Create a toy. That’s it. As one of four projects in my master’s course Play Design, we simply had to create an object for play. Who would ever have thought, that I would be doing fieldwork in the local Toys”R”Us? Not me, that’s for sure.

Nonetheless, the task ahead was pretty open and therefore made room for my groups own motivations and wishes about the toy. One of them, and in hindsight one of my greatest learnings from this project, was working with combining a range of materials augmented through an arduino. In other words, we wanted to create something “real”, in the sense that we wished to create a relatively advanced prototype that was actually capable of “doing” something as opposed to e.g. my W.A.I.T. play design project.

The theoretical foundation of our toy was Sicart, Benjamin and Ruffino & Mistrett. The theory explains definitions of toys – both regarding their physical and cultural properties – as well as how a toy should be designed.

The result was SPIDEY, which you can see a video of here. SPIDEY is a toy resembling the looks of a spider (mind=blown, right?), and it has the ability to communicate reactions to user interaction – in this case, providing feedback to users’ intended playful behaviour. More specifically, SPIDEY can convey sounds and vibrations when detaching/attaching a leg from the body. It makes sad-ish sounds when detaching a leg and more happy-ish sounds when attaching a leg. The idea was born of group-discussion of the possibility of including so-called dark play in the toy design (in short, a way of playing that forces emotional responses from people who do not realize they are playing – or being played). This approach led to the idea of an abusive teddy bear, that would verbally provoke the users through a range of sensors such as touch, and hereby flip around the normal notion of a teddy bear. One thing led to another, as a good ideation phase often does, and the (rather morbid) childhood memory of ripping off the legs of a spider out of curiosity was articulated. And hence, the idea of SPIDEY was born.

Toys do, as to their nature, not facilitate one correct type of play. Therefore, guiding to a certain “correct” way of playing should be greatly considered. However, history and culture affects our perceptions. Thus, when making a toy look real in the sense, that its resemblance to a “real” thing (object, animal, human etc.) is high enough to remove doubt, the designer needs to be aware of how the play imitates real life. Hence, SPIDEY does not tell you, you are bad when ripping off the legs per se, because well, the design pretty much hints you towards trying it. It does however leave cues, that it is better to keep the legs attached, signaled through the haptic- and sound feedback augmented with the arduino.

SPIDEY was mainly succes in the sense, that it facilitated what we intended – exploration, intrigue, surprise, co-up experiences, expanded use of elements (legs turned into swords) to name a few. There were flaws and minor sit-backs though; e.g. too low sound on the feedback and the fragility of the prototype was also an issue, since performance was unstable at points. However, when working properly, I believe that SPIDEY was a good example of a toy – an object that facilitates playful behavior.

Feel free to ask for/about anything related to the project.