Caution: Dangerous toys

Caution: Dangerous toys

At a time when buying a girl "Organic Fancy Fairy Make-up" kits and "Personalised Pink Princess" aprons seems so utterly sexist and Edward and Jacob dolls are considered too naff, what's a parent to do?

Air-guns and pea-shooters, like swords and bow-and-arrow sets, are as dangerous according to how they are used. Children's jewellery (especially shiny and sparkly items) may still be dodgy because some manufacturers have been substituting illegal lead with the more dangerous heavy metal cadmium.

Some time ago, children in single digit ages were introduced to Miss Bimbo, innocuously described as a "virtual fashion game for girls". Ah! This would, perhaps, save money for parents who were tired of shelling out oodles of boodle for Barbie, Minx and Winks gear.

Think again. Becoming "the hottest, coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the whole world" cannot be done on a shoestring. The system works like that for a basic avatar - up to a point. Upon signing up, the girl is given a naked virtual character to "cultivate", in competition with others. The clothes cost "Bimbo dollars" and so does the clubbing in which this doll revels. Forget virtual pets that just needed a click in order to be fed and cleaned.

But that's not all. Miss Bimbo makes Victoria Beckham look like the Michelin Man because she can buy diet pills, at 100 Bimbo dollars a pop, to keep herself looking like a stick insect. In fact, the Bimbo dolls must only be fed "now and then".

This, in turn, has the undesirable effect of reducing places that can be made more obvious through cosmetic enhancement surgery (11,500 Bimbo dollars for a boob job), including facelifts. Alas, there is no "brains" buying option. Of course, the Bimbo can always get a virtual job at one of those places where she can be "discovered" by a billionaire sugar daddy and spend the rest of her life getting extensions to her hair and her nails done.

Till that day dawns, however, she must undertake "Missions" and "Goals" that earn her "Bimbo attitudes", moving her up in the social scale if she succeeds.

What are the chances that a girl would want the pole dancing kits, the furniture, the waxing sessions, make-up and clothes that are available to Miss Bimbo? Very high, apparently.

The game is ostensibly free to play but, inevitably, the stash of Bimbo dollars one is given at the start is bound to run out as soon as the child understands how the game works and, thenceforth, she has to send text messages or use PayPal to top up the accounts.

And just when you thought it could not get worse it does, to the extent that Lady Gaga could well retire. The inventors of My Minx say that the game is targeted at teenagers but parents report that schoolyard chatter has made the game known to the younger set too.

This character may be dressed in a selection of revealing lingerie (tattoos optional). But what makes it even tackier and trashy is that somewhere along the line in this Style City, the Minxes can adopt "trophy" orphans who just happen to share names and nationalities with the Brangelina Brood, as well as the children of Madonna and Ewan McGregor, and newly-orphaned Haitian children. The adoptions cost money but some of this may be recouped by trying to sell the photos to the glossies. Here, top (female) dog is called Minx of the Minxes.

She can go clubbing and binge-drinking and try to attract (snare would be more like it) a boyfriend. Again, when players run out of virtual cash they can use text messages or PayPal for a top-up.

But the "Bad Toy Award" goes to something else: an Ouija board in pink, since it is being marketed expressly towards girls; so much for non-sexist playthings. Let's forget, for the moment, that this is meant to be used in the dark, when colour would not matter; the hue is its selling point. Another, apparently, are the "72 questions" included in the pack so that the child is never at a loss what to ask.

Everyone - and that includes Pagans and Witches - knows Ouija boards, with their invitation to necromancy, are dangerous. They have been known to lead to haunting and possessions. They have been known to exacerbate serious psychological problems in vulnerable people and even "normal" people have suffered terrible psychological consequences when dabbling with Ouija boards. So how can this ever be considered a "game"?

Just because they are not custom-made and wooden does not make them any less potentially dangerous. This is obliquely admitted in the blurb of the product: ".... Concentrate very hard and watch as the answer is revealed in the message window. Make up your own questions and let the Ouija board satisfy your curiosity in virtually endless ways. Ouija board will answer. It's just a game - or is it?"

As John Wilson says: "Oh for a book and a shady nook, either indoors or out... For a jolly good book whereon to look, is better to me than gold." And infinitely better than bad choices, too.

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