Play activity could be seen as a rehearsal of skills that we will need later, for hunting, for gathering, for courtship, and even for cooperation. Suggestions along these lines have already been offered by Boulton and Smith (1992).
We have a cultural infestation of Nintendo and Sega ... both of which appear to tickle our interests in hunting or in being hunted.
We have a similar plague of things to watch ... movies, television, and sports events. Butler showed us 30 years ago that Rhesus will press a lever in order to look at one another, perhaps the first demonstration that not all reinforcers have to reduce a physiological deficit such as thirst or hunger. I hear rumors of a Penn State coed with her home page drawing 10K hits per week. Her secret is a camera in the corner of her room that shoots every 10 minutes whatever occurs in the room and posts it, unedited, on the Net. A high percentage of those hits yield shots of an empty room. However, the Skinnerian Variable Ratio schedule operates as well and sometimes people may see other things. Random payoffs, based on response occurrence and independently of the clock, classically generate very high response rates and high resistance to extinction. The VR is a "gambler's schedule" since it underlies slot machines, craps, and roulette as well as the lottery, begging, sales jobs, auctioneering, and even self-abusive behavior.
Looking at a girl, for many of us, is slightly more enjoyable than listening to a girl. I remember driving the interstates with my CB on, listening to the truckers. The boys came to life when a female voice tickled their speakers. There were endless games to find her location, get a name, or arrange a meeting for "coffee." There was no information on her appearance, her symmetry (a current big thing in sexual selection), her age, or the number of gorillas sharing her bed. The voice got the truckers performing! Again, a VR payoff in which S(voice) leads to other rewards? Or is the voice enough when you have driven 600 miles in the past 9 hours?
Skinner once remarked that earning the reinforcer is more important than consuming it. Is the Tamagatchi a support for this view? After all, the Tamagatchi is about the size of a large egg and does nothing but make you work to keep it "alive." It beeps for feeding, for diaper changes, for nap time, for burping, for water, and so forth. It dies if you do not respond to its requests. I know 8 year olds who have kept theirs going for at least 3 weeks, even with 3 am feedings. I know parents enraged because the kid expects their help getting him up to feed his child at 3 am. The item is so hot commercially that I can't find one, even for the price of $15 each! I can't find one to verify my spelling. (I hear rumors that some of them are programmed to do puppy things.)
The lesson is that there is no killing, no hunting, no explosion, no full-frontal nudity (well, maybe but it's not very exciting with a Tamagatchi). There are no M&Ms and no food deprivation or earning quarters. Instead, our 10 year olds are spending money to practice childcare? Skinner may have been right and Evolutionary Psych may give us information for a whole generation of similar toys. A Tamagatchi for running a business? For marriage? Seduce your mate on the proper beep; she sets you on fire if you hit her. Add a mike and speaker and watch the possibilities escalate. Imagine a little green egg that requires you to say "I understand, dear" in the correct tone or else it dies until reactivated by another man. You can work on the packaging, also; install it as an option on an Adult Barbie! (1, 2)
Boulton M & Smith P (1992) The social nature of play fighting and play chasing: Mechanisms and strategies underlying cooperation and compromise. In Barkow J, Cosmides L, & Tooby J, "The Adapted Mind" NY: Oxford.
1) I remember when "sexuality training" was a large business for "normalizing" developmentally delayed adults. One of the more difficult chores was instructing the women about the problems associated with having a baby. The temptation was overwhelming for them at times in order to beat loneliness or perhaps to keep their boyfriend loyal. Discussions and role-playing about the 3 am vigils were often sufficient to change people's minds. Still, a Tamagatchi may have been helpful. A similar issue still haunts ADHD (and manic?) females given that early pregnancy is an elevated risk for these teens. Tamagatchi again since it makes the work aspect a lot more real?
2) Please check the posting on Adult Barbies and Dispersed Cultures