Special Segment: Dolled Out

May 2, 2010 8:33:25 PM PDT
What has been the timeless appeal of dolls appears to be changing for their preferred customers: little girls. Things like Webkinz and Puffles are increasingly winning the battle for attention over the likes of Barbie and Raggedy Ann. And some say the digital creations are leading little girls to grow up faster.

On a typical day after school for 10-year-old Lauren Plesha, she takes a conference call with a few of her closest friends.

"If I'm in Gracie's igloo and Laynie and Megan are with me, then we can all be talking on the phone, and then we can also say stuff in Club Penguin," Plesha said. " We were all dancing with our orange Puffles, and then, we went to the dance club and we competed against each other in a dance contest."

In case you don't speak "10-year-old girl," Club Penguin is one of the most popular online games where players compete in a virtual world using cartoon penguin avatars.

Players have to buy Puffles in order to register on the Club Penguin Web site. Parents of the seven to 12-year-old set known as "tweens" say Web-based toys have virtually replaced the classics.

"The Barbies are just sitting there. The beautiful Barbie dollhouse is just sitting there getting dust, and last year she finally said, 'You know, mom, I'm ready to give my Barbies to someone else who'll play with them.' And I was like,'What?!!!'" said parent Laurie Collins.

"They are very quick on the computers, where I'm with my mouse, you know, moving along and can't find where I'm at," said parent Cheryl Plesha. "They're keeping up with the technology. They know how to do everything. But at the same time, it's the imagination. They kind of lose that."

Erika Schmidt agrees. She heads the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy and thinks Web-based play could affect problem-solving and social development.

"It's not freely created by the child. It's not a product of their imagination and cooperation with other kids their age. It's a play that's created by adults for children. It has much more of a format to it," she said.

Denise Fedewa has been marketing to women and girls at the Leo Burnett ad agency for the past 25 years. Her agency represents brands including Nintendo and American Girl.

"Sometimes, you can look at all these new technologies and think, 'Wow, things are really different today than when we were kids,' but if you peel it back, you realize kids are just finding new ways to do the things they've always done. Right? So, instead of everybody running out on the street of their block after they get home from school and connecting that way, they're going home and getting on their computers and connecting, but the basic urge to connect with other kids their age and hang out is still there," Fedewa said.

Some girls think MagiQuest may be the best of both worlds.

"There's like part one and part two, and you'll turn into a master magi when you find all of the things," said Fiona de Guzman.

"It's like there's something you want to do, to conquest, to get to achieve on each mission" Joseph de Guzman said. "It's like you're playing inside a video game."

MagiQuest is a new facility in Lombard that combines online gaming with real life role-playing.

"Players purchase a magic wand, create a character and then use their magic wand as their controller throughout this big medieval kingdom going on a series of quests and adventures," said Jim Legner, chief operating magi, MagiQuest. "But the big difference between this and a video game is that you're up and active moving around."

Experts say computer games help with hand-eye coordination and teach kids to strategize. But they also say parents should limit computer use and encourage children to be social and imaginative.

MagiQuest is aimed at 'tweens.' That facility just opened in Yorktown Center last month. Another one opened at Six Flags last week. For more information about it, visit www.magiquest.com.


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