery play, as he set up an obstacle course for Cozmo using his toy soldiers, explaining that “I took a couple of my soldiers in here and made them out in a specific order and then I tried to get past them in explorer mode”. Arthur (aged 8) would continuously try to find ways to make Cozmo go through obstacle courses faster. He especially liked the coding and programming aspect of the toy, and his father would challenge him to think his decisions through to get better results. Children also utilised other objects in their exploratory and mastery play. Louis (aged 9) would put up barricades so that Cozmo could not escape, and Matteo (aged 9) constructed “high towers” and operated “stability tests” by using Cozmo’s explorer mode and constructing pathways through furniture and other objects. The blurring of physical/virtual and material/digital play, which is prevalent in contemporary play landscapes (Marsh et al., <em>Children, Technology and Play</em>), is highlighted during these episodes in which the children incorporated their own interests linked to their personal environments into their play with Cozmo.</p> <p>Mastery play inevitably involved “Object play”, as children played around with icons on the app to investigate their properties. Cozmo offers a variety of games which stimulate various abilities and can be played via the app or remote. Available games allow both child-robot interaction by means of the ‘Power Cubes’ provided with the robot, and programming games with different difficulty levels. Physical contact between the child and Cozmo, and the robot’s responses, encouraged anthropomorphism, as Jacob (aged 10) switched from referencing Cozmo as ‘it’ to ‘him’ as the discussion progressed: </p> <blockquote> <p>Interviewer: (to Jacob) We got a robot interfacing this time. (To Cozmo) Hello, are you still looking at me? That’s great. (To Jacob) So, do you want to show us your fist bumps that you coded? </p> <p>Jacob: Oh, I didn’t code it. Well, I did code it. Go to tricks. Do you want to fist bump him?</p> <p>Interviewer: Yeah, can I fist bump him?</p> <p>Jacob: Just put your fist near him like close, close, like that.</p> </blockquote> <p>In addition to the fist bump game, Dylan (aged 9) unlocked the Fist Bump app icon on his tablet enabling him to receive rewards by alternating physical fist bumps with himself and virtual fist bumps between Cozmo and the iPad. These object and exploratory play types were positioned as stimulating the robot’s feelings and emotions through musical sounds (like a robot “purring”) that seem to be designed to foster a stronger connection between the child and Cozmo.</p> <p>All the children in the research played Cozmo’s games; the tapping game and the building games with blocks were popular. A clear connection between mastery and object play is shown in those situations where children explore objects to gain control of their environment. While children pointed out that winning the games against Cozmo was almost impossible, some tried to change the game in their favour. Arthur (aged 8), for example, would move the blocks during games to slow down Cozmo. Whenever Emma (aged 8) became impatient with the games, she would move the blocks closer to Cozmo to finish certain games faster. </p> <p>Mastery play was valued by parents because of its interactivity and educational potential. Arthur’s father praised Cozmo’s programming and coding possibilities and valued the technical insight and problem-solving skills it teaches children. Oscar’s mother also valued the educational potential of the toy, but did not appear to recognise that the exploratory play he engaged in involved learning:</p> <blockquote> <p>I liked the fact that it had all these sorts of educational aspects to it. It would have been nice if we’d have got to use them. I like the idea that it could code, and it would teach coding ... but it wasn’t to be.</p> </blockquote> <p>There was some disappointment with the lack of engagement with the coding capabilities of Cozmo. Parents lamented that their children did not engage with coding activities but accepted that this was due to the level of difficulty or technical issues (i.e., Cozmo shutting down frequently), as well as their children’s inability to navigate coding activities (i.e., due to their age). </p> <h2>Communication Play</h2> <p>“Communication play” was observed as the English-speaking children learnt how to write things into Cozmo that the robot would then say. Ebrahim (aged 7) explained “you can type whatever you want him to say, like, I typed this, ‘I play with Monica’”. Emma (aged 8) made up entire stories for Cozmo to tell, and Arthur (aged 8) made up plays for Cozmo to perform. Oscar (aged 7) felt that the app had helped him learn to read: when asked how it helped him to read, he said “by me typing it in and him saying the words back to me so then I can hear what it says”. This highlights how IoToys can facilitate a playful approach to literacy and supports the work of Heljakka and Ihamäki (96), who assert a need to “widen understandings of toy literacy into multiple directions”. As such, the potential to support aspects of children’s literacy and digital learning in a way that is engaging and playful illuminates the benefits that these types of toys can provide. In contrast, Italian and Belgian children faced more difficulties in communicating with Cozmo as they did not speak English. However, this did not limit the possibility to interact and communicate with Cozmo, for example, through parental mediation or by referring to recognisable symbols (sounds, icons, and images in the app).