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Assuming for a second that our future won't be hijacked by shackle-breaking AIs, I'm planning a lighter segment in my story, which unfortunately for me involves children playing.

Now you would ask, what could be easier than children playing? Just give them a piece of chalk, a rivulet full of mud to skip around in, something. They'll keep themselves busy.

Yeah, sure, the problem is these kids are the grandchildren of people who are children today. What will they do for fun? How will they play? I'm thinking childish games (say ages 4-12), in a high-tech context. Kinda surprised this hasn't been asked already.

Any ideas?

And yes, I'm hoping they'll still occasionally skip stones or something, but I'm thinking some cool technotoys.

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closed as too broad by MichaelK, L.Dutch, Secespitus, Green, Azuaron Sep 28 '17 at 13:13

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a difficult one. My great grandmother could never have predicted that we play Skyrim and use iPhones. $\endgroup$ – Dan Hanly Jan 19 '15 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ No need to guess: they'll chew on skunks! Source: smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=760#comic $\endgroup$ – Ciacciu Jan 19 '15 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ Might want to have a look at magicleap.com IMO, augmented reality will be a big part of the future. $\endgroup$ – Ajedi32 Jan 19 '15 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ The elite 1% of our great-grandchildren will play with holographic AR/VR implants. The next 9% will have previous-generation wearable versions, and the bottom 90% of children will work 12 hour days, monitored by armed drones. $\endgroup$ – Foo Bar Jan 19 '15 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ My guess is hoop rolling, marbles, and stick ball. $\endgroup$ – Jason Hutchinson Jan 20 '15 at 21:11

17 Answers 17

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If my neighbors' grandkids are any guide, they'll play with the boxes and wrapping paper that all the fancy presents came in.

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    $\begingroup$ the box the robot came in? $\endgroup$ – hildred Jan 19 '15 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ I actually do not believe this is true. Or at least incomplete. If what came in the box is your new best friend, you are going to play with you new best friend (and maybe you'll include the boxes and wrappers in your gameplay) $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Jan 19 '15 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Sheraff: You may choose not to believe it, but it is based on my first-hand observation of the kids in question. The parents are divorced & remarried, so in addition to non-custodial parents trying to by affection, they have double the normal quota of grandparents, so they get a LOT of loot at Christmas. They unwrap it and spend the rest of the day mostly playing with the empty boxes & wrapping paper - assisted by half a dozen dogs. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 19 '15 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ I know, I have seen that too, but i'm trying to emphasize that once the "social" aspect (of robotic toys) will come into play, it will be very different. don't these kids play most of all with other kids before they play with wrappers? the robot toys will just be another kid there. $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Jan 19 '15 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Are their grandchildren also cats? That would really explain a lot. $\endgroup$ – Jason Hutchinson Jan 20 '15 at 21:13
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Sporting Equipment

  • What are the popular sports in your future? Children will likely play with the equipment for those sports. This doesn't need to change, although the quality of the children's equipment will be a function of wealth.
  • Add robots: while shooting free-throws by yourself might entertain some children, those who can afford to have a robot opponent when no other children are available will likely jump at the chance.
  • Add more robots: running after a stray ball is a chore. Let's build a robot ball that can roll/bounce/fly back to you when it goes out of bounds.

Make-believe

  • Dressing up and using various objects to pretend to be a chef, mechanic, soldier, or wizard is perennially enjoyable. Clothing and objects made for these purposes are generally enjoyed too (a stick can be a sword, but a plastic or foam sword is even better).
  • Add robots: Noise-making guns are fun. Laser tag is even better. How about robot friends that will form an enemy army for you and your friends to shoot?
  • Add holograms: Overlaying reality with illusions can make your make-believe even more believable.

Miniature Worlds

  • Toy cars, trains, etc. give you control over something too big/important/expensive for you to play with in normal circumstances. Arranging tableaus has also been enjoyed for some time.
  • Add robots: After setting up a road, how about the little toy cars drive around on them, stopping at intersections to let other robot cars pass, and generally creating a miniature world.
  • Add holograms: Improve the scenery of your little world with projected holograms.

Tabletop Games

  • Board games still get played now, even with computers.
  • Add robots and holograms: Virtual presence is already a thing. When it gets cheap enough, we may all have suites of robot stand-ins available to represent virtually-present guests. Playing no-tech board game with such high-tech stand-ins may not be the most odd thing future generations do.
  • Add robots and holograms in a different way: The clockwork elements of three-dimensional tabletop games are usually gimmicks rather than essentials to the gameplay, but if done well, there might be some fun and exciting possibilities. (See Khet for an example of using simple technology to add a real gameplay element.)

