Let’s Really Play

Entertainment Geek Culture Toys Videogames
On a play Street, N.Y.
Photo: Library of Congress

My son is eight and he’s been watching kid-friendly Minecraft videos on YouTube for at least a couple of years. His favorites are Paul Soares Jr. and TheDiamondMinecart. For a while, our two-year-old would wander by the television and wonder if her brother was playing the game. It was confusing for her.

Then we stumbled on the strange, hypnotic world of toy unboxing videos. Whispering, faceless entities—usually women, but there are a couple of guys—unwrap toys from their packaging, and then play with them on camera. You only see their perfectly-manicured hands as they calmly free the plastic trinkets from cellophane and cardboard. They’ll act out scenes with the toys, which at least elevates the whole exercise a little bit from the crass consumerism it would otherwise be. Considering how popular the videos are, I wonder if the impact on sales hasn’t been felt by the toy manufacturers.

Any toys are fair game, but these YouTubers are in love with blind box packaging. Kinder eggs and mystery minifigures offer an illicit thrill: you don’t know what’s inside, but you’re about to find out! Spoiler alert: it’s probably a chunk of cheap plastic crap.

Want to turn a regular toy into a blind reveal? Just wrap it in Play-Doh. These people love Play-Doh. Don’t get me wrong. Play-Doh is fun, but… well… just watch this. I apologize in advance.

In case you missed it, yes. She said, “Before we open up her eyeballs, let’s open up a blind box!” Poor Twilight Sparkle.

I think a lot of parents have a hard time understanding the concept of Let’s Play video. Last week, the writers of South Park spent a whole episode trying to explain it to their viewers. At this point, I wonder how worthwhile these entertainment options are for my kids. As a parent, I’m supposed to guide my kids to independence. To self-reliance, to finding their own joy, to crafting their own amazing stories, art, and creations. And watching other people create is an important step. I’m just not sure I want my kids learning it mostly from random YouTubers.

I totally get it. Since their invention, screens have been an easy way to keep kids occupied while their parents do other stuff. Most of us rely on them from time to time. And watching people play has been a key part of development since the beginning of time. Personally, I just want to make sure that my kids’ memories of these formative times consist mostly of people they actually know. Which is why I tell the kids to turn off YouTube for awhile, so we can hop on our Minecraft server together. Why I make yummy food and princess dresses with Play-Doh, and build cars and houses in Lego.

It’s why I turn off the screens, from time to time, and tell the kids, “Let’s play.”

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