</p> <h2>Other Types of Play</h2> <p>The data indicated that four play types (imaginative, exploratory, mastery, and communication play) were the most prevalent among the participating families, although there was also evidence of “Locomotor play” (during exploratory play), and “Object play” (during mastery play). “Social play” was also reported, for instance, when children played with the robot with siblings or friends. All the children wanted to show Cozmo to friends and family. Arthur (aged 8) even arranged with his teacher that he could bring Cozmo to school and show his classmates what Cozmo could do during a class presentation.</p> <p>“Creative play” (play that enables children to explore, develop ideas, and make things in a digital context) was limited in the data. Whilst there was some evidence of this type of play – for example, Oscar (aged 7) and Matteo (aged 9) built ramps and obstacle courses for Cozmo –, in general, there was limited evidence of children playing in creative ways to produce new artefacts with the robot. This is despite the toy having a creative mode, in which children can use the app to code games and actions for Cozmo. For Eleanor, it seemed that the toy did not foster open-ended play. Her mother noted that Eleanor normally enjoyed creative play, but she appeared to lose interest in the toy after displaying initial enthusiasm: “I don’t think it was creative enough, I think it’s not open-ended enough and that’s why she didn’t play with it, would be my guess”. </p> <p>Oscar (aged 7) also lost interest in the toy after the first few weeks of use, which his mother put down to technical issues:</p> <blockquote> <p>I think if it worked flawlessly every time he’d gone to pick it up then he would have been quite happy ... but after a couple of negative experiences where it wouldn’t load up and it’s very frustrating, maybe it just put him off.</p> </blockquote> <p>Other families also talked about how the battery was quick to drain and slow to charge, which impacted on the nature of the play. Emma’s mother stated that the WiFi settings needed to be changed to play with Cozmo which Emma (aged 8) could not do by herself. Therefore, she was only able to play with Cozmo when her mother was around to help her. According to the parents of Arthur and Emma (both aged 8), Cozmo often showed technical errors and did not perform certain games, which caused some frustration with the children.</p> <p>The mother of Aryana (aged 9) also reported a loss of interest in Cozmo, but not particularly related to technical reasons: “she lost interest all the time, so she didn’t follow the steps to the end, she just play a little bit and she'd say, ‘Oh I'm bored, I want to do something’ … mostly YouTube”. Such hesitant engagement may be due to technical issues but might also be due to the limitations regarding creative play identified in this study. </p> <h1>Conclusion</h1> <p>This study indicates that the Cozmo robot led to a variety of types of play, and that the adaptation of Hughes’s framework by Marsh et al. offered a useful index for identifying changing practices in children's play. As highlighted, children’s play with Cozmo often transcended the virtual and physical, online and offline, and digital and material, as well as providing a vehicle for learning. This analysis thus challenges the proposition that electronic objects limit children’s imagination and play.</p> <p>Prevalent in the findings was the willingness of children to suspend disbelief and engage in anthropomorphic/zoomorphic play with Cozmo by applying human-like attributes to the toy. Children related to the emotional connection with the robot much more than the technical aspects (i.e., coding), and whilst the children understood the limitations of the robot’s agency, there are studies to suggest that caution should be applied by robot developers to ensure that, as technology advances, children are able to maintain the understanding that robots are different from human beings (van den Berghe et al.). This is of particular importance when existing literature highlights that younger children have a less nuanced understanding of the ‘alive’ status of a robot than older children (Nijssen et al.).</p> <p>Children often incorporated more traditional toys and resources into their play with Cozmo: for instance, the use of toy soldiers and building blocks to create obstacle courses demonstrates the digital-material affordances of children’s play. All the children enjoyed the pre-programmed games that utilised the ‘Power Cubes’, and there was an element of competitiveness for the children who demonstrated an eagerness to ‘beat’ the toy. Importantly, parents reported that the app supported children’s literacy development in a playful way, although this was more beneficial for the children whose first language was English. The potential for children’s literacy development through playful child-robot interaction presents opportunities for further study. </p> <p>One significant limitation of the toy that emerged from the findings was the capacity to encourage children’s creative play. Kahn Jr. et al.'s earlier research showed that children endowed less animation to robot toys than to stuffed animals, as if children believe that toy robots have some agency and do not need assistance. Therefore, it is possible that children are less inclined to play in creative ways because they expect Cozmo to control his own behaviour.