Kati Heljakka on Principles of Adult Play(fulness) in Contemporary Toy Cultures

This thesis provides new ways of approaching adult play. It suggests that in the time of the lucid turn as discussed by Brian Sutton-Smith, adults are showing increased enthusiasm towards toys. The study examines how interest towards toys turns into playful and productive activities at adult age, through actual manipulation of three types of contemporary playthings: dolls, soft toys and action figures. The thesis is connected to larger developments not only in material and visual culture, but also in social media and digital play culture. Adult relationships with toys that manifest both materially and digitally are examined from the perspectives of art, toy design and productive grounds (flow), toy player profiles and play practices (glow). The thesis takes the reader on a journey through the multidisciplinary playgrounds of adult toy play and seeks a deeper understanding of the multidimensional phenomenon of adult play that happens with contemporary toys. It makes an attempt to understand how adults approach, bond with and actively interact with toys. By investigating the multilayered phenomenon, the study at hand opens up novel views on adult toy practices. By doing so, it contributes to the discipline of (toy) design by offering food for thought both for future design work and further toy research.

Please view a PDF of my doctoral thesis here.


Toy researcher and visual artist Katriina Heljakka’s (Doctor of Arts in visual culture, M.Sc. art history and economics) doctoral thesis Principles of adult play(fulness) in contemporary toy cultures. From Wow to Flow to Glow was examined at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in 2013. Heljakka currently holds a postdoctoral researcher position at University of Turku (digital culture studies) and continues her research on toys and the material cultures of play as a part of the Academy of Finland funded research project Ludification and the Emergence of Playful Culture. Her research interests include toy fandom, transmedia storytelling and play practices in contemporary toy cultures.