UPDATE: We have ditched this idea in favour of this one! I spent January looking into the various story ideas, and the ones that I’ve found the most compelling are Play’n and Stack Overflow. The Alleyologist definitely has potential as a future project, and most of the ideas in Stack Overflow can work in the cognitive talents of the Play’n idea which I’ve renamed The Advantage.
The Advantage is about an infant developmental toy that really works, spawning the most talented youth subculture humanity’s ever seen. Will they want to fit into society — or reshape it in their image?
I’m imagining the majority of the story will focus on the Advantaged as young adults, but I wanted to get a good throughline on the originating event so I wrote up a bit of background for the toy:
A new infant developmental toy is released called Play’n Advantage. It’s a white, slightly gelatinous square, that, as the baby plays with it, forms itself into the ideal toy for the child: one that stimulates either the cognitive, empathic or fine motor skills. Unlike a lot of similar products, it has the backing of credible scientific testing, and it’s this, along with the tantalizing possibility of uncovering and developing their baby’s nascent talent, that allow people to ignore the slightly creepy texture of it.
It becomes the toy-du-jour, causing near riots of short-tempered, sleep-deprived parents in the malls in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2015. And the babies really seem to like it. Some cuddle with it, and it forms a roughly anamorphic teddy-bear shape. Some poke and prod it inquisitively, and it becomes a set of interlocking blocks. Others roll and throw it, giving it a slightly off kilter ball form.
They’re baby’s favourite toy, until they start melting.
AdvantageCorp issues a recall, claiming inadequate testing of the adaptive plastic used in the manufacturing process. Parents organize a class lawsuit amidst rumours of babies ingesting the plastic, and AdvantageCorp settles for a huge payment to the thousands of parents that bankrupts it in the process. Upon return of the remnants of the toy, the parents receive a large cheque and their baby receives an injection to counteract any reaction to the plastic. Just another example of corporate negligence, but at least this one was punished.
It’s not until many months later that the babies start to test off the charts. It starts anecdotally, on the chatrooms started for the lawsuit. At first it seems like the stories of “look what little Billy did” were just the typical parent stuff. But together, the videos of babies unlocking gates, opening baby-proofed bottles, speaking before they should… The pediatricians confirm it: the babies have accelerated development in the areas targeted by their toy.
The ex-executives at AdvantageCorp are not available for comment — they have disappeared as completely as their toys. Speculation is that identifying themselves would open them up for future liability, should the tide turn again and they go back from heroes to zeros. Who knows what the long-term effects will be, after all.
Twenty five years later, we find out.
I told Susan about this, and she mentioned that the melted toy could leave white marks on the hands of the babies to strengthen the lawsuit outrage — and it’d also allow them to recognize each other as adults. Any other brainstormy ideas or responses, add em below!