</p> <p>The research has implications for work with parents. The parents in this study emphasised the value of mastery play for education, but at times overlooked the worth of other types of play for learning. Engaging parents in discussion of the significance that different types of play have for children’s development could be beneficial not just for their own understanding, but also for the types of play they may then encourage and support. The study also has implications for the future development of IoToys. The producers of Cozmo promote types of play through the activities they support in the app, but a broader range of activities could lead to a wider variety of types of play to include, for example, fantasy or dramatic play. There are also opportunities to promote more creative play by, for example, enabling children to construct new artefacts for the robot toy itself, or providing drawing/painting tools that Cozmo could be programmed to use via the app. Broadening play types by design could be encouraged across the toy industry as a whole but, in relation to the IoToys, the opportunities for these kinds of approaches are exciting, reflecting rapid advances in technology that open up possible new worlds of play. This is the challenge for the next few years of toy development, when the first possibilities of the IoToys have been explored. </p> <h2>Acknowledgement</h2> <p>This research was funded by ARC Discovery Project award DP180103922 – The Internet of Toys: Benefits and Risks of Connected Toys for Children. The article originated as an initiative of the International Partners: Dr Louise Kay and Professor Jackie Marsh (University of Sheffield, UK), Associate Professor Giovanna Mascheroni (Università Cattolica, Italy), and Professor Bieke Zaman (KU Leuven, Belgium). The Australian Chief Investigators on this grant were Dr Donell Holloway and Professor Lelia Green, Edith Cowan University. 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"Robotic Pets in the Lives of Preschool Children." <em>Interaction Studies</em> 7.3 (2007): 405-436.</p> <p>Marsh, Jackie. “The Internet of Toys: A Posthuman and Multimodal Analysis of Connected Play.” <em>Teachers College Record</em> (2017): 30.</p> <p>———. "The Uncanny Valley Revisited: Play with the Internet of Toys." <em>Internet of Toys : Practices, Affordances and the Political Economy of Children's Smart Play</em>. Eds. Giovanni Mascheroni and Donell Holloway<em>. </em>Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 47-66.</p> <p>Marsh, Jackie, et al. “Digital Play: A New Classification.” <em>Early Years</em> 36.3 (2016): 242.</p> <p>Marsh, Jackie, et al. <em>Children, Technology and Play: Key Findings of a Large-Scale Research Report.</em> The LEGO Foundation, 2020.</p> <p>Mascheroni, Giovanni, and Donell Holloway, eds. <em>Internet of Toys : Practices, Affordances and the Political Economy of Children’s Smart Play</em>. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.</p> <p>Nijssen, Sari, et al. "You, Robot? The Role of Anthropomorphic Emotion Attributions in Children’s Sharing with a Robot." <em>International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction </em>30 (2021). 15 Apr. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijcci.2021.100319">https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijcci.2021.100319</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Severson, Rachel L., and Shailee R. Woodard. “Imagining Others? Minds: The Positive Relation between Children's Role Play and Anthropomorphism.” <em>Frontiers in Psychology</em> 9 (2018). 27 Jan. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02140">https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02140</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Van den Berghe, Rianne, et al. "A Toy or a friend? Children's Anthropomorphic Beliefs about Robots and How These Relate to Second-Language Word Learning." <em>Journal of Computer Assisted Learning</em> 37.2 (2021): 396– 410. 15 Apr. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12497">https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12497</a>&gt;.</p> <h2>Appendix 1: Participants</h2> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p><strong>Country</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>Name (Pseudonym)</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>Sex</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>Age</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>Siblings</strong></p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>1 UK</p> </td> <td> <p>Eleanor</p> </td> <td> <p>F</p> </td> <td> <p>8</p> </td> <td> <p>2 younger brothers</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>2 UK</p> </td> <td> <p>Ebrahim</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>7</p> </td> <td> <p>2 older sisters</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>3 UK</p> </td> <td> <p>Oscar</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>7</p> </td> <td> <p>1 younger sister</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>4 UK</p> </td> <td> <p>Aryana</p> </td> <td> <p>F</p> </td> <td> <p>9</p> </td> <td> <p>2 younger brothers</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>5 