LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Blocks or Pokemon?

on April 11, 2013 3:02pm

For class the other day, we read the article “Commodified Enchantment: Children and Consumer Capitalism” by Beryl Langer.  In it, she argued that capitalism’s appropriation of the “sacred child” was a direct contradiction with commercialism’s intrusion into the domain of childhood. In arguing this case, she also brought up the argument that today’s toys, which all stem from a TV show or a movie (and therefore already have a story affixed to them and are often part of a set which requires you to buy most or all of the set before it becomes useful), limit creativity.

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Today’s Toys: Each sold separately.

At least more so than the toys of the Baby Boomers (blocks, G.I. Joe, Tonka toys).  The reason for this (they argue) is that for many of today’s toys, there are only one or two configurations for them, while you can do tons of cool stuff with blocks.

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Like put them in a pile.

My question is, is there any validity to these claims?  There is certainly some validity to the argument that you have to buy most or all of a set before the toy achieves full functionality.  In Pokemon, for example, the driving force is that you, “Gotta catch ’em all.”  Well, if you play the video games, then you will know that in order to “Catch ’em all” you have to buy at least two video games from each “Generation (Gen)” of video games. In the first Gen, there were three games: Red, Yellow, and Blue. In each game, there were about ten Pokemon which were unavailable (Bellsprout and his evolutions, for instance, were unavailable in Red version). In order to get it, you had to have a friend or sibling who owned a Blue (or Yellow) version, plus an additional Game Boy, plus at least one link cable. The consumerism is most definitely there.

But does this limit creativity? I have seen teams of Pokemon (in Pokemon you make a “team” of six pokemon in order to battle other “teams”) which appeared really poorly constructed, but which actually showed remarkably elaborate strategy. People take the games and are extremely creative in building their teams.  However, it can still be argued that they are still being creative within the confines of a set of rules, and therefore are not being actively creative, they are just taking advantage of someone else’s creation.

But aren’t children with blocks doing exactly the same thing? They are taking someone else’s creation and piling them up and perhaps creating remarkably elaborate castles and creating intricate stories of princes and princesses and dragons, but they are still doing so within the confines of the rules of the blocks. Perhaps the rules are simpler, and allow for more physical interpretations, but doesn’t Pokemon do basically the same thing? Sure, it has a storyline, and the end result is always basically the same, but within that storyline, you can do a TON of different stuff.

But how does it affect creativity on a grand scale? One could certainly argue that we see the result of the children who played with blocks. They are adults now, and they have been creating things for quite some time now, including…Pokemon? So Pokemon was just a creation by a person who played with blocks. It is the very embodiment of creativity.  Shouldn’t creativity spawn more creativity? And if a creative endeavor doesn’t spawn more creativity, then why create it in the first place?

In the end, creativity will still survive, and humans will be creating things for the rest of time.

Now, have a picture of Bellsprout with Nicolas Cage’s face.  (credit for the image here.)

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Hey look! Pokemon spawned creativity!

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3 responses to “Blocks or Pokemon?

  1. p2murphy says:

    I believe that creativity within a set of rules is possible and happens quite regularly. While it is possible to view “rules” and “guidelines” as limiters on creativity, sometimes these can provide focus and direction to creativity and development. For example, genres provide both organization and guidance to artistic works by allowing creators to have a solid foundation from which to launch from; think of the vast array of creativity by musicians within any given genre or writers working within structures and genres in literature. For a more specific example, take the sonnet. The sonnet has a set construction, but artists have taken this structure and created timeless poetry that embraces the set of governing rules and runs with it with virtually limitless potential. Therefore, I agree that creativity spawns more creativity and I agree that this is essential for the continued development of art, entertainment, technology and every facet of civilization. I also believe that the rules and guidelines established by previous innovators are important in setting a baseline for development, while some of the greatest innovations in history have come from throwing out these rules, many developments have improved and adapted “the rules” to create fantastic improvements on existing products and ideas.

  2. cpaik1 says:

    I believe your blog provides and interesting opinion of Langer’s article, but I have to say I disagree with some of the points you mentioned.

    For example, Beryl Langer never states that ALL toys are now a direct response to television shows or movies but that there is an increase in this type of marketing in the toy realm.

    While your argument claims that the different versions of Pokemon are merely consumerist operations, I have to disagree with this point, too. The reason why Nintendo created the different versions of Pokemon was originally to connect the different players of the games together and become friends based off this game. It was never intended to be only a solo game in which the child player is isolated from other children. The child player needed to find someone else who had the second version of the game and befriend them. This was the point. Though I can see the consumerism in the fact that many Pokemon games have been released, you don’t need to buy all of them in order to enjoy the game and show your creativity.

    As for creativity, I have to say that I believe that both blocks and Pokemon can bring out the creative nature of a child. They are just different types of toys that bring out various aspects of creativity. Just because Pokemon doesn’t appear as a creative outlet for children because it is a video game and you cannot physically see the child using their creativity because it is on a screen of a Gameboy doesn’t mean there is no creativity there. The same goes for building blocks and basically every children’s toy available as well.

  3. I like that you make a counter argument to what we discussed in class. Even though I am a fan of a child being creative, working with their hands in an organic setting, I can see your point you are making here in which the people who played with blocks and who were the creative organic players are the ones who are creating the new technological games for today’s generations. But I think the point being made is not the lack of creativity in the games, but that children are sitting in front of a gaming device and losing major interaction skills. Today children have been tested and they lack in communicating face to face and would much rather communicate via technology. The gaining of technological skills and creativity through a game like Pokemon is not bad, it just allows for the child to not have other basic skills that are mandatory if they want to succeed one day and have a career.

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