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“Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

We interrupt this blog to bring you this special post

To all five of my regular readers, this post is an experiment in data collection and participation and not the sometimes mildly semi-interesting articles and links I usually put up. In fact, if you could spread this particular post around, that would be seriously awesome.

If you’re new here, hi there. My name is Mike Karlesky. I’m a computer science Ph.D. student. More on me here. My topic of interest is playful technologies (or also what I call playful media). What’s that you ask? Well. I’m not talking about video games. Shoot. This is a long story. It’s probably easiest if you read this post and maybe look at this page or possibly skim this list of articles.

Please help me out by sharing your experiences with toys

I’ve been thinking a great deal about toys and what constitutes the “toyness” of toys — what is it that makes them playful towards embodying those properties in more complex technologies? My thoughts have recently landed on the idea of emergence (see post previously referenced), and I hope to explore this notion through your experiences.

This is where I hope you come in. I’ve disabled the normal comments for this post and replaced them with Disqus because Disqus allows comments to be commented upon and voted up and down. I’m conducting a completely non-scientific survey towards informing my future research — all by way of the comments on this post.

Here’s my question: What toy could you play with for hours on end & why?

Childhood toys or a toy you play with as an adult. Solo play or play with others by way of a given toy. I’m really interested to know:

  1. What toys crystallize the play experience for you in that they are endlessly playable?
  2. Why do you feel that is?

Feel free to post links and photos (especially for toys with which a white American Midwesterner such as myself might not be familiar). Please comment on others’ comments and please vote up any comments that echo your feelings on particular toys. If this works well, I hope the most popular comments will be the most informative. Remember, the question is for toys that you once found or still find repeatedly and consistently engaging in play at length. One comment per toy but feel free to comment multiple times.

My conjecture is that many modern digital toys do not embody playfulness as much as consumption (e.g. educational goals or entertainment/amusement). Consequently, one can be “done” with these sorts of toys quickly in that they have a limited scope of experience. Hence, because of this, we have the aphorism about cardboard boxes being better toys than that which comes in them. Consider, however, as a counter example that toy blocks seem to be endlessly playable. The definition of a toy is tricky. Many American children love playing with those spring-like door stops. Is that a toy? Do your best. I’m not considering any sort of game, video or otherwise, to be a toy — though perhaps there are objects within the games that you treated as toys (everybody plays with the mousetrap but rarely actually plays the game that contains it). And, yes, there is Minecraft; we can go with that.

What will happen with the comments collected?

Great question. I’m really not entirely sure. For certain, if enough comments come in (fingers crossed), I will synthesize and summarize what we have collectively learned in another post at a later date. And please feel free to do the same. I can’t promise anything more immediate than this as my actual thesis work will not begin for a while yet and then take quite some time to complete. Nevertheless, I hope this Internet study will inform that research towards building something of immense awesomosity that will contribute to how we play together in the future.

Thank you so much for your help. I hope you find this as enjoyable as I am excited to see what unfolds.

*The title of this post is, of course, a movie quote.

UPDATE (Feb. 13, 2012): The 5 Best Toys of All Time — it’s tongue-in-cheek but also kinda not. {via @mvandervoord}

UPDATE (Feb. 16, 2012): Gave same questions to AskReddit.

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