Poppy Playtime: Is it Safe for Kids?
Poppy Playtime is a popular horror indie video game where you play as an ex-worker of the 50's-inspired toy company, Playtime Co. You explore the abandoned factory where your co-workers went missing and the toys you assisted in making come alive and try to kill you.
Released in October of last year, with new game chapters slowly being released throughout the months, Poppy Playtime takes inspiration from similar games such as Bendy and The Ink Machine, Baldi's Basics, and Hello Neighbour. The steam synopsis details the game: "You must stay alive in this horror/puzzle adventure. Try to survive the vengeful toys waiting for you in the abandoned toy factory…Explore the mysterious facility... and don't get caught."
The game plays on feelings of childhood nostalgia and uses seemingly innocent characters as the main villains. It is appropriate for an older audience however has gained a notable younger audience, as have the other games mentioned previously.
While the visuals and characters of the game appear to be lighthearted and child friendly, I would like to preface that Poppy Playtime is not a young children's game. While the CEO of the company behind the game recommends an 8+ audience, it is a horror game with significant violence, gore, and death. Despite the appeal to younger enjoyers, it is not intended for a young audience.
The way the internet has responded to Poppy Playtime is not an uncommon pattern. I will call a cycle of events: The Neon Freddy effect, where third-party companies focus their production on children's internet phenomenons to garner a pre-established large audience to buy a company's cheap product. This was seen most notably with Five Nights At Freddy's; during a stagnant period between games, licensed toys were released of simply the original cast of animal characters in bright neon colours. A surge of knock-off neon plushies soon followed this.
What's notable about this effect is that, due to its popularity and marketability to children, Poppy Playtime has succumbed to this effect. Because the franchise has only been licensed since March of this year, a surge of fake video games, toys, and apps has been finding its way onto the internet. Notable characters from the game, such as Huggy Wuggy and Kissy Missy, have been the most affected by this. It's to the point where it's common to see small pop-up shops in malls and comic/anime events selling these knock-off toys from Poppy Playtime. It has even reached a similar neon stage, with recoloured rainbow Huggy Wuggy plushies sold cheaply.
This effect targets children and causes parents not to question other content their child may be consuming that may be too old for them. For internet phenomena such as this, you don't have to buy the game to experience the story and horror elements. With the freedom of searching, and even what can slip by as "children's content" under the Youtube algorithm, third parties looking to make a profit off of a large audience contribute to the exposure of adult content to young children.
I've been a lover of horror from the age of nine, beginning with Youtube Let's-play videos and lore explanation videos of the popular Indie horror game of the time, Five Nights at Freddy's; being exposed to horror content at a young age shaped my identity, interests, and hobbies, and completely desensitised me to disturbing media and content. This was during the beginning stages of the internet when parental restrictions began, with Youtube Kids being created in 2015, when I was eleven. While regulations and parental locks had continued to become more popular amongst parents, by the time they have implemented, the fixation on horror video games had already sprung in me, and I had already aged out of the Youtube kids category. While I am grateful for the impact this media had on my artistic expression, I would've changed what age I began consuming this media.
Story-wise, it creates a strong foundation for an exciting take on childhood nostalgia-inspired horror. The animation and gameplay mechanics are at a professional level for an indie game, and all aspects of the dialogue, puzzles, and characters are interesting to experience firsthand or through a let's play created by someone else. Personally, when watching YouTube Markiplier play the first two chapters, I ended up still enjoying the jump scares and suspenseful moments, even if I wasn't playing it myself, its usually a hassle to get anything done with gameplay videos of Poppy Playtime in the background, as I jump and scream whenever something happens on screen!
As the game expands into actual world merchandise and products, I'm interested in how it may be marketed, knowing the pre-established audience, and whether large distributors such as Target and Kmart may stock these items in the children's section or even in their stores, to begin with. Game companies such as EB games and Zing already stock licensed products for these games.
For young children, this game rates a 1/5 for safety.
Parent tip: Always play new games with your kids before letting them play independently. Learn the check classifications but make a call based on your child's maturity. Check the content of the game, which they can connect to, and how to block and report and never fall for "but I am the only kid that is not playing it" (they all say that). Remember, you are the parent.
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I’m currently in Year 12 and love studying all things cultural and sociological. What drove me to become a part of the Safe on Social team was contributing to fostering a more equal and safe online world and the opportunity to educate people to promote a healthy relationship with the internet. My skills regarding managing cyber/creative burnout and acknowledging and responding to online criticism and hate will positively impact readers and the community.