Arts and Crafts

  • Drawing, sculpting, etc. are not going away.
  • Add 3D scanners and printers: After making a sculpture in dough, scan it and print a solid, long-lasting copy. Maybe skip the dough and just design it in a computer and print out your artwork.

Virtual Reality

  • Videos and video games aren't going away.
  • Virtual Reality: I don't think we're all going to give up interaction with screens until VR becomes more convenient, but I'm sure we will start doing more VR as the technology develops.
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  • $\begingroup$ Cool! Great answer! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jan 19 '15 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ tl;dr - robots :-) $\endgroup$ – Rory Alsop Jan 20 '15 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ Just so long as Great-Granddad gets his own hot little robot... ;-P $\endgroup$ – Omegacron Jan 20 '15 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ Upvote for the 3D Printer addition. My theory is: Whatever they want. They are going to make it via 3D Printer and program it to do whatever they want with some sort of visual programming tool. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jan 21 '15 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sore about failing to get the rep and medals, but I think there's a reason that accepting an answer is independent of the upvotes. $\endgroup$ – Dane Jan 27 '15 at 4:12
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I'm gonna go ahead and say it: robots. I wish the answer was more original but I'm afraid it ain't.

This is what is being developed right now. Social robots for kids, meant for social training (autism...), special care, or general education. It is more engaging than "lifeless" toys (ie. not social), more efficient than TV at teaching, more attractive than anything else.

Hasbro's Furby is on the cheap end of what already exists. For more elaborate stuff, the Personal Robots group @ MIT Media Lab has some good examples:

These — in their future versions — will basically be you best friends, your personal teachers, your health trackers, soft, fluffy and squishy for night time and shiny and fun for activities. And all that, specially tuned to the kid's needs because it learns from social interaction and cues.

So what will they do with these robots? That's the hard part I believe. Probably very "human" games. Things that feel very natural to us because evolution meant for play to be a learning activity. But probably the robots will be able to project a 3D environment around the kid to enhance both the experience and the teaching, narrate a story, add hidden tests and activities, put in a few words of another language...

If you want some specific examples of games, try and think about what needs to be worked on as a child. Motor skills, social skills, logical reasoning, all sorts of life skills (confidence, self awareness, creativity, ...), and any "bonus" skill you might want to throw in (music, 2nd language, programming, ...). And embed all that into the most engaging activities for kids, usually some sort of open-ended game like the imaginary adventures you might have had in your backyard as a child. IMHO, the result of all that would be some open ended improvised game led by the companion robot in order to tune the level of the various variables to the child's skills.

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  • $\begingroup$ This kind of future depresses me, but you're absolutely right. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 19 '15 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ So it'll be like Calvin and Hobbes? That doesn't sound that bad... $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jan 19 '15 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ Congrats on 3k! ( wink, wink :) $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Jan 19 '15 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ Most have probably read it, but Robbie (starts on page 5) by Isaac Asimov is a neat example of a child-robot-parent relationship. $\endgroup$ – ankh-morpork Jan 19 '15 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ This kind of questions / answers usualy never consider poor people. Kids this days play with tablets. POOR kids this days still play with sticks and stones, cardboard and anything they can find. Sadly future poor people will be the same. $\endgroup$ – DiegoDD Jan 20 '15 at 0:46
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Their parents old toys, new handmade toys, and Popsicle sticks.

To this day my mother tells folks about my first computer. As the story goes my father was building his first computer, and had given me one of his early test projects which was a 10 button keypad hooked to a counter and a light that blinked so I carried this with me everywhere telling folks about my 'puter. I don't remember this as I lost it before my third birthday.

I spent the holidays with family. Toys of choice: old cell phones, Legos, ceramic tile, anything with wheels, and the marble wall which was a salvaged car hood festooned with magnet adhered wood track to direct dropped marbles.

'A' wanted an iPod. he didn't git one because he doesn't listen to music. the only reason he wanted one was to show it off at school.

So for your story, Dad got a new ___, so the kids play with the old one, and try to connect it to the vacuum cleaner.

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In addition to the high tech ideas presented, and the Boxes and Wrapping paper answer that hopefully will ALWAYS remain true:

Consider the fact that at the technology-level you imply, just running around outside may be safer than it is today. Especially in cities, just playing outside has been reduced by more than the availability of computer games and TV.

