I don’t have kids, don’t want kids, but I do have a certain fascination with toys. It probably stems back to the ’80s when the toy supplement to the Sears catalog arrived each year, conveniently timed to show up a few months before Christmas. I would comb through every page of that thing — well, every page that was not for girls or babies — thinking and dreaming and memorizing all the specs. All the kids looked so happy playing with their new Transformers and the Star Wars figures and vehicles. I wanted all of them. I earmarked the pages containing the taller-than-a-kid Space Warp marble track, and especially the Omnibot 2000. (Neither of which I ever received.) But my favorite toys were always related to building and learning.
As an adult I do not buy very many toys (and by extension, gadgets), but I always have to stop at the science museum gift shop. I keep up to date on the latest gizmos. It is no coincidence that most stuff coming out of my 3D printer tends to be toys, trinkets, puzzles, and geometric oddities.
Certain toys jump out at me more than others. Since becoming aware of STE[A]M (Science, Technology, Engineering, [Art,] and Math), I now pay special attention to toys that try to break girls out of the pink aisle at Toys-Я-Us. Last year that was Goldie Blox, which combines storytelling with engineering. Just this week it is Faire Play: Barbie-Compatible 3D Printed Medieval Armor from an internet friend, Zheng3, on Kickstarter. I have mentioned him a few other times on this blog. Notably, he developed Seej, the 3D printable tabletop battle game that reminds me of another favorite 80s game, Crossbows and Catapults. My own small contribution to the game was a modular penny catapult I designed two years ago.
Zheng3’s Kickstarter project is to design 3D printable medieval armor for Barbie dolls. I see this as being a great transition to help girls ease their doll play from “let’s go shopping,” “let’s cook dinner,” or even “some day Prince Charming will come” to a much more active and kick-ass “let’s fight that nasty dragon and save the village.” In addition to the straight-up costume play, I would hope the 3D-printed aspect might be an extra inspiration. Maybe the kids have direct access to a 3D printer — be it a parent’s, at a friend’s house, or the Cube printer at the local Office Depot — and see the armor being printed, hopefully leading to curiosity into how the 3D printer works. Or maybe they’re inspired to see they can modify toys in their own custom ways, whether it is by inventing their own 3D models or more low-tech, like molding in Fimo clay.
He’s already developed and released The Athena Makeover Kit (pictured on the right), which includes spear, shield, and winged boots. The thing I find kind of interesting is how strangely misshapen and bloated the boots look. Go ahead — click through to the Thingiverse page and select the boot model thumbnail image. Careful eyes will see that Barbie’s feet are pre-molded for high-heel shoes. The outstretched foot is not very compatible with boots, so the boots had to adapt, had to become more bulky at the ankle.
So whether you have kids who play with Barbies or whether you just like the spirit of the project, I’d encourage you to contribute a few dollars to his kickstarter: http://kck.st/Ol1Bid