The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

‘Unboxing’ the Toys to Life Phenomenon

Children's Media Yearbook contributor, Andy Robertson, on the latest developments in media-related toys.

I wrote about the Toys to Life trend for the Children's Media Yearbook this year. There were a few reasons I was keen to address this topic, and they focused on how families consume interactive media and how companies aim to profit from this.

Of course there is nothing wrong with charging for quality content. And in these Toys to Life video-games like SkylandersDisney Infinity and Lego Dimensions there is a huge amount of investment in high production, characterisation, storytelling and engagement.

If you’ve not come across the genre previously, it works by granting the player access to video-game characters by placing a toy (purchased separately) on a USB-connected peripheral device plugged into the games console.

It works well because there are no wires or button pressing. To a young player they are simply playing with their physical toy character on the screen. This creates a happy back and forth between video-game and carpet play.

However, because of the way these toy lines are released - in waves through the year, and with an annual revamp, it can be difficult to understand what you need to buy and how much value you will get.

My yearbook article address this complexity by explaining what is essential and what is optional in each of these media experiences. I also suggest some ways in which you can start playing without paying too much.

More than this though, I wanted to document a moment of change in children's media lives, by looking at how these hybrid experiences are blurring the line between physical and virtual play. They are also changing how children first encounter classic movie stories and characters. My children, for instance, first saw Spider-Man, Luke Skywalker and Baymax in a video game rather than on the cinema screen or TV.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, quite the reverse in some cases, but it’s important we are informed about how interactive media is changing so parents can make informed choices. Hopefully the Yearbook feature is a step in this direction.

The Children's Media Yearbook is available now to download or purchase in hard copy.

Andy Robertson is a family video-game expert who writes for national newspapers and broadcast television. He runs the Family Gamer TV YouTube channel.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)