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Decoding the Digital Kid: Announcing the 2009 Dust or Magic Awards

Welcome to the first annual Dust or Magic Awards on Interactive Media for Kids. Before shouting 'not another awards competition!' let me assure you this one has no entry fees, seals, trophies or accompanying speeches. To be completely truthful, the main reason for using the word 'award' is to lure you further into this non-interactive article.
February 17, 2009

Welcome to the first annual Dust or Magic Awards on Interactive Media for Kids. Before shouting ‘not another awards competition!’ let me assure you this one has no entry fees, seals, trophies or accompanying speeches. To be completely truthful, the main reason for using the word ‘award’ is to lure you further into this non-interactive article.

The real objective of this exercise is to help manufacturers and inventors learn from the past year’s digital mistakes and victories. I started by flipping through all 549 product reviews completed in 2008 at the Children’s Technology Review and pulled a few examples. This wasn’t always easy.

Often times, products had both dust and magic, such as Club Penguin, which came out with a clever language activity where you type words to form page illustrations (magic), while teasing kids with igloo bling that is really a gateway to a secure order form (dust). To help me along, I used CTR’s evaluation instrument, designed to assess a product from up to five angles – ease of use, educational, fun, design and overall value. The entire list was presented during a faux awards ceremony at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which I’ve posted at http://dustormagic.wikispaces.com/kap. Drumroll, please.

Dust Award winners 2009
I have to wonder what on earth Electronic Arts was thinking when it messed up Spore with a mysterious copy protection scheme. Mix in nearly two years of pre-release public relations events, and you get a perfect storm for disdain. In reality, the first levels of Spore are magically designed, but all the hype made the warts in the last level appear larger than they actually are. And the digital rights management mechanism just makes EA seem greedy.

The dust pile also included a number of battery-burning toys, like the Crayola Digital Camcorder, which ships with no internal memory, and a new edition of Jakks Pacific’s EyeClops microscope (called BioniCam) that comes with a menu of options that requires three full glasses of wine to figure out – I recommend a good merlot. And when your young scientist forgets to switch off the power, say goodbye to five brand new AA batteries.

Wii-diocre noteables include a tether-ball game in Build-A-Bear Workshop: A Friend Fur All Seasons. It turns out players can win the game by making any random motion with the Wii controller. The same is true of Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ Wii title Lightsaber Duels, which has dumbed-down lightsabers that move when you do – sort of. Sega’s Samba De Amigo is a fun game, but the setup process is akin to a New Jersey traffic circle during a snowstorm. It’s too bad, because the rest of the game is fun. More wine, please.

Magic Award winners 2009
Let’s switch from merlot to champagne and celebrate some of last year’s magical treats, like the ability to redraw a picture in Facebook’s Graffiti (http://apps.facebook.com/graffitiwall/index.php) application, or the ability to make a Mii that resembles Barack Obama in Nintendo’s Mii Channel. Also, the accelerometer inside iPhone has spawned a swarm of magical applications that reach beyond traditional menus to pull more novices, of all ages into interactive bliss.

For the Mac, PC or Wii, World of Goo provides a clever building experience that brings out your inner mechanical engineer, and MMOG Pixie Hollow offers a beautiful virtual world that revives Walt Disney’s 1937 scrolling parallax animation process, so it looks like the fairies really are flying online. Innovative techniques were also used in Wii titles like Dora the Explorer: Dora Saves the Snow Princess, featuring interactive versions of TV episodes that engage young children with the content. And anyone who has seen the jaw-dropping realism of Sony’s LittleBigPlanet will immediately buy a 16:9 screen with a PS3 plugged into it.

So there you have it, a small sampling of the first annual Dust or Magic Awards. Here’s to more magic and less dust next year.

Dr. Warren Buckleitner is the editor of the Children’s Technology Review, which provides an insider’s view on children’s interactive media products. You can reach him at www.childrenstechnology.com.

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