ITRA | Paris

What can’t be a toy?

EXCERPT | Introduction

What are the formal properties of toys?

Curiously, formal toy definitions have received less scholarly attention than formal game definitions.  While Suits (2005), Caillois (1961), and Huizinga (1955) are commonly cited in an ongoing debate on the nature of games, formal or otherwise, there is no analogous canon of theory and theorists — and comparatively little available literature — on the formal properties of toys. This reveals a critical difference in common conceptualizations of games and toys: While the form of the game intrigues us, the form of the toy is considered less critical and therein, perhaps, less interesting.  Indeed, it might be assumed that any formal object can be played with as a toy and, as a consequence of that playing, become a toy.

But this assumption has complications. Some objects are banned from becoming toys, regardless of their playability: “dangerous” objects. For instance, while current commercial classifications of “toy” are quite broad (and based more on function rather than form)…

Products designed or intended, whether or not exclusively, for use in play by children under 14 years of age.

Council of the Safety of Toys, 2009, p. 11

…these definitions are inevitably qualified with exceptions, prominently including “essential safety requirements.” These requirements clarify important formal properties — both material and conceptual — that exclude some objects from becoming toys.

Another significant — and less culturally determined — complication to the notion that any object can become a toy is found in those objects that, if and when they are played with as toys, are destroyed.  These include physically delicate objects as well as conceptually delicate objects such as models, simulations, and games.

This essay examines the formal properties of those objects excluded from becoming toys in order to more clearly delineate, if any such exist, the formal properties of toys.  These properties of toys then allow speculation on the limits and boundaries of toys: How might these be determined and manipulated?

preliminary slides [pptx]