I played with dolls when I was young. I played with Barbie, paper dolls, and when I got to go to my cousin’s house I played with her most wonderful doll house for *hours*. Oh, how I coveted that doll house! And for me, playing with dolls was not a lesson in consequences, but a lesson in free play and wild imagination. My dolls could fly, teleport to different rooms, ignore someone, or sit in the kitchen until I was ready to play again. There were no consequences for leaving them alone for too long. I did not have to worry that they would cry themselves to death or starve or be taken away by cyber social workers. There was no place for that in my free play. I was able to drop the game and go play outside for a while, secure in the knowledge that things would be as I left them when I came back in, or finished dinner.
I just read a slashdot post about girls giving up their dolls for the SIMS.
philgross writes “According to the New York Times, lots of girls and younger teens are abandoning their dolls for the Sims. Says one professor, “We leave most of the social work in our society to women and The Sims lets young girls, in particular, work out their desires and conflicts about those relationships.” Says another, “Children generally want to create characters, but with girls we see them wanting to create a friend.” Meanwhile, says Will Wright, boys will “do the same stupid thing over and over again and be happy,” (and I wince looking at my vast collection of first-person shooters). The article does quote one 10-year-old boy who plays with Sims, and has learned valuable life lessons. “I learned don’t leave your baby crying or people will come take your baby away.”" And I learned that if you lock Sims in your upstairs torture chamber, with no tiles to sit, they eventually cry themselves to death.
As a former drama teacher, I am fully aware of the importance of roll playing. It is a vital part of a child’s development. But just as the paperless office is an over inflated myth, so is the paperless doll. The affordances of free play and SIMS play are too different to lose any sleep over the possible abandonment of traditional dolls.