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'Worst Toy of the Year' Deserves the Title

Casey Woods
Miami Herald
May 22, 2010

When I was a kid, my mother worried about my older brother playing Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game involving warlocks and wizards engaged in extremely complicated quests that seemed to drag on forever. My mom thought it would turn my brother into a homebody and, frankly, a weirdo.

Her concern seems kind of quaint today. Because now we have things like AddictingGames.com, a website featuring such wholesome fare as Perry the Sneak, where users are encouraged to think like a peeping Tom so they can ``help this dude catch some lurid looks at the ladies.'' Or Man Hunter, which urges gamers to ``use bait to lure unsuspecting victims and keep your kill count high!'' Fun!

Lest you think these are fringe offerings, AddictingGames.com is owned by Nickelodeon, which promotes it on websites geared toward preschoolers. There's the link, in the ``Kids and Family'' section, right below Dora the Explorer story time and the Moose & Zee singalongs. Click through and you'll find Kitten Cannon, where, with a touch of a button, players can impale a small cat on a bed of spikes. Awesome!

For its unique contribution to encouraging our toddlers to tap their inner psychopath, AddictingGames.com recently earned a special honor: It was voted the worst toy of the year by supporters of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy organization. For that distinction, the website earned a TOADY award, which stands for ``Toys Oppressive and Destructive to Young Children.'' Let's hear a round of applause, please.

The competition was stiff this year, though. One contender was a 50-piece action-figure set modeled on the Halo video game series, which is rated Mature for all the blood and guts. But why wait until you're 17 to indulge in homicidal fantasies?

Another finalist was the Barbie Doll'd Up Nails digital printer, which helps aspiring divas create their own custom manicures. It's never too early to start developing these cosmetic skills.

My personal favorite was the Little Tikes Young Explorer, a tot-sized replica of an office cubicle, complete with a flat panel LCD monitor, a keyboard and cabinet space for supplies. What better way to prepare for a future of soul-sapping drudgery? And all for only $2,599!

But unfortunately, it didn't stand a chance against AddictingGames.com. The website had it all: sexual predation, animal cruelty, gratuitous violence -- just about every vice known to humankind. It won by a landslide, receiving almost two-thirds of the 5,000 online votes.

``Parents were appalled and horrified,'' said Josh Golin, associate director of the campaign. ``Why go outside and entertain yourself when you can play video games like these?''

Remember when play involved leaving the house and actually moving your body? Remember hopscotch and capture the flag? And Red Rover and dodge ball? How great was it to interact with all your buddies and expend loads of energy and arrive home hungry and thirsty and exhausted?

I suppose those old pastimes are just no match for modern inventions like Naughty Babysitter, in which an adolescent boy uses a variety of tactics to strip his nanny down to her panties. The game ends when he trips her and she lands on top of him. Sweet!

Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler notes that most of AddictingGames.com's content is decent and healthy, and that the preschooler websites that link to it are designed for kids to navigate with their parents, not alone. ``The majority of those games, with no exaggeration, are absolutely appropriate for all ages,'' he said. ``There is a small number of edgy games on the site, and I don't believe young kids are playing those.''

Nickelodeon's slogan, trumpeted on websites and television programs, is ``Giving Kids a Place to Be Kids.'' The company's corporate message-makers say that their media empire is the only one that ``puts kids first.'' The voters in the worst-toy-of-the-year contest think that's nonsense.


 

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