Toys-to-life games an opportunity to teach kids about digital security: Deakin research

Media release
18 January 2018

The toys-to-life figurines that filled stockings this Christmas, such as Nintendo’s amiibo, are giving children mixed messages about digital security, Deakin University research has found.

The study by Dr Thomas Apperley, digital learning researcher with Deakin School of Education’s Research for Educational Impact team, has highlighted the impact the playful use of data has on how young people understand data security.

The issue of data security was found through an analysis of popular contemporary toys-to-life gadgets and figurines available in Australia, including Lego Dimension and the Ozmo app, and supplemented by detailed examination of the promotional materials for the toys, including print and video sources.

Dr Apperley said with the ‘Internet of Toys’ a fast growing phenomenon, the ways children interact with toys is changing and therefore requires careful consideration from parents and educators.

“Many people are familiar with limiting screen time, however, it is even more important that parents and other responsible adults talk to children about what they are doing with those screens, including when playing games,” he said.

“While these devices are wonderful for teaching and entertainment, they also provide an important opportunity for adults to support young people in developing a reasoned and responsible understanding of data-sharing that keeps them in control of what data they share.

“The safety impact of sharing intimate details over smart phones is drummed into teenagers by parents and teachers, yet toys-to-life figurines tell young people a surprisingly different story, that sharing data is fun and that it improves their experience of the device.”

Digital toys like amiibos are physical figurines that are brought to life with compatible video games that enable players able to interact with the characters.

“The study indicates that we need to better understand what toys that involve the transfer of data between devices teach children and young people about how to value data and when to collect and share it,” Dr Apperley said.

“The data transfer takes place in a playful environment, characterised by trusted iconic figures, and choosing to use the toys-to-life figurines in this way instantly creates multiple small rewards.

“While the data itself is relatively trivial, we need to be aware of what the process of embedding this transfer in a playful exchange is telling impressionable young people about how they should treat an invitation from a digital platform to share their data.”

These findings are part of a larger Australian Research Council funded study between Deakin and the University of Melbourne which examines the impact of video game characters (or avatars) on everyday computer use.

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Media release Faculty of Arts and Education, School of Education Research for Educational Impact (REDI)