KidZania, KidZania, you’re always in my heart
January 13, 2015 11:13 AM   Subscribe

At Kidzania, the theme-park chain where children pretend to be adults, children from Mexico to Kuwait can learn about responsibility and citizenship by renting go-karts, making Quaker granola bars, delivering packages for DHL, cleaning up dog poop, making plastic gewgaws, and flying planes, but they may not be able to answer the important questions "Is it a school? Is it a nursery? Is it some devil-run thing that isn’t acceptable in our culture?"
posted by snarkout (38 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I was a kid we visited a children's museum that reminded me a lot of this; you accessed your "bank" account at terminals right inside the entrance; you could pretend to be a newscaster at a desk constantly monitored by a camera that would display on a TV; and there was a supermarket, complete with fake plastic cans of beans and bottles of ketchup plastered with labels from real-world brands.

I thought it was amazing and I still remember all these details from 20 years later! I don't even remember what city I was in, but I remember pushing a tiny shopping cart along in that supermarket.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:19 AM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


(Previously on MetaFilter.)
posted by snarkout at 11:22 AM on January 13, 2015


Why are we actively trying to construct a dystopian nightmare future?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:25 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sangermaine: "Why are we actively trying to construct a dystopian nightmare future?"

Probably because that's where all the cool science fiction is set. I'm not saying it's a good reason, but it's a reason.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:27 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm not opposed to the concept, which sounds fun, but the corporatist angle and sponsored brands is downright creepy along with the manufacturing of fake products. Surely they could do actual activities that result in real output instead of having kids press some buttons and get a helmet with the Made in China sticker still attached? There's not exactly a shortage of activities where kids can make things from art to electronics.

It's also fascinating to me how most of the jobs are manufacturing, delivery, etc... when presumably most of the kids' parents (paying $30+ an admission) have administrative or managerial positions. Obviously the place wouldn't be much fun if everyone just sat at a computer and wrote emails with overly long CC lists, but it's an interesting disconnect.
posted by zachlipton at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


Took a while to figure out but, yeah, at heart this is like a modern American children's museum without all the science-y stuff getting in the way.

The one my kids love (the Kohl outside Chicago) has all the typical science and play stuff, but kids flock to the pretend supermaket and the fake Potbelly Sandwich franchise.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2015


I also remember going to a children's museum that had a lot of these elements, but of course on a much smaller scale.

I was just thinking last night about how when you're a kid, so many of the mundane and boring things adults do seem like so much fun. I mean, I still like grocery shopping, but the idea of working retail or in a factory or even pumping gas into your car seem so cool when you're a little kid and you can't wait to get to do them.

Then you grow up and you wish you didn't have to do those things and you do everything you can to avoid them.

The corporate angle and the made-up works definitely pushes this into bizarro world territory for me.
posted by darksong at 11:37 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


So now the kids can join the rest of us in pretending to be adults.
posted by evilangela at 11:37 AM on January 13, 2015 [19 favorites]


Yeah, there's a fine line between letting kids play at doing grown up stuff and creepy corporate/consumer indoctrination. The Price Chopper supermarket near me has little plasic kid sized shopping carts and the first time I saw a little kid pushing one around I was all "awwwww!" Then I saw the "customer in training" sign on the side of the cart and I kind of wanted to puke.
posted by usonian at 11:40 AM on January 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


The Yelp Reviews on the American version are somehow heartwarming and nightmarish at the same time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:43 AM on January 13, 2015


A use that wasn't brought up in the article, but was hinted at in the information materials for Pretend City Children's Museum: it gives children a chance to practice for real life situations, something that's even more important for children with special needs. Maybe the dentist or the grocery store is less scary when a kid has had the chance to explore a tiny, safe version of it where they're in control.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:45 AM on January 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


"rightz" > rights
?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:47 AM on January 13, 2015


Wow, that was an uncommonly obscure comment I made in the "previously" thread.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:47 AM on January 13, 2015


I think that's really neat.

Branding part sucks ass, but I love the core concept.
posted by Lord_Pall at 11:48 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


> They said that KidZania gave them what they desired most of all: a sense of autonomy. “Whenever you’re at home, your parents say, ‘You need to do this, this, and this,’ and you say, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ ” the boy with the overwhelming social-media presence told me.

When I was a kid doing things, indoors and out, without adult supervision gave me a sense of autonomy.

