September 13, 2007 In days gone by the only virtual reality was the one we created in our heads. Before Atari and Space Invaders, and certainly before Tamagochi and Wii, kids had to rely on their imagination to generate fanciful worlds in which to play. Nowadays the imagination gets a kick-start from electronic gadgets, gizmos and games based on emerging technologies that are transforming the world of "playtime". Bratz dolls and MyPets are among the latest to embrace this idea with the launch of websites based on their respective toys that act as virtual worlds for kids to explore.
The toys and associated websites take traditional play with dolls and stuffed animals to new (virtual) heights with integrated 21st century technology. A virtual landscape is provided to bring characters to life and give children an exclusive new world to play in, as the world is accessed only by those who purchase the toy. Manufacturers strongly promote site security with strict parental controls in an effort to create a safe online environment for children in what has become an increasingly unsafe space.
In the Bratz world owners of the toys are able to name their female dolls, play games and care for their online character and its virtual e-pet. Buying new clothes, beauty makeovers and food are all part of the fun. Users can also send and receive emails and texts and chat with other characters online. Similarly, owners of a My ePets puppy-dog toy gain exclusive access to the My ePets site, where they can play with and care for their puppy. Kids can take their virtual pet to play in the park, shop at the mall or even to a doggy spa or out for dinner. My ePets toys are available from available retailers and specialty toy stores for AUD$19.95 and BeBratz.com dolls for AUD$69.95.
Tamagochi and its on-line world Tama Town were the advent of this type of play for children, addressing concerns of toy makers that kids would abandon real life toys for virtual worlds. Kids based websites enjoy vast user traffic with kids spending time playing the games which form the bulk of the content on the likes of Disney, ABC Kids, Nickelodeon and magazine specific sites. By marrying toys and online gaming the manufacturers ensure continuity in their consumer base whilst keeping pace with technology in this modern world.
Over the last five years there has been a prolific increase in the number of technology enabled toys available to children that make the original Tickle Me Elmo (now replaced by the high tech TMX Elmo) and Baby Born look like ancient relics. With kids being key consumers it was only natural that children’s toys would move with the same pace as adult technology.