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Lazy kids play with lazy toys

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 6:37am
Chris Fox, PD&D Managing Editor

Hasbro recently announced that it was revamping the Transformer product line. As the popular shape-shifters approach their 30-year anniversary, and will star in yet another movie, the company has enlisted a design and engineering team for an overhaul.

According to a recent New York Times article, “The remake of the line, which includes new branding and packaging, is meant to coincide with Paramount Pictures’ release of the fourth movie in the franchise.”

Though the movies have been fairly sub-par, I have found solace in watching young relatives play with a nostalgic piece of my childhood. The caveat is that the redesign is looking to include “... simple maneuvers that will complete a transformation with the push of a button or flick of the wrist.” I’m not sure if this speaks more to our youth’s laziness or the innovation of the designers — perhaps both.

The NY Times piece goes on to quote Hasbro’s chief executive, Brian D. Golder, who says, “We’ve made incredibly sophisticated robots, but it can be like a 1,000-piece puzzle.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of complicated toys that require a team of engineers to design — this makes for a cool toy and jobs for the more childish groups of engineers out there — but, designing to simplify shouldn’t be a focus for the toy industry. Kids have more technology at their fingertips now than ever, but they have little knowledge of what goes into each device/toy — except for the future engineers; they’re in playrooms dismantling toys as I write this.

My disclaimer to all of this is that, perhaps in recent years, toys really have become over-complicated — I am, after all, separated from my Transformer-playing-youth by 20 to 25 years — in this sense, I’m assuming the toys haven’t increased in difficulty by an outrageous amount since the mid-90s. 

Regardless, creating toys that are more than meets the eye is certainly not an easy task, but to spend time, money, and engineering effort to simplify a toy like this seems counterintuitive. Making these toys easy-to-transform is somewhat like the narrative of our nation — a heavy reliance on science and technology, but no inquiry or ambition to understand it. A mentality that says, “Just make it work.”

By making Transformers (a complicated toy, but not nearly as challenging as LEGOs or larger-scale engineering playthings) simpler, we are driving the pursuit of inquiry into a wall. This also widens the gap between the engineering-literate and the rest of the world, which seems to cause a divide in the job market between under- and over-qualified (in both the engineering industry, and other workplaces).

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