An old lady down the street also literally yelled at me to get off her (back) lawn.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:50 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Father of now 6 year old, here. This is a common theme for kids museums. Kidzania is simply the most elaborate execution of that theme.

The article itself is pretty much perfectly designed to evoke feelings of superiority in the cool in their youth, now desk bound, white collar, New Yorker reader. Surely none of them send their kids off with nannies or drivers like those terrible brown parents in the Middle East.

Kidzania is great. It's also insanely popular in Tokyo and super appealing to kids. We weren't planning on going at all and my son begged to go a second time and would have spent his entire time in Japan there if allowed. He didn't walk out robotically singing JAL or Mos Burger's jingles, but he did have a grand old time pretending to be a car mechanic, slinging ice cream, and in the most ultimate capitalist Trojan horse job - putting on a magic show. Yes, I'm a terrible parent for taking him there even once and the fact that I took him there twice probably means CPS is coming to pick me up.

The Tokyo branch didn't have a ton of stuff for non-Japanese speakers to do, but definitely enough to fill the day's reservation. I didn't see one child even remotely jaded as described in the article - every single one I saw was completely stoked to be there and roaming around semi-autonomously. Adult guardians weren't drivers or nannies but affluent and super-attentive non-working Japanese moms. Maybe the New Yorker can use Kidzania for a judgy gender politics article, next time.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:56 AM on January 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


Love the title!

Get it right or pay the price.
posted by dr_dank at 11:58 AM on January 13, 2015


They said that KidZania gave them what they desired most of all: a sense of autonomy. “Whenever you’re at home, your parents say, ‘You need to do this, this, and this,’ and you say, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ ” the boy with the overwhelming social-media presence told me. “But, when you’re in KidZania, you feel like you’re an adult, and you say what you want to do.”

Upon entry to the park a combination of legal, social, and economic factors should be assigned at to each visiting kid that determine how much autonomy they get.

Most will be locked into soul-crushing servitude, but a lucky few will have a great time. Then they'd get to see what being an adult is really like.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:59 AM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have fond memories of a children's museum--I think Boston but I'm not sure, that was the one we went to most but not the only city we took trips to when I was a kid--which had some kind of green screen newscaster setup that I thought was amazing. Pretending to be grown-ups is traditionally a lot of childhood play, isn't it? Tea parties and baby dolls and cops and robbers. I know people who've gotten their kids pretty elaborate play-house setups with pretend ovens and pots and pans. The ability to do the same with outside-the-home kinds of adult situations is pretty cool.
posted by Sequence at 12:00 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Juliet, it sounds a lot like the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY.
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:00 PM on January 13, 2015


This is hilarious to me after knowing that a friend of mine deliberately "swapped places" with her young kid last weekend. See, he was complaining that she has all the fun... I'm sure his opinion was different after doing laundry and dishes and all her tasks all day while she played video games and had her friend over for a sleepover.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:03 PM on January 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


This reminds me of the Danish Lego Land, which I visited about 15 years ago.

Whereas in American facilities kids can ride bumper cars, in Danish Lego Land they could drive small cars around a meticulously laid out road and learn to obey the traffic laws.

I like to think this says something about American and Danish cultures.
posted by bq at 12:03 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Is it a school? Is it a nursery? Is it some devil-run thing that isn’t acceptable in our culture?"

I have the same questions about some actual schools, but that may be diverging from the point a bit.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:03 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]



This is hilarious to me after knowing that a friend of mine deliberately "swapped places" with her young kid last weekend.


Sounds freaky!
posted by bq at 12:03 PM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


I thought this sounded adorable and fun until this bit:

“KidZania is a good platform in terms of building brand loyalty,” Maricruz Arrubarrena, one of KidZania’s Mexican executives, told me.

-sound of a car coming to a screeching halt as it plows through a plate glass window-

Kids love pretending to do adult stuff, and a place where they can do that on a grand scale sounds wonderful. But really? We're talking about building brand loyalty in children? How can you even say those words without feeling like some sort of cartoon caricature of a greedy capitalist?
posted by Itaxpica at 12:10 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


If it's a school, perhaps Vincent Adultman could go there to learn that life is about more than business and the stock market...
posted by symbioid at 12:11 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Boston Children's Museum had an installation in the late 70's/early 80's where you could work on an assembly line manufacturing cardboard spinning tops. One station stamped the logo on the disc, the next put a wooden peg in the hole of the disk, the last stuck them in an inspection machine. I really enjoyed it-- I didn't understand at the time that it was meant to simulate how some people earned a living, but I remember making the connection later and it stuck with me.

