Over this holiday I seem to have been surrounded by electronic toys. It seems that nearly every present for babies and toddlers comes with batteries and chips - perhaps the same could be said of gifts for adults too. It appears then, that digitally-assisted development is part of the way we live, and certainly the major toy companies have cashed in on the phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, the toys produced as a result of this are variable in quality. For me, the best are engaging and participatory, whereas the worst seem to have been scripted by a would-be politician with a very limited view of education. Take, for example, those digital toys that purport to teach de-contextualized phonics routines on a model of rote learning - unlikely to be of any benefit to the enquiring mind, and probably not very good at preparing children for the embarrasing non-word reading test, either. The worry lies is the ways in which these toy manufacturers construct parental pedagogy. Implicit in their scripted routines are notions of what parents should be doing. As Sue Nichols, Helen Nixon, and Jennifer Rowsell (2009)
argued, they construct an idea of what the “good” parent does in relation to early literacy. Now I'm not a romantic advocate of all things natural in a mythical golden age of 'play with natural materials', but my simple comparison is with wooden building blocks (in fact they don't have to be wooden - they could be digital, I expect). The basic point is that simple construction materials are only very loosely scripted. They can represent different things and can be used to build just about anything that takes your fancy. Megablocks, Duplo and Lego are of course comparatively more scripted - particularly when they are 'themed'. In comparison, then, a lot of digital toys have a very narrow, linear script. Maybe you could apply the same scripting concept to more technical complex digital entertainment. Would it work, for video games? Someone may have tried that already, of course. And on that note, I found this piece
on video-gaming particularly useful. For someone who has not really engaged with the key debates yet, I reckon they're all in here.