Skylander Toys and LEGO Friends - Girls at Play

by kimbesa

On the level where children play, the toys of Skylanders and Lego Friends are more alike than different. I’m specifically thinking of how young girls like to play.

When young girls play, their dolls and other toys interact in relationships that are more like our day-to-day world. They don’t have to do battle, even if they come out of the Skylanders universe, where the toy characters are trying to take their home back from evil forces.

In girlfriend play, Stealth Elf can come to tea, or hang out in Friend Olivia’s tree house with the kitty and butterflies. And they can all go outdoors to enjoy a sunny afternoon in the garden in the real world, studying nature and talking about their common interests.

That won’t make the Skylander girl characters any less powerful when they are home in their video game world, engaged in battle with the bad guys of Kaos. And don’t think those tea-party-playing young girls don’t like that game, as much as they like the pretty, dainty stuff.

There has been some controversy in the real world over these toys as well, and specifically whether the Lego Friends line is too pink, too girly, and whether the product line helps perpetuate female stereotypes.

All that said, if you’re a grandparent, or your little girls are only now getting old enough for these toys, or you are otherwise just hearing about these two top toy franchises, what are they?

Photos by kimbesa

Girl Toys at Play

Whisper Elf, Olivia and Stealth Elf
Whisper Elf, Olivia and Stealth Elf

Skylanders Toys

Toys from another universe meet our world, and some of these warriors are girls.

The physical Skylanders toys are part of a video game that began with an older video character, a flying dragon named Spyro. The Spyro’s Adventure game was released in the fall of 2011, and has been a major hit. There were 32 original Skylanders characters (organized into 8 element groups).

A big innovation of this game, the characters in the game are also small plastic figurines with a chip in the base. The chip allows the character to be “transported” into the game via a device called the Portal of Power. The chip also records and stores points, levels and thereby the increasing powers of your copy of the character, obtained as you play. This is how Skylanders have memory.

The original characters have been joined by the Skylanders Giants (2012), Lightcore and Series 2 versions of some new and some original characters.

Original Stealth Elf SkylanderStealth Elf is the most popular of the Skylander girl characters. She’s featured on a number of products for kids who love the game (such as t-shirts, back packs, lunch boxes) and is one of the few characters so far announced for Series 3.

Swap Force Skylanders will be released in fall 2013, along with some Series 3 character versions. These 16 Swap Force characters have interchangeable top and bottom sections, to allow players to make 256 combinations of powers. (Their new power is more choice.) These toys have two names, based on their top and bottom sections, like Wash Buckler and Freeze Blade

Talk about innovative play and scope to flex the imagination, Skylanders have it.

Skylanders are rated for age group 6 and up.

If you’re just getting started with Skylanders, please note: the original characters play via the original Portal of Power.

There’s a new portal for the series 2 and Giants characters.

The packages are marked, but if you’re starting or adding, you’ll want to check carefully to make sure the portal will work with the character toys you’re getting.  (Just ask the kids for technical advice.)

Olivia and Her Invention Lab

Olivia's Inventor lab has lots of specialized LEGO pieces
Olivia's Inventor lab has lots of specialized LEGO pieces

LEGO Friends

This product line like was released in 2012 after several years of research with real girls, analyzing how they like to play.

Lego Friends playsets are designed around a make-believe suburb called Heartlake City, and use primarily pink and purple color schemes.

Lego Friend Olivia and tree houseThe five Friends (Olivia, Mia, Emma, Andrea and Stephanie) are main characters, along with many other friends, lots of animals (cats, dogs, horses and others) and the accessories of daily living that go with their environment.

The five main characters have varied but interactive interests in nature, animals, hiking, soccer, science, school, dancing, baking, beauty, music, horse riding and parties. Olivia is often considered the lead of these five, though it depends on a girl’s interests whether that holds true when the playsets come home.

Girls get to build the environments, which include houses, a tree house, outdoor café, bakery, beauty shop, veterinarian office, horse stables, riding camp, and lots of other elements to go with them. These include a music stage, inventor lab, splash pool, airplane and cars.

