I was at the mall the other day and walked by a Build-a-bear workshop, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. Have people seen these? They’re really creepy. Like, the premise is you come in and assemble a bear and design it to your specifications. That is a little weird but it’s not any weirder than, say, Project Aiko. No, what weirds me out is the Build-a-bear promise:
My bear is special
I brought it to life
I choose it
I stuffed it
Now I am taking it home
Best friends are forever
So I promise right now
To make my bear my
#1 PAL !
Have we heard this before? We sure have.
And really, considered in that light, the stores make a lot more sense – how better to recruit an army of willing soldiers than to indoctrinate kids when they’re young, get them to swear an oath of permanent loyalty and then, years later, the bears call in their favors.
Of course, there’s another obvious thing it’s like. (And for people who think I misspelled the post title, just consider The Berenstain Bears and the Hunchbacked Grave-Robber.)
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Or two words, to be precise.
I was thinking earlier about Hi-Ho! Cherry-O (as is so often the case). This and Candyland are generally accepted by parents as the worst board games ever invented. But now I’m thinking that is actually because of a misapprehension. See, they’re both educational games — Hi-Ho! Cherry-O is designed to teach counting and Candyland is designed to teach color matching or sugar addiction or something. Which means the intent is for an actual developable skill to be involved. Which means they’re sports, not games. So in this context it is perfectly sensible that they’re lame for parents — it’s like complaining that tee ball is insufficiently challenging.
There are two obvious ways to fix this. One would be to fix these two up so they are at a more appropriate skill level. Like Candyland could have more sophisticated color gradients a la this arrangement test. Or Hi-Ho! Cherry-O could have a spinner with things like “Add cherries equal to the largest prime factor of 600851475143.”
But what’s more interesting to me is the idea of adding some kind of meta-game layer on top which the parents would appreciate. So, say, what about Fantasy Candyland? Get together with the other parents at preschool and form a league, draft kids and then report results back to the PTA. Suddenly your games become much more gripping — you have $50 riding on Billy down the street drawing a blue in the next two cards. The only problem is if Billy just can’t perform up to standards and keeps trying to eat the cards, there’s nothing much you can do about it — you can’t send somebody down to the minors when they are a minor.