I don't necessarily see these as some sort of corporate indoctrination. They're fun in the moment, and later you can extrapolate when it's like to do these tasks all day, multiple days a week. I think that for at least some children, the experience is educational in a way that may not be immediately apparent.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:18 PM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of the Danish Lego Land, which I visited about 15 years ago.

Whereas in American facilities kids can ride bumper cars, in Danish Lego Land they could drive small cars around a meticulously laid out road and learn to obey the traffic laws.

I like to think this says something about American and Danish cultures.


Right - that's a great exhibit! And I know this because they have the exact same thing at the Legoland in San Diego.

The Legoland in Tokyo does not have this same exhibit. I'd like to think that's because the Tokyo one is inside a few floors of a small building and can't afford the space - but it more likely has something to do with some terrible aspect of Japanese culture that they're trying to insert into the minds of their children.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:34 PM on January 13, 2015


in Danish Lego Land they could drive small cars around a meticulously laid out road and learn to obey the traffic laws.

My son did the same thing at the German LEGOLand and got his "driver's license" at the end. (He was 4 and hit a lot of shit)

I didn't take it as "OBEY ALL LAWS". It was more "Cool! You're a driver now! Yay!"
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:37 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know...for the kids kidz.
posted by ostranenie at 12:52 PM on January 13, 2015


When I was a kid we visited a children's museum that reminded me a lot of this; you accessed your "bank" account at terminals right inside the entrance; you could pretend to be a newscaster at a desk constantly monitored by a camera that would display on a TV; and there was a supermarket, complete with fake plastic cans of beans and bottles of ketchup plastered with labels from real-world brands.

Wow, that just triggered a memory I didn't know I had. While it's possible that more than one museum had features like that, I feel like I went to one that had the same stuff. It would probably have been in New England. Maybe it was Boston.


Anyway, I think there's a natural fascination with the "adult world" when you're a kid, which once you get to be an adult is not necessarily obvious. (The reverse is also true; I never understood as a kid why adults thought that being a kid was in any way fun or something they'd want to repeat. Being a kid is mostly boredom punctuated with occasional bits of joy or horror; which is admittedly the same as the adult world, but without the sex or alcohol that make it tolerable.)

So I think it's a mistake to think that KidZania is somehow the opposite of the Magic Kingdom: they both trade in wish fulfillment. It's just that Disney's is the fulfillment of a wish to play in a fairytale land, while KidZania is the wish to play in the adult world. I think the difference is in how adults perceive it. The fairytale fantasy is shared by adults, the wish to live in the adult world, presumably, isn't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:09 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


While conflicted during my read of this article (mostly seems harmless and pretty cool but ugh branding), this part does send a chill down my spine:
One innovation, at KidZania Cuicuilco and a handful of other locations, is the introduction of a passport office: for a payment of three kidzos, children can apply for a “pazzport,” which bears their photograph and date of birth. Kids with pazzports receive extra kidzos at the end of each activity, and get such rewards as a larger slice of pizza at the Domino’s-sponsored pizza-making activity. After a child completes every activity, his or her pazzport is scanned and then stamped. “What this is, honestly, is a loyalty program, but it is themed as citizenship,” López said. In the past two years, four hundred thousand children have signed up worldwide, enabling López and his team to see in detail which activities are the most popular with which segments of the audience, and to market directly to the adults who are responsible for them. The goal is to introduce the pazzport into every KidZania in the next year, to track children’s interests and tastes.
Incentivizing universal, omnipresent electronic activity tracking and conflating consumption with citizenship in kids' play seem like dangerous ideas. But I guess this is part and parcel of KidZania's adult world verismo.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:15 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


They all carried iPhones—“my social-media folder has over a thousand notifications,” one eleven-year-old boy told me, with affected weariness—but insisted that they would much rather be at KidZania than in a virtual world. “On the phone, you can’t really feel your happiness,” one girl said. “What a boring thing, just touching a screen,” another added.
[emphasis mine]

The brand loyalty is creepy but I loved this feedback from the kids.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


So I think it's a mistake to think that KidZania is somehow the opposite of the Magic Kingdom: they both trade in wish fulfillment.

