By Sally B. And Haruu S.
Just in case anyone cares, this is a minute-by- minute record of how I (Sally) have spent the past 10 minutes:
I get the idea to open up Toca Lab, which was downloaded a few weeks ago and relegated to the children’s game folder on my iPad.
The app loads and I see a yellowish blobby shape that’s a hybrid between a marshmallow and a gum drop.
He’s chillin’ like a villain in some lab-lookin’-place.
After several tentative and rather timid taps at the screen, I have a staring contest with the blobby shape, who is proudly and solitarily jiggling in place, issuing strange grunts and groans at regular intervals.
I get the brilliant idea to drag the blob to random places on the screen, and am rewarded with a vision of Blobby (Toca??) in a beaker (or some other science glassware that I always forget the name of, but which I own at least a dozen of in the Secret Lab)…
Over a flame…
Where he’s apparently being cooked by one of those lamps they have in a lab?!!?
After my wheezing fit wraps up, I notice that poor Toca hath taken the shape of a cotton ball (which inexplicably resembles an opera singer, at the moment).
The grunts and groans have been replaced by a fresh assembly of disturbing sound effects.
Minute eight, following the alcohol-burner-thing scene, I find that Toca hath been deposited in some delicatessen-looking machine.
Soon after this episode and the next, it would seem that Toca has become a black block and a sparkly, bluish lump.
OK, it’s safe again. Calm down, Sally.
Fine, here is what I have gleaned from my first 10 minutes with Toca Lab: it would appear that Toca is some lab specimen that the player is supposed to interact with in various ways, in order to change the eponymous lump into various states.
For a second, I’d been convinced that we were going to go through the entire periodic table, until I realized that, while we were, indeed, freezing Toc with nitrogen, we were also cooking him with flames and electrocuting with, well, electricity.
So it would seem that it’s not the Table, though we did encounter nitrogen (and the carbon that was represented by that shiny black block, ostensibly).
I sort of don’t know what to say about this game, by the way; on one hand, it’s quite clever, and a memorable manner of learning how things can change state based on what they’re exposed to.
On the other hand, we have a blob that is not-inanimate–a blob that smiles and jumps around and makes annoying caveman sounds, but a “living” blob, nevertheless–being subjected to a flame and a burst of electricity and a flood of nitrogen.
By the PLAYER, no less, who may, very well be a child (based on where it was in the App Store, anyway).
Just in case you missed the last five minutes, let me put it more plainly: this game seems to be teaching children about chemistry… by having the kiddies cook and freeze and electrocute a blob that is not inanimate.
You might be thinking, well, don’t we cook and freeze chickens and cows all the time?
Some people do, yes.
But as far as I know, chickens and cows are dead when they are cooked.
Then again, the farmers, ranchers, or whomever do have to kill the animals, and some people kill fish or go hunting on their own. (Some even teach their kids to hunt, etc. very early on, or so I’ve read.) And God did allow humans to consume animals. So…?
So, there you have it. The game is either a creative tool for teaching about chemistry, or it’s “an app that asks a player (who might just be a three-year-old) to fry a cute little blob.”
A blob that the developers took great pains to present as smiling at (and even luxuriating in) the lab experiments, but an experimented-upon-living-creature, nonetheless.
(So, is he smiling to make it seem less frightening and/or forceful/torturous, or because he actually feels as though they’re, like, spa treatments or something?
Hmm. Food for thought, to be sure. Though I won’t be chowing down at the moment, for I may have lost my appetite, oddly enough…
Full disclosure: reviewing this app wasn’t even my idea, actually; in fact, I’d never heard of it until Haruu sent a frantic message about “ethical violations in children’s play,” and “a disturbing premise that would freak out my little ones or turn them into Hitlers 2 and 3!”
So I went into this thing blind, and you’ve just read my account of the first ten minutes.
Who do I agree with, then?
Stay tuned and find out in Toca Lab Review–Part II.
(Dum dum dummmmmm.)