The other part of it is the fact that streets are busy, parks sometimes far away, the next playground may not be safe to reach for kids alone, and/or be dirty, possibly to the extent of being dangerous.

So, parents would once again be in a position where they could say "how about you take your [vehicle of choice] and go to the [playground, lake, park...]" when the little kid is just booooooooreeeeeeed again.

Yes, they may take along their electric pet-dino, but I think when given the opportunity, kids will happily be outside climbing, running and meeting friends no matter the tech-level.

In the case of worried parents just have a drone follow the kid around... and the kid will be annoyed to NO end by it ^^.

Have them play "ditch the drone" and try to hide from it.

Inside-play: holographic stuff, yes, but also occasionally messy stuff. Kids will not only be drawn to images, they will drawn to textures, tastes, smells, too. IF they are being provided.

If you do not want to display them glued to a future console, try to imagine having one of the whiny, console-addicted kids at home... and then the console breaks ;).

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    $\begingroup$ The safer outside is, the less kids will want to play there. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jan 21 '15 at 0:41
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An immersive virtual reality where they can be an officer (like in a real time strategy game, e.g. Starcraft 2), a hero (a first-person shooter like Quake), or a general (resource management games like Pandemic 2). So the general could dispatch an officer to conquer a location, and success will be determined by the officer player's skill. The officer could send a hero out to attack a location and success there could be determined by the hero player's skill. The social ability to recruit good officers and heroes will be critical to a general's success, but good resource management matters too.

Note that there can be other variants as well. Perhaps heroes have swords instead of guns. Or wizard's wands. Or a mixture of both. Or all three (guns, swords, and magic).

Players will be able to choose the rules of the game. So someone may start a server that uses Weber and Evans' Hell's Gate/Multiverse series as background. Or Saberhagen's Berserker series. Or Pratchett's Discworld. Or something entirely different, like rock stars or fashion shows. There may even be parentally approved games where they learn math, grammar, and home economics skills. Or wander around the Jurassic with dinosaurs.

The key advance here is to allow friends who like different things to participate in the same game together. So if one likes strategy games and the other likes first-person shooters, they can still interact in the same game.

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  • $\begingroup$ Perfect answer. I think, future belongs to Matrix. When I look at school's corridors nowadays during lessons' breaks, I'm amazed. Silence, peace and everyone staring at and touching their mobile phones. Within next 50-100 years, there will be no schools, no going out, no nothing. Just the cable attached to your head and a virtual world. For learning, playing and living. For everything. $\endgroup$ – trejder Jan 19 '15 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ Hey, @zxq9 & Mathias just got through telling me that that's all wrong, and you're not seeing actual children - must be your imagination ;) $\endgroup$ – user3082 Jan 19 '15 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ Surely this feels like a fairly narrow world of toys for young children. I wouldn't imagine that would actually find all of them wanting to play out military positions. The virtual reality games would involve so much more than this such as virtual cooking, gardening, painting, playing with animals, exploring space, building cities. Children like to do more than play out war games and I think that in the future we will find ways to educate them through VR using worlds and experiences. $\endgroup$ – sydan Jan 20 '15 at 10:21
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Thought 1. Automation.

A big push in virtually every industry is to build machines that do work for us. Even work that requires thinking, knowledge, and judgement. I'd apply this to sports... which I hope is something your world's future generations still partake in.

Here, you could have sporting equipment that know the rules of the game, and are their own referees. Basically, automating away the need for officials.

Simple example; basketball. Imagine putting an accelerometer and simple computer in a basketball that can feel the bounces, passes, and shots of the player holding it. It'd be able to discern if a player is running with the ball (not allowed) and signal to the relevant hoop to disallow points to be scored until the ball is handed back to the other team.

A quick Google tells me this exists in rudimentary form today.

Thought 2. Kiddify technology in your plot.

This example kinda' makes some sexist assumptions, so take it with a grain of salt and adapt it to the level of social injustice present in the world you've built.

Today, young boys often play with toy soldiers, tanks, planes, etc. Collectively I'll call this "war-stuff." Fifty years ago, young boys played with war-stuff appropriate to that time period (Korean and Vietnam wars, the Cold War, and arguably the Apollo Moon missions too).

Given the propensity of society giving boys war-stuff, I see no reason why this wouldn't continue a hundred years into the future.

