Katriina Heljakka

University of Turku
Toy play as a type of object play is traditionally associated with children’s employment of various toys in their play scenarios. Again, adults as toy players are most often perceived as toy collectors, but interaction with toy types with a face, e.g. dolls, action figures and soft toys does not limit itself to the seemingly goaloriented – even competitive – and thus rule-bound activity of hunting, gathering and organizing of the toys, in other words, building a collection.

This paper/presentation continues the work of the author as presented at the Sharing the Play seminar at University of Jyväskylä in 2015 by exploring the creative and collective nature of adult fantasies in play with character toys. Adult engagement and relationships to toys and their interaction, creativity and collective fantasizing with contemporary toys is a new area of research exploring a previously ephemeral but now emerging phenomenon. Adult toy play is brought forward and is thus more perceivable than ever through new technologies and social media: Mature audiences of toys actively perform and document play in physical environments, then share their play (e.g. photoplay, toy photography or toy-related videos) in the changing media landscapes of digital playscapes such as Flickr, Instagram, YouTube or Facebook.

Play scholar Brian Sutton-Smith has expressed a concern for modern toys as limiting themselves mostly to the ideals of romanticism and commercialism (1997). He has spoken of toys as artefacts that support solitary forms of play as opposed to social play. Furthermore, Sutton-Smith says that children’s and adults’ play are quite different – that of children being open, or creative, and that of adults being closed, or reactive (SuttonSmith 1997, 19). In this presentation, the idea of the toy as a commercial and romanticized object that promotes solitary play first and foremost among children, and the notion of the reactive nature of adult play will be contested. The scope of the presentation lies first and foremost in how toys activate the imagination and enable fantastic play with toys at adult age. In terms of imaginative play, “to play is to create and then to inhabit a distinctive world of one’s own making”, notes play scholar Thomas Henricks (2008). One of the differences between the toy relations of children and adults is that while a child usually yearns for sensory engagement with the toy, an adult may also enjoy the toy in ‘silent dialogues’ with it. For the ‘everyday players’, e.g. character toys may, besides aesthetically pleasing objects, also function as companions, even avatarial (and in most cases fantastic and thus idealized) extensions of oneself. In a way, then, toys also function as portals to fantasized worlds that may be personal or socially shared. When employed as characters in socially shared imaginative scenarios, the toy relations of adults resemble other fannish relationships. What makes them different from most fan relations though, is the starting point for the fantasies: Here most likely a toy personality, which in its origin may or may not be a spin-off of another media product of the entertainment supersystem (Kinder1991), but nearly always creatively cultivated by the adult player(s) imaginations.