I struggled a lot selecting a digital interaction for my final paper. I’ve been perusing all the blog postings and comments every other day to get some ideas based on what others are doing. I had originally started doing a phenomenological analysis of the innovative interactive technology used by the restaurant in London I talked about in my latest posting. However, I felt that I didn’t have a strong claim. Then, after realizing that everybody else is going for semiotics I recognized the importance of putting into practice these new concepts and decided to use a semiotics approach as well.

Then, as I was doing Xmas shopping I came across with something which I considered quite interesting: videogames for toddlers. Probably they have been around for many years; I’m not an expert on this particular market segment. However, what it immediately caught my attention was all the semiotic texts used in the product boxes for parents to buy the product (I guess that the reality is that after taking Jeff’s class we will see any product in a very different way). In general, it seems to me that videogames for kids are establishing a discourse: they seem to be using features from “real” videogames; they seem to claim having an educational focus; they seem to claim that kids will be actively engaged with them; and that kids will have lots of fun playing with them. 

I do not pretend to affirm that this kind of videogames have a positive or a negative impact for the kids. I would need compelling and reliable empirical studies to do that. My argument will simply be that the real addressees of these products are not the kids, but the parents, and that the companies are using texts specifically designed for kids’ parents to entice them about the purported usefulness of the product.

I will narrow my paper to one single product: the Fisher-Price “Smart Fit Park” videogame. This game uses a technology reminiscent of the old-fashioned Nintendo Entertainment System’s Power Pad (I guess most of you are too young to have used it 🙂 ). Anyway, I will briefly mention few examples of the texts that I am planning to cover to sustain my argument: 1) In the product’s box, none of the kids playing the game are actually looking at the TV; two of them are actually looking at you (the buyer), smiling while “exercising” walking down the digital park or jumping the digital rope. 2) Interestingly, the first feature listed in the box is the ability to “customize your character” which is a feature that would be highly appreciated for current players of MMORPG or virtual world’s residents. 3) I’m not sure why, but the box does not say at all that the product is a videogame even though it is.

After analyzing all the signs in the game, I will also analyze the phatic relationship between the addresser and the addressee… however, I’m not sure if I should consider two types of addressees (the parent and the kids). Moreover, I will talk about how the product constructs relationships between the parents and the kids. Is there anything else that I should be talking about?

My concern regarding this type of games is that some parents might consider them as “microwave solutions”, that is, just plugging the device on the TV and putting their kids in from of it, expecting that the kid will learn all the instructional content provided by the product all by him/her self. Socialization issues are an additional concern. According to Piaget and Vygotsky, kids learn from the world around them by interacting with it, especially by socializing with other kids.

But well, Xmas is almost here and I had to buy something for Santiago, my 5 year old nephew, so I got him the Smart Fit Park.  He will be starting in a bilingual elementary school next year and I thought that this game would hopefully give him a head start in English vocabulary. I’m sure he will like it; after all, he will be able to customize his own character 😉