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Toys – Play Matters

Sicart, M. (2014). Toys. In Play Matters (pp. 35-47). MIT Press.

In this chapter Sicart explores how toys can direct, and open up spaces for play and playfulness. Throughout the section the focus is on the creative affordances for players and users to create playful performances and interactions. The work distances itself from more formal playful encounters such as games and explores how toys suggest their use and direct a player as to modes of engagement and interaction. Toys are part of the ecology of play and bring together a number of threads explored in previous sections giving them defined objects and artifacts to play with.

Useful Quotes

“To understand the ecology of play and the role of playthings in the expressive capacities of playing, we need to understand toys. Toys can help tie together play and playfulness, strengthening this ecological theory of expressive and creative play.” (p. 35)

“humans seem to enjoy playing with things, using them in ways other than those expected, intended, or recommended. We use our hands, our body, to appropriate an object and explore its functionalities and meaning in ways often unexpected.” (p. 40)

“Playfulness makes the performance of actions more ludic, and their instruments closer to toys. Playfulness makes the world a toy.” (p. 40)

“Toys are also the physical embodiment of play’s freedoms. They might hint, suggest, or even demand particular forms of interaction, but a toy has no way of enforcing behaviours. Unlike games or rituals, which lead to more fomalized play, toys excel when they are ambiguous, open for interpretation-that is, when they are relatively empty vessels with which stories, worlds, and actions and constructed.” (p. 42)

“The way Lego is an undone universe, or a universe yet to be invoked.” (p. 43)

“The ecology of play is constituted by the elements that form the context of play: alkl the agents, situations, spaces, times, and technologies involved in playing. In this environment, toys play the role of props, of semiformalized embodiment of elements of play activity.” (p. 44)

“In this sense, toys have different dimensions. These dimensions are the toy’s physical manifestations of the characteristics of play, and they allow both designers and thinkers to better perceive and understand how play interacts with playthings and how play is incorporated into technologies and practices.” (p. 44)

“When we think about the filtering dimension of toys, we face the question of how toys incorporate themselves in the activity of play. In classic design terms, we would be looking at the design signifiers, affordances and constraints. However, the idea of filtering allows greater flexibility, since it is not part of a conscious and methodological design process. Making a toy requires understanding a play situation and creating an object for it, a process that can be performed by a professional designer but also a child. The idea of filtering appeals to the openness of toy creation, that is, to everybody’s capacity to create a toy.” (p. 45)

“In this quest for understanding the ecology of play, toys are fundemental to undertsnading the technology and physical elements that constitute the context of play. Though this is and activity through which we understand the world, it is also deeply rooted in physical and material instantiations, in objects that carry part of the meanings of the activity, that help it exist and take place, be shared and be communicated. Toys are the physical embodiments of an ideal activity, the material realization of the ideals of play.” (p. 47)

“Toys seduce us, anchoring us in time and space; they trigger emotional responses, play a role in memory and culture, and help us devise situations so that play can take place.” (p. 47)

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