ClickToy – A game for two year-olds

by Andy Polaine on April 4, 2008

Old skool interaction designers will remember Grandma and Me and the rest of Broderbund’s Living Books series. Those early ‘multimedia’ children’s books were some of the best examples of simple, playful interactivity. Anything on the screen that looked like it could be clicked did something – there was rarely a disappointment. Every tiny corner held a little interactive surprise and was surprisingly compelling. Some of those principles still influence the way I think about interactivity 15 years on.

Much of that approach has been lost in many current videogames, yet the truth is, many two year-olds play around on the computer and most of the stuff available is either a bit too gruesome or a bit too ‘edutainment’ focussed.

Clicktoy by long-time games developer, Ken Kavanagh, is a completely unstructured play environment. The first game, Meadow, is, well, a meadow. You can navigate around the space and press keys to make things happen. That’s it.

Kavanagh says that he was trying to think of something that his two year-old could use and enjoy and spent some time staring at the keyboard. Eventually he boiled it down to the idea that there are 101 buttons and thought, “What can I make happen if you make every button do something different?”.

It’s a good approach to interaction design – look at what you have and think about what you can do with it, rather than dream up something grand and make a half-baked version of the dream. The open-ended play helps make the most of this approach.

“Children’s toys, like Fisher-Price toys, are super simple, they’re sandbox toys, open-ended play, no structure or goal, you just simply play with it,” says Kavanagh. “I wasn’t seeing that in software.”

The meadow, replete with bunny rabbits, deer, bumble bees, rainbows and flowers, was as innocent and as wholesome an environment as he could think of and also reflected his son’s existing soft toy collection.

Press a key and the bunnies hug each other, press another and an acorn falls from a tree and comically bounces of the deer’s head who looks around in surprise.

The lack of any story, which normally drives children’s games is also an interesting aspect, as anyone who has made up a story or watched a child make up a story can attest to.

“Since the game provides no narration I think it’s actually a wonderful opportunity to provide it as a parent. We can make up a story about the bunnies visiting their friends.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether this kind of thing gains ground. There’s no doubt that it’s unlikely that very young children are going to ignore the computer. Letting them play seems like a good idea to me. Taking them to a real meadow to see the living ‘characters’ is probably a good idea too. Like Disney without the associated McDonald’s merchandising.

(Via CBC News)

[tags]games, clicktoy, children, broderbund, living books[/tags]

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nigel Kersten April 4, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Windows only… damnit. :)

So my 2 year old is rather fond of this software:

which does similar things. Key presses and mouse movements cause things to happen on the screen, visual and auditory.

Before I found this, I used to have a script on login to his user account that would disable the mouse and Cmd keys and open up TextEdit maximized to the screen.

Just having letters appear when he banged on the keys would keep him happy for a surprisingly long time….

2 Andy Polaine April 5, 2008 at 9:16 am

Yes, it’s a shame it’s Windows only at the moment. I haven’t downloaded it yet but it might run Bootcamp or Parallels or CrossOver okay if the 3D isn’t too onerous.

Can’t believe you made a special login script for him…. have you taught him Unix yet?

3 Nigel Kersten April 12, 2008 at 3:48 pm

It’s much easier giving them their own accounts.

I hate to sound like an Apple shill, but the Parental Controls does all I need in that regard.

I was actually going to bug you about logo-like pre-programming environments for the 6 year old :)

4 Andy Polaine April 12, 2008 at 5:01 pm

There are one or two I pre-programming environments I think – Logo being one of them. The Star Logo program is available for Mac.

Have you checked out the Lego stuff? Is it too complicated?

I have only just found this, but MIT’s Scratch might be good. It’s a kind of snap-the-code-blocks-together idea.

Or were you meaning developing something yourself?

5 Click Toy July 30, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Hello, I just wanted to let you know that The Meadow is now available for the Mac (OS X 10.5.x) .

6 Andy Polaine July 31, 2009 at 6:51 am

That’s great to hear. I couldn’t find a demo to download on the site – is there one? Just found it here

Ah, scratch that. It’s the Windows Demo.

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