AU</p> </td> <td> <p>Jacob</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>10</p> </td> <td> <p>1 younger brother</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>6 AU</p> </td> <td> <p>Dylan</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>9</p> </td> <td> <p>2 older brothers</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>7 Italy</p> </td> <td> <p>Martina</p> </td> <td> <p>F</p> </td> <td> <p>8</p> </td> <td> <p>2 younger sisters</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>8 Italy</p> </td> <td> <p>Anna</p> </td> <td> <p>F</p> </td> <td> <p>8</p> </td> <td> <p>1 younger sister</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>9 Italy</p> </td> <td> <p>Luca</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>8</p> </td> <td> <p>1 older brother</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>10 Italy</p> </td> <td> <p>Matteo</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>9</p> </td> <td> <p>1 younger sister</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>11 Belgium</p> </td> <td> <p>Louis</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>9</p> </td> <td> <p>2 younger sisters</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>12 Belgium</p> </td> <td> <p>Emma</p> </td> <td> <p>F</p> </td> <td> <p>8</p> </td> <td> <p>1 younger sister</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>13 Belgium</p> </td> <td> <p>Arthur</p> </td> <td> <p>M</p> </td> <td> <p>8</p> </td> <td> <p>1 younger sister</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <h2> </h2> <h2><strong>Appendix 2: Play Types</strong></h2> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p><strong>Play Type</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>Play Types (Hughes)</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>Digital Play Types (adapted by Marsh et al., "Digital Play")</strong></p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Symbolic play </p> </td> <td> <p>Occurs when an object stands for another object, e.g. a stick becomes a horse </p> </td> <td> <p>Occurs when a virtual object stands for another object, e.g. an avatar’s shoe becomes a wand </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Rough and tumble play </p> </td> <td> <p>Children are in physical contact during play, but there is no violence</p> </td> <td> <p>Occurs when avatars that represent users in a digital environment touch each other playfully, e.g. bumping each other </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Socio-dramatic play </p> </td> <td> <p>Enactment of real-life scenarios that are based on personal experiences, e.g. playing house </p> </td> <td> <p>Enactment of real-life scenarios in a digital environment that are based on personal experiences</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Social play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play during which rules for social interaction are constructed and employed </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in a digital context during which rules for social interaction are constructed and employed</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Creative play</p> </td> <td> <p>Play that enables children to explore, develop ideas, and make things </p> </td> <td> <p>Play that enables children to explore, develop ideas, and make things in a digital context </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Communication play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play using words, songs, rhymes, poetry, etc. </p> </td> <td> <p>Play using words, songs, rhymes, poetry, etc., in a digital context, e.g. text messages, multimodal communication </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Dramatic play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play that dramatises events in which children have not directly participated, e.g. TV shows </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in a digital context that dramatises events in which children have not directly participated, e.g. TV shows. </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Locomotor play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play which involves movement, e.g. chase, hide and seek </p> </td> <td> <p>Virtual locomotor play involves movement in a digital context, e.g. child may play hide and seek with others in a virtual world</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Deep play</p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children encounter risky experiences, or feel as though they have to fight for survival </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in digital contexts in which children encounter risky experiences, or feel as though they have to fight for survival </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Exploratory play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children explore objects, spaces, etc. through the senses in order to find out information, or explore possibilities </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in a digital context in which children explore objects, spaces, etc., through the senses in order to find out information, or explore possibilities </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Fantasy play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children can take on roles that would not occur in real life, e.g. be a superhero </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in a digital context in which children can take