Mr Dammler, have classic toys like dolls, building blocks and board games been completely ousted by the digital revolution?
No, children still play with conventional toys, though games consoles were top of children’s wish lists at the start of this millennium, with boys for instance preferring them to construction toys. Things have changed now, partly because classic toys have been redesigned to incorporate trends such as Star Wars. Now they coexist peacefully. You will still find boys playing with the good old toy cars, and wooden train sets are still much-loved by the little ones. Board games, card games and puzzles are popular, to some extent because they are something kids can do with their parents. Cuddly toys continue to play an important psychological role. That said, children tend to move on from conventional toys at an earlier age because electronic gadgets are sooner or later felt to be cooler.
Are there national differences when it comes to toys?
Germans typically like to buy “toy systems” – in other words, we start off with something like a Barbie doll or Playmobil and then keep buying more and more from the same series. We are hardwired to go for long-lasting toys, which is why no other country has such a thriving second-hand toy market.
Has the way boys and girls play changed after years of gender debate?
Even though some may not like to hear it, my extensive experience of researching children and young people tells me that the way children play is characterized by gender-specific preferences. In other words, girls have much more fun caring for dolls or playing with a toy farm. Boys aren’t interested in this type of play – they are more competitive. For years people have sought to dismiss these differences, but I found that children follow these patterns no matter which toys they are offered by their parents. What is more, the toy industry reinforces these basic preferences.
And what was your favourite toy?
I was a fan of Lego as a child, and still am – I built the Taj Mahal with 6,000 pieces, and the Eiffel Tower. My next challenge will be the Sydney Opera House.
Nuremberg International Toy Fair from 29 January to 3 February 2014