The traditional idea behind video games is that you face a challenge that you have to beat and entertain yourself in the process. But what happens when you get rid of the first part of that equation and focus on just enjoying yourself and experimenting with no particular goal? Fundamentally, if you have a good starting point, you can build proper virtual toys without actually ‘gamifying’ any part of the process. Toca Boca is a studio focused on this idea, and you can get a good idea of what their apps are like with Toca Kitchen 2, their latest free kids ‘game’ for Android.
Giving a kid a goal is a great way to stimulate their problem-solving capacity and discipline, but at certain ages there’s no need to infuse this idea into every single play activity. Sometimes it’s good to play with no other aim than simply to stimulate the imagination. Differentiating between games and ‘digital entertainment’ can be complicated and in fact even trying the define both concepts is often murky, but a quick look a Toca Boca’s product list shows that there are a lot of titles in the latter category.
Toca Kitchen is a game where you must use your culinary skills to cook for and feed a pleasant dinner guest. You can grab any food items from the fridge and cook them however you want: fry, slice, boil, or grill them. All of this while is done while enjoying attractive graphics and an intuitive and easy touch control system regarding the movements made and the effects achieved. Apart from observing the reactions of approval (or disgust) of your guests as they’re eating, there’s really no other goal or purpose aside from being creative with your dishes. Obviously, an adult would discard the app within a few minutes, but a child would see it as a fun opportunity to play with their own toy kitchen set. No ads, no in-game purchases. It’s not about that.
The so-called ‘godgames’ are an interesting subgenre among sandbox games, also developed to allow free roaming and a focus on creativity. Although visually not so brilliant, The Sandbox is an interesting game of experimentation where you can modify the terrain as desired and see how the different natural elements interact. The recommended age could perhaps be a bit higher than what appears on the games from Toca Boca, but it’s in the ballpark.