The growth of electronic toys can best be seen in the simple game called Battleship. The game was invented in the early 1900s for paper and pencil and became a board game in the 1930s that still made use of paper and pencil. In the last ten years, electronic versions of Battleship have been created for all the major gaming consoles, for the PC and for mobile phones. The board game version is now battery-powered and emits sounds.
Most electronic toys have grown as new versions of old toys. Dolls move and talk, four-wheeled vehicles are remote-controlled and train sets are fully automated and operated from a computer – the games of a century ago are reborn with electronics.
Gaming systems are the most obvious category of electronic toys. What started as a minor outgrowth of the personal computer industry has become a major industry on its own. Today, there are anywhere from four to seven competing brands of video game consoles and handheld gaming systems, depending on which corporations have merged. Each brand markets its own line of cartridges and plug-in games, some of which are universal across all brands and some which are specific to one brand only.
If you’re a parent, don’t worry about having to evaluate and choose from the myriad choices out there for gaming consoles, from black-and-white to full-colour – your child will tell you which one is the one to get. But do be vigilant about the specific games- read the online reviews to see if the content is appropriate for your child. And there’s more than games available – check out the ones for exercise, dancing and other skills.
Books were always a wonderful present for a child, immersing the youngster in another world as they used their new-found skill of reading. Electronics has altered the book too, with portable readers and e-books. Children can read their favourite comics, learn to cook from cookbooks and catch up on the latest in that new Young Adult series. Some specialised readers are being marketed for younger children that add pictures, animations, videos, music and voice-over narrations.
Continuing on from the e-book, there are now kiddie personal computers and mobile phones that mimic accurately the adult versions. Children, after all, love to imitate their parents. So, they’ll love being able to type on a keyboard, use a mouse, email their friends and relatives, and cruise the Internet (with strict parental controls, of course) on a fully-functional computer with a simplified user interface for the child.
Puzzles and card games have also passed over into the electronic realm. Memory games, poker and blackjack, and what psychologists would call exercises in pattern-recognition skills are all now available in electro-powered form.
Finally there are those electronic toys that surprise even those familiar with electronics and jaded to novelty: real robots. The most common toy available now in this category is the robot puppy, who walks, sits, rolls over and barks. We haven’t yet seen robots that could pass for humans, but there are some that look like they could have stepped out of the latest summer blockbuster movie.