Friday, April 15, 2011

Kidzania: Work as Play

This is the most fascinating thing I've read this week, an article about a chain of theme-parks for kids where they can play at... real life! State of Play

Right now, in eight malls spread across three continents, thousands of children are dressed as pilots and flying digital planes from mock cockpits, anchoring news broadcasts in fully functional TV studios, or wearing helmets and extinguishing faux flames with real water cannons. This is KidZania, a multinational chain of family entertainment centers, where kids try out professions that have been downsized, simplified, and made fun. At these soccer field-size franchises in malls from Tokyo to Lisbon, children play at being adults. Children can play surgeon, detective, journalist, courier, radio host, and dozens more jobs. They can buy and sell goods at the KidZania supermarket, take KidZania currency that they earn to an operational bank staffed with adult tellers, and be security guards escorting KidZania currency around the park. They can assemble burgers and pizzas, which they can then eat, or give makeovers to other paying children. At the planned KidZania Santiago, Chile, minors will be able to play at being miners. One-size-fits-all costumes supersize the cute factor. The result of all this is mass-produced adorability.
I'm sure when I was a kid I would have thought this was really cool-- it's like a miniaturized world where you can do "real stuff." But there are pros and cons. It's good that it teaches kids about earning money at a job and using that money to buy things. But it's a little creepy that the corporate sponsorship makes it seem like kids are being indoctrinated into a branded world. Also, as critics have pointed out, it's not very creative. By putting kids in an environment where everything has been realistically reproduced, you leave nothing left for them to imagine. Kids can happily use a cardboard box to play restaurant or bank or doctor's office, without McDonald's or HSBC or Crest having to sponsor it. Also, visiting KidZania is pretty expensive-- in Tokyo, it costs $150 for a family of 4, which seems a little steep given all the advertising you're subjected to. What do you think? Would you take your kids to KidZania?


Anonymous said...

letting a little kid pretend to be a coal miner withiut all the real life danger of that job,there's an idea allright.

fiwa said...

Maybe as a one-time treat. I'd have some reservations besides just the price to more than once.

poe said...

I think there's one not too far from where I live. What happened to the days of playing in the garden and using your imagination? Kids nowadays need to remain kids for as long as they can...they're growing up too fast already.

serverpronto said...

There are so many things to remember and they do slip your mind after a while. A post like this brings them back, thanks

Anonymous said...

It's unlikely that I would take my kids there. I have seen similar set ups at children's museums and my kids were entertained for maybe 15 minutes.

On the other hand, as kids my sisters and I assembled an entire play grocery store using cans opened upside down, resealed empty cardboard food boxes, washed milk bottles, and monopoly money. We used dress-ups to attire ourselves as grown up shoppers and cashiers. We spent every day for months building our grocery store inventory and repurposing items as carts, shelves, cash registers, etc. It was incredibly absorbing and entertaining for us.

What this enterprise fails to realize is that it's the conceiving and building of an imaginary world that offers the most creative fun for kids. Not playing in a fake world with pre-set parameters. Watch any group of children engaged in imaginative play and see how much longer they spend setting up the game as opposed to playing it.