Toys, Games, and Media
reviewed by Debra Sprague - May 26, 2006
Title: Toys, Games, and Media
Author(s): Jeffery Goldstein, David Buckinham, and Gilles Brougere (Eds.)
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Mahwah, NJ
ISBN: 0805849033, Pages: 240, Year: 2004
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Toys, Games, and Media consists of 14 chapters. There is an introductory chapter that establishes the purpose of the book. The rest of the chapters are broken into three sections. The first section deals with toy culture. This section looks at a variety of traditional (non-computer based) toys from toy theaters to Pokémon. There are not too many surprises in this section of the book. The chapter on toy theaters seems out of place with the rest of the book as it provides an historical account of the development of toy theaters. Since it is the lead chapter of the book (not counting the introductory chapter) readers could get the false impression that the rest of the book is the same, but it is not. Unless one is interested in toy theaters and their development, one can easily skip this chapter without losing the value of the rest of the book.
A book on toys and childrens play would be remiss if it did not contain the usual research about the negative aspects of war toys and how such play can lead to aggression in children. However, what is most interesting about this chapter is not the finding that there is an increasing mediated consumption of violence by children, but that the play world of children has become narrow and impoverished (p. 33). The author goes on to say that children provide descriptions of computer games and reproduce stereotypical views of war while engaging in such activities. Children fail to comprehend the full horror of war. This was brought home to me recently while having a discussion with my then 13-year-old nephew who, after playing with a war video game, declared that the good guys always win and never get hurt in a war. What is discouraging about this chapter, and much of the book, is there are no recommendations as to how parents and educators can counteract these beliefs.
Other chapters in this section deal with the comparison of toy selection by preschool teachers and children in three different countries; an essay about the marketing of Hello, Kitty around the concept of kawaii, a Japanese term meaning cute with sexual pre-adolescent undertones; and a research study that explored how media, in this case Pokémon and Harry Potter, influence childrens activity on the school playground.
The second section deals with children and digital media. There are four chapters in this section, two on the Internet and two on computer games. In The Internet Playground, Seiter explores childrens play on the Internet. Focusing on two online activities, Neopets (electronic pets that need to be fed and cared for) and Instant Messaging (IM), Seiter raises the question of the digital divide. The digital divide refers to the separation of those who have access to technology and know how to use it and those who do not. She asks, How will the digital divide affect childrens access to preferred forms of play online? (p. 96). In her conclusion, Seiter states,
[W]orking-class children have little chance of enjoying computer and Internet access that is residential and high-speed, the kind that facilitates music downloading, online gaming, or Instant Messaging. And while these activities seem like nothing more than play, we know that they are vital to social inclusion. (p. 105)
Being able to use computers, to understand how to access and use information, and to participate in social networks (whether online or face-to-face) are essential skills for succeeding in todays economy. Those who have such skills are more likely to have higher incomes and better jobs. Children develop such skills by interacting with others online through social networks like IM and by playing with computers and exploring online websites. Play turns out to be a very good way of getting very good at computers. It is nice play if you can afford it (p. 107).
Albero-Andres also explores childrens use of the Internet, this time focusing on adolescents. She concludes that adolescents primarily use the Internet for communicating with their friends, playing games, and to find information related to their formal education only when they have to complete a project or essay assigned by a teacher (p. 116). She expresses a concern about adolescents mainly copying information without reading it and showing a lack of interest in using the Internet to develop their intellectual curiosity or to explore current events. Unlike many of the chapters in this book, Albero-Andres does provide some recommendations for ways parents and teachers can address these concerns. To expand their current uses of the Internet, adolescents will need to be trained so they can learn different ways of accessing knowledge, she writes (p. 125). Teachers need to be helped in finding a balance between fulfilling their teaching role in as attractive a manner as possible and undertaking this role in an educational structure that still is too rigid (p. 126).
In the final section, four chapters focus on how technology influences play. Relying on childrens interaction with smart toys (toys that interact, talk, and seem to think for themselves), the authors of these chapters explore childrens reactions to a toys interface, ways they play with such toys, and how such toys can be developed for children with disabilities. There is some concern that such toys would limit childrens imagination and creativity. However, Bergen found little evidence that technology enhanced toys of this type were overly directive of the childrens play (p. 205). Plowman also found that there was no evidence to suggest that these toys made either a beneficial or detrimental difference in the childrens ability to engage in child-led imaginative play (p. 221).
While it is not possible to discuss every chapter, I hope that this brief review entices the reader to explore this book. Although I do not always agree with the conclusions drawn by the various authors, the book does cause me to think and question my own beliefs about childrens play and the media, which itself makes this a book worth reading.