These LEGO bricks in the Friends playsets are the same shape and fit standard as all the other sets, so they can be used to build any structure the kids wish to. They are not limited to the “official” builds shown in the instructions. Even boys like to get their hands on some of the unique pieces in these sets, like Olivia’s Invention Workshop (where she builds a robot among other things) or the Adventure Camper set with a travel trailer and lots of camping accessory pieces.

What's The Issue With LEGO Friends?

A difference of opinion about pink and purple playsets

The bother comes from opinions that these toys and their play environment perpetuate stereotypes that are limiting to girls.

As I see it, girls like to play with these sets. They get to build houses and businesses. They can imagine the interactions of their girl mini-dolls in these environments any way they like, and play them with their friends.

I say, if girls ages 6 to 12 – the core age range these toys are designed for – start building with Lego Friends, some will graduate to the more other Lego building sets like Architecture, City or Creator. All will benefit from the creative imagination of playing with toys like this.

If the kids want them, let them have them. I think it’s just as stereotypical to say “no” as “yes.” Martha Stewart, Vera Wang, Kate Spade and a long list of other women have used some categories that might be deemed “typical” to create some larger than average business success.

The Skylander Elves and Friend Olivia

Stealth Elf Visits Olivia in The Lab
Stealth Elf Visits Olivia in The Lab

LEGO Friends Game and Playsets

There are lots of sets and extras for the child that loves these product lines
LEGO FriendsLEGO Friends Olivia's Tree House 3065LEGO Friends 3184 Adventure Camper

The Intersection of Skylanders and LEGO Friends

If the toy environment intrigues a child, then they will see what the pieces can do, and imagine. What they can do with it is up to them.

Olivia Mini-Doll and Stealth ElfInnovative play. There are thousands, if not millions, of ways to play these toys on their own, let alone when the kids get creative and combine them in their play. Imagining and thinking are skills any toy should foster.

Expanded universe of play. The environments are somewhat like our world, and somewhat different. Lego Friends has its own town and natural world around it, with more sets being released to populate that world. The natural tendency of girls to focus on the relationships and interactions are the basis for this play. How they expand on it, their imaginations can go anywhere.

Perhaps taking a page from Skylanders, there is a Lego Friends game for Nintendo coming out in the fall of 2013.

In Skylanders, they have their own world, but have been banished from it. They are here in our world, trying to reclaim it.  Because these characters are present in the physical world, as well as the digital, they can be incorporated into all kinds of scenarios that they kids can envision for them, outside the world of the game.

Age groups. Skylanders are set for ages 6 and up, and LEGO Friends for ages 6 to 12.  By the time a child is in this age range, her (or his) scope for creative play can easily be ready to go up a level or two, and these toys are an avenue for that.

Either one, or both, of these toy franchises will give your kids hours, and years, of wonderful play opportunities that they largely make for themselves.

Updated: 06/30/2013, kimbesa
 
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Are Skylanders or Lego Friends -- Or Both -- For Your Girls?


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SeanMac on 08/21/2014

Lego Friends is a marketing success. Girls like it, so that's a bonus.

kimbesa on 07/01/2013

Ah yes....they create their own versions!

kimbesa on 07/01/2013

Yes, far better they should play with the toys they really like than ones they "should" like.

fitzcharming on 07/01/2013

Having said that, my grandson does love to play with his action figures in my dollhouse. :-)

fitzcharming on 07/01/2013

I like that Lego has sets specifically geared towards how girls play. Wish they had these when I was a kid. My grandsons love Skylanders, and Legos (boy styles). If I had a granddaughter you bet I'd be buying the Lego Friends. I know I'm gender stereotyping with respect to toys but I had a bunch of kids and I know what they liked to play with. Wouldn't want to buy them something that would sit on the shelf.

kimbesa on 06/30/2013

I"d rather see the kiddies with toys like these, that they want and yet encourage them to branch out, whether they realize it or not.

Digby_Adams on 06/30/2013

I think they're adorable and look like a lot of fun. My sister decided that she wouldn't let her little boy play with weapons. As soon as he could he made swords out of duct tape and paper towel rolls. She have her daughter trucks and she threw them down. She only wanted dolls. She tried, but the kids stereotyped themselves.

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