World building: How do you play?

Have you seen the newest Monopoly game, the electronic banking edition, where players swipe their debit cards to pay for property, taxes, etc…   What did you think?

My gut reaction—Yikes, playing with credit card look-alikes, how can that be good for raising kids?  The rational me reaction—No  surprise. Play mirrors life.  Hard to imagine that our grandchildren will even remember money.  Instead of buying Boardwalk with the roll of a square, plastic die, children playing Monopoly of the future may take a holographic site tour of Martian biodomes and have to calculate Martian-Earth exchange rates to create their intergalactic real estate empire.

And what about sex?  (Where are you going with this Sabrina, you ask.).  Toys depend upon and help shape our sense of touch (e.g. teddy bears, scrabble letters, monopoly pieces, baseballs etc…). They involve the hands and body by definition and develop our sensuality and sense of play.  So if play all happens through a remote, will sex in the future need one as well? Actually, if you look at current game control design, yeah, over there, hmmmm.  And then there’s the joy stick.  Anyhoo, I’ve digressed enough.

Children’s toys and games don’t often find their way into grown up entertainment. When they do show up, they’re not really about having fun.  In Star Next Generation Unification II, we meet a 24th century toy—Vulcan language dice, used by the Romulan Unificationists to teach their children Vulcan. Keeping the unification dream alive, toys are a political statement.  And these were Spock’s toys as a child which explains an awful lot. I adore Spock and the Vulcans, but let’s face it, they’re not a hell of a lot of fun.  Toys will tell.

Designing toys and play is fun part of world building even if they don’t actually show up in our final drafts.  I’ve found when I get stuck with a character, delving into their childhood–how they were parented, how they played, the toys they used—can breathe life into their personality and quirks and drives.

So how about you, any examples of other worldly toys you’d love to get your hands on or toys of the future you know are coming down the pipeline?   You are invited to play along.


  1. I haven’t come up with any specific toys to go in the worlds I’ve built, though I do have a supporting character in my D&D game who is a priest and former toy maker tending to a community of refugees. Whenever he shows up, he is always repairing some toy or other… I also made him bearded and rotund with a booming laugh… and then realized I had inadvertantly introduced Santa Claus into my game world.

    Here’s his bio:

    1. Thanks. Great imagery for world building. Yep, Boisterous with booming voice, even religious figure taps right into the St. Nick image. It’s hard to picture Santa as an authority figure but then an elf might have a different opinion. Its funny and fun how often we tap into our childhood to make our adulthood more fun (maybe more familiar?).

  2. Interesting question, Sabrina. The only sci-fi kids I have written about are from an as yet unpublished YA novel, Journey to the Other, in which two shipwrecked human children are raised by a cerebral race called The One and Onlies. Their Caregiver, assigned to the children, does the best he can, and teaches them more than they realize at first, but the children have no toys, and are raised in a rather colorless world. Sometimes Caspy scratches pictures of home on the wall of The Nursery, and to her they have all the colors of her childhood on Earth. And there are soft wormlike creatures that have a symbiotic relationship with The One and Onlies–they keep their world clean–and the children cuddle them and play with them.

    1. Fascinating story Naomi. I love the cry for color in a colorless world and the ability of a human child to always find a way to draw. To me, your comments underscore my point–not having toys has a significant impact on how children grow. That’s a variant on types of toys having an impact. I use these ideas to develop worlds and characters. In one of my current WIPs the heroine grew up in the equivalent of a mechanics’s garage and played with tools. It shows in her adulthood.

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