Yes, there is an app for that. Play-Doh, that is. You’re probably not surprised that the quintessential “old school” plaything has just been updated to mold into our app-infused world. On my birthday last week, I was excited to learn that Hasbro had released its first-ever Play-Doh app to an unsuspecting world. Called “Play-Doh Touch,” this new app allows its users (which are supposed to be “Kids 5 & Under” according to the Apple App Store) to “Create a world of hands-on adventures,” while seeing their “physical Play-Doh creations come to life virtually in ways beyond imagination.” Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far, because these creations are within the boundaries of imagination, but in some pretty unexpected and unusual ways.
The way this app works is reasonably simple. The user, which will probably not be a five-or-younger child (more likely a curious adult), molds a figure from a blob of real Play-Doh, and then places their creation on a while background; for $40.00, they, or their parents, can purchase a deluxe kit which includes a pricey white circle. The next step is taking a picture of their creation with their phone or tablet’s camera. In a few seconds, the static Play-Doh creation will magically come to life, ready for some creative storytelling against a video-game-like cartoon background provided by the app. According to an Engadget review of this app, users who want to invest their money in the Studio option “can also use stamps to create balloons, wings, musical notes and potions to make the characters fly, dance and multiply” (I guess the less said about this the better). Further, these characters “differ in style based on the color of the Play-Doh. For instance, using different hues for the music note changes the background song to which your creature dances.” Try doing that with a (now) old-fashioned lump of inactive Play-Doh.
Not having a can of Play-Doh handy when I installed the Touch app in my iPad put me at a disadvantage. For some reason, the picture I took of my fountain pen left a lot to be desired when it was transformed into a rather dull animated figure. I guess you have to use real Play-Doh in order for the app to work its magic. Touch seems to me a variation of the popular Aurasma app that allows users to designate a “target” object that comes alive with videos and text when the user hovers his or her camera over it.
Needless to say, the Play-Doh Touch app has already brought out the usual suspects of critics who worry that it will take its users away from the “real world” of outdoor play and face-to-face interaction. We’ve heard all this before. But this time there are certain experts who are now assuring us that a moderate amount of “screen time” will not harm our delicate and impressionable children. Why do we never seem to worry about how adults are going to be affected by all these gadgets? In a very informative Family Opinion column about this new app, Sohaila Abdulali informs us that “’Screen time’ has, after all, become the demon of our times. Our grandparents worried about polio; our parents worried about television; and we worry iThis, iThat, and iOther will turn our kids into zombies.” Abdulali admits that “Yet I look around myself, and the kids I see are way smarter than I ever was” (a sentiment that is confirmed by Steven Johnson in his influential and very wise book, EVERYTHING BAD IS GOOD FOR YOU). And we should be relieved that the American Association of Pediatrics “has revised its screen guidelines” to assure us that sensible amounts of screen time might indeed be beneficial to our offspring and their friends. We should, after all, apply a little common sense to what we allow our children to do. According to Abdulali, “letting your preschooler browse Tinder for an hour probably isn’t the best use of her time, but then neither is playing outside in traffic where there are no screens.” Of course, as we all know, there are plenty of screens outside in traffic. Screens are everywhere, and we can rarely escape them.
All this new Play-Doh stuff is an example of what is being more and more described as “immersive reality.” In so many ways, we have gone beyond the restraints of “virtual reality,” because what used to be virtual is now all-too-real. Immersive reality erases the distinctions between what is real and what is make-believe. When a five-year-old child watches his or her Play-Doh creation come alive, he or she doesn’t divide the world into real and virtual but considers both the lump of Play-Doh and its animated counterpart to be ingredients in the same world. “Make-believe” has become the new real, and we should prepare to be immersed in this brave new world.
Play-Doh is an apt symbol of immersive reality because it has always been very malleable and “plastic,” giving its users permission to mold it in seemingly endless ways. Taking the step of making Play-Doh come alive on a screen is very understandable and even necessary. Who knows? Maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, when devices like Google Glass totally erase the boundaries between “real” and “virtual,” we might be waxing nostalgically over our memory of a time when our children had to stare into a screen to summon the world of virtual reality.
Hopefully, you will find time to create something imaginative with Play-Doh this week. Go ahead, awaken your inner child.
Looking forward to having you as a guest at Kelly’s Place again next week.