The Many Faces of Fun:
A Look at the Common Threads that Connect Great Experiences for Kids

Growing up I was fortunate to have parents that enjoyed reading stories aloud (with voices). One of my favorites was a Sesame Street Book called “The Many Faces of Ernie“. In this particular book, Ernie orders a disguise kit and tries to hide his identity from Bert. But Bert knows that no matter how fantastic the costume, underneath the facade is his old pal Ernie.

This is a fitting metaphor for the shifting media landscape our industry currently occupies. The mediums may have have changed, but the core experiences remain the same. In this entry we will take a look at pairs of experiences (one old and one new) and explore the common desires they tap into.

By examining the core desires that drive these experiences, we hope to empower the creative professionals that shape online experiences for kids. It’s easy to get caught up chasing trends or buzzworthy emerging platforms. But meaningful experiences start from the ground up – what does our audience want? What do they enjoy?

But it’s not that simple. If we gave kids everything they wanted, we’d end up with a bunch of malnourished xBox monsters that communicate only in lolspeak. We have a responsibility to market ethically to kids. It’s easy to prey on the insecurities of young people, but we owe the next generation of citizens quality experiences that rise above the bullying and popularity contests that plague grade school life.

Let’s look at at some popular experiences for kids and the motivators they share.
The desire to make something from nothing is a uniquely human attribute. This desire is especially strong in children. In a world governed by parents and teachers, kids want to create things they can define and control. A Lego town to lord over, a MineCraft landscape built to their liking.

In the days before excess litigation, kids could fling windpipe-sized projectiles at each other in an attempt to knock down their opponent’s defenses. Why? Because it’s fun to make things fall over! This is the driving force (of gravity) behind bowling, Jenga, and the medium-sized economy that is Angry Birds. Examining and fine tuning the way we connect with the physical world is interesting.

While some rare baseball cards have monetary worth, most of a collectible’s value is emotional (take a look at the pitiful prices these full card sets are fetching). A collection provides the basis for a hobby, and a list of things to hunt for. Kids like to measure themselves against others. This competitive spirit can be spun in a positive or negative direction (they can be encouraged to improve, or they can be deflated).

Humans are social creatures, and that socialization process begins at a young age. Connecting to others defines our standing in the pack and provides a support structure.

So what does it all mean? It means that in a world that is constantly changing, some things remain the same. Kids have always wanted to build, to form bonds, to be surprised, and most of all, they want to have fun. It also means that if you don’t understand and empathize with your audience, you wont connect with them successfully.

Before you schedule your next brainstorm, take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:

Who are we trying to reach?

What do they love? hate? need? want?

What do we want them to do? What will spur them to action?

What kind of experience will make our client happy, and aid in the development of this young person?

You will find that with a little insight and a lot of empathy you are able to create experiences that not only accomplish your business goals, they advance the world of online experiences for kids.