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    $\begingroup$ Re "war-stuff appropriate to that time period": not as I recall, at least where I grew up. Cowboys & Indians was most common, as were knights with swords. That is, it was 'war-stuff' appropriate to a romanticized past. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 19 '15 at 6:55
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Add popular culture: Just to note. My kid (2.5 yo) totally loves the movies from Cars franchise.

When I was young, I totally dig the Krtek fairy tales.

And when my mom was young, she was also influenced by popular culture.

So, what is popular in your future? Is it space exploration? Then popular-astronaut action figure is a must.

Is it sports? Then blernsball themed toys are the most popular.

You get the idea?

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I agree it might be unexpected (and possibly not what the parents intend), but reckon it'll be subject to a few influences:

First, what they want may be driven by marketing - there might be a cool gadget that's fairly useless but successfully tied in to a popular show. This doesn't mean they won't repurpose/rename them, e.g. Captain Stargazer now inexplicably runs the farm with the plastic sheep (along with a themed-Lego husband who is a quarter of her size).

Secondly, even the simple stuff they like (and "misuse") might be more technological. For instance, what if there were wrapping paper that reacted to touch with rippling patterns? What if there was a holo-projector that projected a blank rectangle when not connected (like a dial-tone on a phone)? You could have children running around with their "hi-tech camouflage" and their "laser shield", etc.

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I think it was Stross who took this to its logical conclusion: in the post-singularity future, we will be essentially immortal and free of resource limits. So, wargames. Running around and killing each other in some form of arena/battlefield combat. Not virtual at all. Making an art of it. Getting body-modded into a death machine, having fun killing each other and getting respawned, then going back to whatever other form works best for your next task. Or indeed, as others have written, dumping the body off when you're done with it and returning to a purely virtual existence.

Nearer future: immersive alternate and augmented realities; reduced violence and freedom of movement to the point where they aren't even permitted to interact directly at all for fear of contagion, and aren't allowed out of doors until the age of consent for fear of boogiemen.

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Just give them a piece of chalk, a rivulet full of mud to skip around in, something. They'll keep themselves busy.

Just curious, how many kids now do this?

Mostly they play videogames, or whine about not having a cellphone.


Electronic toys, or nanobots. :) Depends on the tech level. If you've got non-shackling AI, then they'll be playing with their imaginary friends. Who'll be much more devoted to them, much more creative, and a lot more fun than meat-friends.

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    $\begingroup$ You clearly don't have small children. $\endgroup$ – zxq9 Jan 19 '15 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ These kids that play videogames or whine about not having a cellphone... ever considered it may be due to the absence of pieces of chalk and rivulets full of mud? $\endgroup$ – user2366 Jan 19 '15 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ While they may not specifically have a piece of chalk or a rivulet full of mud, the idea is that a young kid full of creativity will come up with many things to do with a simple object, and will quickly bore of their fancy object that only does one thing. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Jan 19 '15 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ Chalk doesn't work on mud. Believe me, I've tried... $\endgroup$ – Simon Drew Jan 22 '15 at 8:39
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Children just invent stories around what they observe from adults.

  • They put plushes in line and play teacher
  • They make a house in their bedroom with a chair and a blanket
  • They fold a piece of paper, draw little squares on one half and a big rectangle on the other half and pretend it is a laptop

Children need to express their creativity and they do it to a huge extend if adults give them the opportunity.

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In the world of Mega Man Battle Network (set in the year 20XX), kids have sentient A.I. buddies called NetNavis and they hang out on the 'Net (the new Internet, which is in 3D) via their Navis. A lot of kids also use their Navis to NetBattle in a 3D colosseum that can be hosted at home, in designated battle areas on the 'Net, and in arcades.

Really, Navis are friends, assistants, allies, &c in this world. I personally don't see A.I. as entities who want to kill us, so I think kids'll be fine. However, humans are the ones making A.I.s and we are capable of killing, so it's hard to tell. Anyhoo, this is what I think, haha. There are many good answers here though.

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As much as my kids like to play games, listen to music and communicate via Pod, Pad or phone, the boy's favorite will always be their soccer ball and rugby ball. And for my daughter, nothing is more magic than horses... So while technology will continue to become faster, smaller and adding features (I reckon voice recognition and virtual reality will be as normal as high resolution touch screens are today), I don't think the "established" toys and play things will disappear at all. And that includes, chalk, bicycles, paper and crayons etc.

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Electronics are very available already, and will be even more available in future. I just got rid of two old laptops and one desktop PC, which were all still functioning. In my little 2-person family we are still left with 3 laptops, 1 desktop, a smartphone, a "non-smart" cell phone, and an additional cell phone that still works, but is not used. Oh, and two game consoles and a gameboy. All this builds up over time, we are not exactly prone to regularly buy such things.