on roles that would not occur in real life, e.g. be a superhero</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Imaginative play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children pretend that things are otherwise </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in a digital context in which children pretend that things are otherwise </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Mastery play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children attempt to gain control of environments, e.g. building dens </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in digital contexts in which children attempt to gain control of environments, e.g. creating a virtual world </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Object play</p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children explore objects through touch and vision</p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children explore virtual objects through vision and touch through the screen or mouse</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Role play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children might take on a role beyond the personal or domestic roles associated with socio-dramatic play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in a digital context in which children might take on a role beyond the personal or domestic roles associated with socio-dramatic play</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Recapitulative play </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children might explore history, rituals, and myths, and play in ways that resonate with the activities of our human ancestors (lighting fires, building shelters, and so on) </p> </td> <td> <p>Play in a digital context in which children might explore history, rituals, and myths, and play in ways that resonate with the activities of our human ancestors (lighting fires, building shelters, and so on) </p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p>Transgressive play</p> </td> <td> </td> <td> <p>Play in which children contest, resist, and/or transgress expected norms, rules, and perceived restrictions in both digital and non-digital contexts. </p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p> </p> Louise Kay Silke Brandsen Carmen Jacques Francesca Stocco Lorenzo Giuseppe Zaffaroni Copyright (c) 2023 Louise Kay, Silke Brandsen, Carmen Jacques, Francesca Stocco, Lorenzo Zaffaroni http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-05-27 2023-05-27 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2943 It’s All about the Toys! https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2974 <p>Toys: quintessentially the objects of childhood, their role in culture is anything but child’s play. Toys offer a site for young children to learn anything and everything from the commodification of time, through gendered and racial positioning of subjectivities (or the subversion of these positionings), through to social expectations around reading, sharing, and relative wealth and access. The importance of toys to children is vast, gauged by the nostalgia of many adults for their toys, and the role of the toy in popular culture, from <em>Andy Pandy</em> through to <em>Toy Story</em> and <em>Chucky</em>.</p> <p>As editors, we all approached the matter of ‘the toy’ from different but complementary trajectories. Tama Leaver brought critical analysis to the table, informed by his Chief Investigator (CI) role within the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child, CE200100022.</p> <p>Lelia Green’s engagement with toys had been heightened by a comparatively new grandparenting role, but also as lead CI (after Donell Holloway’s retirement) of ARC Discovery Project DP180103922 – The Internet of Toys: Benefits and Risks of Connected Toys for Children. For Lelia, this <em>M/C Journal</em> issue was an opportunity to look at the woods <em>and</em> the trees, to locate Internet-connected toys within the wider sphere of childhood toys.</p> <p>Louise Kay was a key researcher within the EU-funded <em>MakEY – Makerspaces in the Early Years: Enhancing Digital Literacy and Creativity</em> project. Led by Jackie Marsh, also from the University of Sheffield, this Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) Scheme was part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 initiative. Both Louise and Jackie had also been Partner Investigators on the ARC Internet of Toys Discovery Project, alongside Bieke Zaman and Giovanna Mascheroni.</p> <p>Complementing the intersecting backgrounds of the editors, the <em>M/C Journal</em> ‘toys’ issue received a wide variety of submissions, including many from north America and some from Europe. Indeed, so many good responses were received that the call for articles has resulted in two separate issues: this one, keeping the thematic title ‘toys’; and a second issue in June under the banner ‘blocks’.</p> <p>In our feature article ‘Children’s Digital and Non-Digital Play Practices with Cozmo, the Toy Robot’, Louise Kay, Silke Brandsen, Carmen Jacques, Francesca Stocco, and Lorenzo Zaffaroni extrapolate from interviews with families across four different countries that included children playing with the toy robot Cozmo. Rather than limiting their imagination or types of play, the research uncovers a wide range of play types, noting that emotional connections with Cozmo were often at least as important, if not more, that learning coding skills, despite that being one of the main reasons parents buy the robot toy. That said, despite being a market leader, there are some real limitations that come from the way Cozmo is designed and interacts with young people, and the author conclude with notes for future development of Internet-connected toys.