Joyous sensorial playgrounds, virtual treasure hunts and surprise blind boxes: is Web3 bringing back the thrill of youth and helping users and consumers reconnect with their inner child?
The inner-child age of the Internet may have officially found its niche. From gamification campaigns to immersive adventure contests, the metaverse heralds a new wave of creatives bringing “kidulthood” back into fashion.
“The greatest utility to me is fun. It’s such a beautiful thing to be able to fully allow your inner child to come out and be like, okay, let me just have fun,” artist Amber Park tells Jing Daily.
When the creative first began dabbling in the virtual world, she looked back to her early days to reawaken her imagination. What came to fruition as a result was the playful lifestyle ecosystem and fashion label Play!Pop!Go!.
“What’s really at the root of Play!Pop!Go! is tapping into your inner child and bringing your imagination to life. It’s really grounded in ideas of positive intention and gratitude,” Park says. “I just started working on a bunch of different ideas that were things I used to draw a lot as a kid. It’s crazy as an adult how that naturally just starts coming back out again.”
According to Google trends, searches for the term “inner child” have risen steadily since 2018, with more consumers keen to know what the metaphorical buzzword entails. “Inner child work” is also doing the rounds on social media; the hashtag #innerchild has been viewed over 2.3 billion times on video-sharing app TikTok.
Its potential to optimize wellness, and capture consumers’ attention, hasn’t gone unrecognized. Thanks to rewards systems, incentivization and immersive environments, brands are unlocking a new level of community participation — and they have the burgeoning digital ecosystem of Web3 to thank for it.
The rise of gamification
Coined as the first iteration of Web3, gaming has been at the heart of the metaverse since its genesis. Charli Cohen, founder of crypto-native platform RSTLSS, believes that gaming is encouraging us to be more creative, free-spirited and curious, beyond what we’ve seen with Web2.
“We aren’t bound by social or geographic restrictions, or physics, or really any of the trappings of the physical world, so we can take self-exploration to a whole new level,” she says.
Launched in the summer of 2016, the augmented reality-powered application Pokémon Go drew in over 250 million players per month at its peak, and totalled around 500 million global downloads in the three months following its release.
Although its popularity has waned, the game still generates around 78 million monthly users on average, and has cultivated a community of die-hard fans.
The platform’s rocketing success inspired a rush of brands to explore augmented reality in their own gamified campaigns. Consequently, the art of incentivization through play has become the marketing hack of the decade.
For its AW22 campaign, Kate Spade invited customers to enter its interactive virtual townhouse, in which they could play to unlock access to the brand’s new line of handbags. Co-creation was also encouraged, with participants able to design their own wallpaper out of Kate Spade prints.
Balenciaga, too, has jumped on the trend. The brand recently launched its very own WeChat-based mini game. Players navigate through the space in the form of a farmer avatar learning about the house’s agricultural efforts.
“The anonymity of an avatar or username removes inhibitions and allows us to explore parts of ourselves without fear of judgment. It gives us permission to play, as an adult,” Cohen says.
Fun via online ‘playgrounds’
Feeding into gamification, multidisciplinary “playgrounds” dedicated to fostering creativity and socialization have also taken off.
“I always visited this dream world in my daydreams when growing up, and I thought to myself, when I got older, how could I make this something real,” Danny Cole told Jing Daily ahead of his New York Fashion Week debut in November last year.
Based on his prolific “Creature World” NFT project, the creative disruptor constructed a gleeful, multisensory playground for visitors to immerse themselves in. From paper maché sculptures to inflatable bouncy castles, the pop-up served as an ode to the whimsical childhood utopia he had built in his imagination during his early years.
While Parks’ Play!Pop!Go! vision is a less sensorial milieu, the play platform is still just as rooted in escapism, and aims to provide a space for audiences to reawaken their inner child through unique storylines and quests.
Following its sold-out “Dreambox” launch in March (which unlocked access to the platform’s Play3 “Parktopia”), the label is set to debut its first digital fashion collaborations alongside eyewear label Bonnie Clyde and Gucci Vault artist Pet Liger in June. The brand also dropped its inaugural line of streetwear-inspired garments last month.
“As humans, we’re naturally innately creative beings. We have this essence of wanting to feel free and to unlock our imagination, and I think things like cartoons and toys represent that kind of spirit that’s within us,” Park says.
Tapping into nostalgia
Consumers’ recent pivot away from newness to nostalgia-driven products has also contributed to the “kidult” boom. A 2022 Toy Association Survey found that 58% of adult respondents had purchased a toy for themselves, while ‘kidults’ reportedly contribute $9 billion a year to the industry and made up 25% of toy sales in 2022.
As for luxury, this return to childhood products and memories has inspired campaigns such as Loewe x Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle, which went viral across social media, and Jimmy Choo x Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. The latter received over 258,000 views on Weibo in a week, demonstrating the extent of demand for products that evoke nostalgia and incorporate elements from childhood.
Brands in the Chinaverse have also taken note. Tapping into the mainland’s penchant for nostalgia and cuteness, digital collectibles are now taking the form of toys and popular IPs in a bid to drive sales and attract widespread attention.
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To celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, RobbiART last year collaborated with Nudake (founded by Gentle Monster) on a series of digital collectibles. Meanwhile, in honor of the Year of the Rabbit, Creed Fragrances tapped the toy IP to launch “the world’s first scented art toy,” which was fitted with an NFC chip enabling consumers to scan its left foot and reveal an NFT.
Unsurprisingly, both domestic toy enthusiasts and tapped-in consumers took to the collaborations.
Despite a slew of notable developments and rapid growth, the metaverse’s future is still being approached with fear and uncertainty. But with a new wave of the populace celebrating fun, play, and childlike freedom like never before, it looks more like a worthwhile adventure than ever.