Playful Perspectives: Toys that interact online

Playful Perspectives is a new feature wherein your intrepid Toy Box Mommy (that’s me) and The Toy Guy jointly tackle a topic to give you twice the insight and perhaps slightly different takes on an issue.

Once upon a time, there were toys. They required children to put their hands on them and use their imaginations, and they were very good. There were also board games and games like marbles, which required children to interact and think, and they were also very good.

Eventually the internet came along, and then after it had invaded pretty much everyone’s homes, it provided online kid-appropriate games, and they were good, too. (My children are particularly fond of Chuzzle.)

Now we have toys that used to require hands-on and imaginative play which now require logging on to the computer and doing things online in order to “play” with them. Webkinz, Bella Sara and Test Tube Aliens come immediately to mind, for example. It’s a trend that’s expanding and isn’t going away anytime soon.

Me, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I love it when my kids resort to more “old-fashioned” play, preferably the kind that has them running around, getting exercise, and tiring themselves out. On the other hand, I think there’s a lot of truly educational and fun, clever online options which are absolutely wonderful for today’s net-savvy kids.

But I do think it’s time for kids to get a taste of their own medicine, too. So I’d like to suggest a few new toys to the big toy manufacturers.

Webkinz Barbie. When you take this Barbie out of the box, she whines that she hasn’t been allowed to play Webkinz in days and her monkey needs more kibble. Set her at the included desk and she logs on and ignores everything you say. Periodically she shrieks with glee and tells you she just won a bundle playing Cash Cow. Your child must log in to Webkinz and add her as a friend to get her to respond to them at all, and then she will play online with them but respond “that’s boring” to any game suggestion that takes place outside of Webkinz. Suggested retail price: $19.99.

Test Tube Pokemon. Each tube of glop must be fed a steady diet of tiny plastic creatures before morphing into a new breed of Pokemon right before your eyes. Holding the hatched creature up to your computer screen when logged on to the command center site allows your pet to learn how to say its name over and over again in a series of increasingly annoying high-pitched whines. Depending on the message sent to it, your creature will either disappear under the bed or become wedged in-between the seats in the car within one week. Suggested retail price: $4.99 (so that you’ll buy a bunch of them).

Heely Island. These magnificent wheeled shoes allow your child to skate along most any surface, as well as logging on to a mystical world where they can skate into other children at full speed without fear of grounding. Instead, some children will form gangs, while others will be voted off the island and sent away on an iceberg. Great for building social networking skills! Suggested retail price: $1500. Tell them to start saving their allowance now.

Yes, once again I wonder why I haven’t been snapped up by the toy development industry. I clearly understand the business and have a unique visionary perspective.

What do you think about the recent spate of internet-tie-in type toys? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? And don’t forget to go check out The Toy Guy’s take!

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