</p> <p>Aleesha Rodriguez and Amanda Levido in ‘“My Little Influencer”: A Toy Ringlight as Proxy to Media Practices and Technopanics’ examine the media panic that arose in response to a toy set featuring a wooden influencer-style ringlight. Despite being a lightning rod of concerns and caricatures about social media and influencers, Rodriguez and Levido argue that these wooden toys could actually be helpful building blocks in developing young people’s early media literacies. </p> <p>In their article ‘“The Internet of Life”: Enhancing the Everyday through Children’s Use of Digital Devices’, Kelly Jaunzems, Carmen Jacques, Lelia Green, and Silke Brandsen note that in their interviews with 6–12-year-old Australian children, many report that devices such as tablets have become important toys in their lives, whilst being equally aware that these devices have other functions too. Rather than cordoning off an ‘Internet of Toys’, the authors argue that the configuration of an ‘Internet of Life’ might better capture the broad potential uses, and pleasures, that many Internet-connected devices can bring for young people.</p> <p>In ‘Playing with Barbie: Teaching Inclusivity and Diversity through Play in Indonesia’, Indrati Kurniana, Hersinta, and Katie Ellis explore the role of dolls in creating positive perceptions of disabled people and those with physical impairments in children’s play in an Indonesian context.</p> <p>Catherine Archer and Kate Delmo use a case study approach and visual narrative analysis to analyse the Instagram accounts of two high-profile child social media influencers, eleven-year-old Australian Pixie Curtis and her eight-year-old brother, Hunter. They argue that this is an unregulated space and highlight key areas of concern on one of the world’s most popular platforms for children and teens, including privacy issues, commodification, and gendered and ‘stealth’ marketing of toys through ‘advertorials’.</p> <p>In ‘The Future Is Furby: Cute-Creepy Encounters with a Zoomorphic Robot’, Megan Catherine Rose addresses the cute-creepy, nostalgic, queer, and fan-reimagined text that is the Furby toy, morphing across the decades with advances in technology aligning with the advancing ages of the toy’s first – and still loyal – generation of fans.</p> <p>In ‘Toy, Vehicle, or Equipment? Parents’ and Children’s Constructions of the Bicycle in Childhood’, Erin Sharpe, Jocelyn Murtell, and Alex Stoikos address the different meanings that parents and children assign to bicycles. They note that understandings of the ‘toyness’ of a bicycle may reflect whether parents are present at the time their child is cycling.</p> <p>Sungyong Ahn, in ‘On That <em>Toy-Being</em> of Generative Art Toys’, addresses the ontology of what it is to be a toy, when the generative art in question is a software application that generates a visual aesthetic. Addressing the machine-learning elements of such creations, Sungyong Ahn suggests that there are parallels between generative art toys and kids’ slime games; differentiating the ‘sticky slime’ of generative art algorithms from the less playful ‘mathematical sublime’.</p> <p>In ‘American Girl Dolls as Professionals: What Do They Teach about Professions and Professionalism?’, Natalia Rybas argues that the American Girl dolls offer a very particular idea of future professional opportunities for young girls, but that these opportunities are constrained within a very specific neoliberal model of which opportunities will be available, and which will not.</p> <p>In our final article, Lisa Hackett and Jo Coghlan examine the origins of <em>Monopoly</em> and how it came to be the world’s best-selling commercial board game. They discuss how, for many people, <em>Monopoly</em> is less than enjoyable, which begs the question: why do so many people own the game? The article also gives a fascinating overview of the history of the board game and how it has evolved over time.</p> <h2>Acknowledgments</h2> <p>The work on this special issue was partially supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council. Professor Lelia Green and Dr Louise Kay (together with Professors Bieke Zaman and Giovanna Mascheroni) were Investigators on the ARC Discovery Project DP180103922 – The Internet of Toys: Benefits and Risks of Connected Toys for Children (2018-22), and they acknowledge Dr Donell Holloway’s past leadership of this grant. Professors Tama Leaver and Lelia Green are both Chief Investigators in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child (CE200100022), which is led by QUT and also involves Curtin University, Deakin University, Edith Cowan University, University of Queensland, and University of Wollongong. The Centre of Excellence is funded through to the end of 2027. Tama would also like to thank his children for their input in to the design of the cover photo, and for letting their Lego figures be part of it!</p> Tama Leaver Lelia Green Louise Kay Copyright (c) 2023 Tama Leaver, Lelia Green, Louise Kay http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-04-26 2023-04-26 26 2 10.5204/mcj.2974