This is very different from my childhood. While I had a gameboy and a PC by the time I turned ten, electronics was still rather sparse at my family. I think I didn't have a cell phone at all until I was something like 15.

My nephew is 2 now, and just starts speaking. However, he has been playing with phones basically since he was able to hold one. That means playing to talk to someone on the phone. He wants to watch lullabies and cars on Youtube (Yes his parents show him lullabies from Youtube, you read right. He wants it, and it works in putting him to sleep). He knows how to operate a tablet, and plays simple puzzle games (put the car into the right hole) on it. He likes to play with remote controls of the tv.

While things like Lego and chalk don't grow old, I would expect the shear amount of old smart phones, tablets and other electronics by the time our great-grandchildren live means that kids will have a personal electronic device as soon as they can make use of one. You will, like today, have children that play more with such things, and others who are more interested in other things. But electronics will be widely available, powerful, and it will be used. And sometimes kids will just hold the phone to their ear and pretend to talk with Batman.

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Classics never die, they just get reimaged

Gravity box maze puzzles.

Think about those handheld gems we grew up balancing between our hands to get the tiny metal ball to follow the clear plastic maze without going too far down the wrong path. Now see them as a gravity box where there is still a maze inside the cube, and the twist is the little beebee has no gravity acting on it! You have the same wonderfully frustrating challenge of needing to enact a well aimed force just so on the ball without over shooting the impossibly tiny target hole into the next section of the cube. Impossible to put down until skill mastered. It may seem easy in theory, but one itty bitty touch of the beebee at the wrong time or direction and it's back to square one. Then, for more fun, you get to adjust the times g and start over.

Etch-a-Sketch Glow boxes

Another wonderful dexterity-challenging toy we continue to love is the Etch-a-Sketch. Only now we are working levers to act on a "drawing bead" that, as it passes through a mysterious, highly viscous fluid, causes the surrounding particles to glow (colors are customizable, of course). We thought ourselves quite the hot stuff to be able to get one hand to twist the "backwards" way while our dominant hand spun the dial the "right" way and vice versa to get that perfect circle. Well, our great-grandkids will scoff at that as they finally shape a perfect glowing sphere on their 500th try. Not to mention the fun of endless geometric shapes and patterns and arguments when a sibling grabs it and shakes it up and down, erasing a 1/2 hour masterpiece. Can 3D drawing be simulated on a tablet? Of course. But this is an Etch-a-sketch in your hands with real live knobs and filled with magic stuff that glows.

Neon and Fruit-flavored Chia Pets

Although not exactly a toy, learning botany has never been more fun than with the Chia Pets that grow organic fur and hair. This idea gains a great new twist with gen-mod varieties that include a transformation of the plain green grass "hairs" into brilliant neon colors at maturity. And what kid doesn't love enjoying the grape, lime, orange, etc. flavors of the edible versions of Chia cones and Chia bread. Sounds a bit gross, but the kiddies love it.

Legos Solar System 2050

As another answer alludes to, Legos are a classic that remains stylish. Legos Solar System isn't a game for tablets, though. It sticks with the tried and true block construction play, with the added features of semi-transparent blocks built on to-scale electronic bases that provide lighting and motion. They are modular to be connected into a working model that is very often seen hanging from ceilings in kids rooms and plenty of adult dens too. You can complete and hang your favorite rotating star or planet singly, but of course most everyone eventually builds the entire system. And yes, Pluto is part of the complete set.

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It's rather easy, just extrapolate what we can currently see: People are decadent enough, for having no real needs anymore. Instead they have artificially infused necessities, created by commercials. Thats the only reason, why useless stuff like smartphones is so wide spread, with some humans even selling their organs for having the money to buy one. Also everything needs to get cheaper all the time. And then we all know, that earlier toys where way too compicated! Modern PC-Games are so much easier than anything from the 80s/90s.

So I foresee that the kids in 50 years will play with naturally looking stones, made from plastic. Stones are easy to play with, and they are even cheap to construct, thus grantig more profit! There will be cheap stones, that any kid has, and there will be more cool stones that only the really cool kids have, with the only difference being the trademark logo. For we all know that coolness and style are the only things that count. No need for features, function or real differences. Also stones won't overexert the little kids's minds too much, so the risk for them becoming intelligent or creative is lowered, making them easier to use workers.

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