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Playthings That Do Things: A Young Kid's "Incredibles"!

Summary:

This paper looks into a small collection of animated toys, or "AniMates", which I describe in terms of the mental elbowroom each provides for exploring and enacting issues of agency, identity, attachment, and control. Toys are selected for their varying degrees of autonomy and responsiveness, and for their lasting popularity, or capacity to captivate commonly held passions. As will become clear through the examples, animated toys need not be computational to qualify as AniMates. Many classical toys exhibit creature-like qualities, such as self-propelled movement (wind-up toys) or the ability to keep a bearing (tops and gyros). And many no-tech or low-tech toys exist, which afford the thrill of controlling things at a distance (kites, string puppets). My purpose is to highlight some of the relational qualities that, beyond functionality, endow AniMates with the power to draw us in, amuse and delight us and, above all, re-enact some of the hurdles that growing up entails- an indirect hint to toy-bots/tech-toys designers.

Keywords:
Animated toys, children, self-propelled movement, agency, robotics, play, imagination, identity, attachment, control.

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