Very well put. And I'm not as cynical about the branding. Let's not forget that Walt Disney pretty much built his parks on the backs of corporate sponsors.

My experiences as a 70s kid in this kind of play park are minimal. As in, they really didn't exist. But there were places where I saw branding remember it adding an air of authenticity to what I was doing or watching. 2001: A Space Odyssey was a hell of a lot more believable when Dr. Floyd walks out of an AT&T phone booth into a Hilton hotel. Or maybe that's just me.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:41 PM on January 13, 2015


The Boston Children's Museum had an installation in the late 70's/early 80's where you could work on an assembly line manufacturing cardboard spinning tops. One station stamped the logo on the disc, the next put a wooden peg in the hole of the disk, the last stuck them in an inspection machine.

As a kid I always chose the inspection station. Twenty years later I was working in QA. I just made this connection. I'm going to lie down for a while with a cup of tea and a hot compress.
posted by Spatch at 1:45 PM on January 13, 2015 [19 favorites]


Ooh, I would've loved the heck out of this as a kid. Even now, I think I'd probably enjoy it, if they allowed adults. It appeals to the same part of my brain that likes getting achievements in games.

It also reminds me of a place I went to in Seattle in 1997 that was kind of the opposite; it was an 18+ (or maybe 21+) space where adults could play adult-sized versions of kids' games. The execution was nowhere near as detailed as KidZania, but I liked the concept.
posted by Georgina at 2:18 PM on January 13, 2015


zachlipton: "Surely they could do actual activities that result in real output instead of having kids press some buttons and get a helmet with the Made in China sticker still attached?"

One of the jobs my sons did was working at the pizza parlor. They spread real pizza dough on a real rack, put on real toppings, and put it in a real oven. When it was finished cooking, our whole family ate the pizza. It was real good. I suspect the ratio of fake-output to real-output varies by country, with more fake-output in more litigious countries.

Sangermaine: "Why are we actively trying to construct a dystopian nightmare future?"

I have been to KidZania with my kids. It is not a "dystopian nightmare future", it is fucking awesome.

If you're deadset on beanplating it and making it into a sweeping political statement: It's kind of the opposite of a dystopian nightmare future. It's actually fairly Marxist. You work at a pizza place? You get to eat the pizza you make! You work at the eyeglass store? Go home with some cool non-prescription glasses! The workers all receive the fruits of their own labor. Also, pay was roughly equal for the whole range of jobs (I think the short jobs paid less than the long jobs, but working in manufacturing or food service paid as much as being a banker or lawyer or the like). Boys and girls got paid exactly equally.

Itaxpica: "Kids love pretending to do adult stuff, and a place where they can do that on a grand scale sounds wonderful. But really? We're talking about building brand loyalty in children? How can you even say those words without feeling like some sort of cartoon caricature of a greedy capitalist?"

Yeah, that is the only part that is cartoonishly bad, but luckily it's a part where I think the place absolutely fails. The thing is: it's expensive. It's like half the price of Disneyland. So you're going to end out going maybe once a year at most unless you're fucking loaded, in which case it doesn't make a lot of sense to build brand loyalty to Dominos in your kid, since your kid wouldn't eat that peasant food in the first place. So, anyway, because it's so expensive, your kid will probably end out with brand loyalty to Kidzania, because they spent their whole day there. But they're unlikely even to remember which eyeglass shop or chocolate shop or whatever they worked at, since they were only in that booth for maybe 20 minutes, during which time they were concentrating on what they were doing. Watching an afternoon of TV would be far more effective at building "brand loyalty" than spending an entire day at KidZania, and, unlike KidZania, watching TV isn't something kids only get to do once every two or three years.
posted by Bugbread at 4:39 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


NoRelationToLea: "The Legoland in Tokyo does not have this same exhibit. I'd like to think that's because the Tokyo one is inside a few floors of a small building and can't afford the space - but it more likely has something to do with some terrible aspect of Japanese culture that they're trying to insert into the minds of their children."

Considering how many go-cart places I've been to with my kids here in Japan (including a tiny one in KidZania): no, it's purely because the Tokyo Legoland doesn't have the space. There is no secret Inscrutable Asian Conspiracy against letting kids drive toy cars/go-carts.
posted by Bugbread at 4:43 PM on January 13, 2015


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