Why do adults collect toys

Adults just want to play too

Playing is good for the brain and for social interaction. This is why adults are increasingly buying what children usually enjoy: toys. Manufacturers have recognized the trend.

Heike is mean right now. She pushes a tile forward in such a way that Andreas can no longer expand his subway line in the «Metro» game. And yes, that annoys him somehow. But he has an idea how he can get more points than Heike.

Christian, on the other hand, prefers to build in three dimensions. Lego brick on Lego brick. And what he's up to is certainly not a colorful tower of something.

Heike, Andreas and Christian play. Not in a nursery. They are adults and some of them are over fifty years old. While Andreas and Heike enjoy playing complex board games in their free time, Christian Velhagen is currently putting together a very special piece of work in Binningen near Basel: the ISD aggressor class star destroyer from the “Star Wars” universe. Fortunately, he has help from his family, after all, they have to build a total of more than 15,000 Lego blocks. The finished model will be almost a meter long and weigh around 12.25 kilograms. Velhagen acquired the plans from a designer who bought the stones himself. Usually, however, the building services engineer buys finished sets from the manufacturer, most recently a passenger train in December. He's what the toy industry calls kidult, an adult who buys toys for himself.

1 million Lego bricks in the house

He is not alone in this. The industry is turning more and more money with these kidults. The term is made up of the English words "kid" for child and "adult" for adult. Market observers estimated sales with this target group to be around 1.9 billion Swiss francs in 2018 in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Spain alone, and the trend is rising. The trend was confirmed at the toy fair in Nuremberg at the end of January. It has long been about much more than older men tinkering with the landscape of their model railroad in their hobby room.

When the Velhagen family moved into their new house in 2011, the Lego bricks came with them, an area of ​​60 square meters has been specially earmarked for them, plus storage and play area there is a total of around 100 square meters. In 2017, Velhagen came up with the idea of ​​expanding his hobby and founded the Lebrickgo Museum in Binningen, where he mainly exhibits his own models. “We have broken the mark of one million stones,” he says.

Scientists have found that play in the brain connects networks that are otherwise never connected. That promotes creativity.

But for Velhagen, Lego is more than just collecting, building and owning. The toy helps him relieve stress. When he has to think and think, he sits down at night and starts building a small car, a house or more: "It's very relaxing, like jogging, you clear your head."

Scientists have investigated what is going on in the head. As a result of the game, as many networks as possible can be connected to one another in the brain that are otherwise never linked to one another. "We come up with completely new ideas and solutions, get more zest for life, feel ourselves again, stay creative," says neurobiologist Gerald Hüther, describing the effects. Because the more networks are connected, the more creative people become. He also loses fear in the game.

So gaming is more than just a pastime. Because it feels so good, Christian Velhagen rarely plays alone with his Lego bricks, but lets friends or his son and wife play along. His passion has never been a problem for the relationship. “It was always clear that I was a kind of Lego,” he says. His wife also takes his personal quirks with humor: Whenever they visit a strange city, Velhagen goes to the toy department and looks at the Lego display.

The time that they spend playing together is important to both of them. As they set stone on stone, they talk about all kinds of things. "When it comes to difficult issues, you don't have to look each other in the eye, you hold them down over the stones," says Velhagen. Lego isn't the only toy the couple loves. "On Saturday we went skiing, after that we first played with the Carrera track."

Playing strengthens relationships, you have to deal with each other. The praise of the partner or friends is additional joy as soon as a kit of several hundred or thousand parts has been completed. This praise goes to an activity that seems pointless at first glance. What's the point of sticking plastic blocks on top of each other? Nevertheless, the activity has a goal and even brings recognition. The sociologist Bastian Roet says: "If the buyer of a kit carries a box from the toy store, he already knows that he will have a sense of achievement in a few days." The models may look complicated, but the assembly instructions help everyone achieve success.

The fact that the toy industry has recognized adults as its own target group is also reflected in the price. A Lego model of the “Millennium Falcon”, the spaceship with which Harrison Ford flies through the “Star Wars” universe as Han Solo, costs around 1,000 francs. At Carrera, several hundred francs are due for top lifts. There are also accessories such as favorite vehicles or virtual reality glasses. Because the modern Carrera car has a camera in the cockpit. In conjunction with the VR glasses, the players control the vehicle from the driver's perspective. And in the Carrera professional league, adult hobby racetrack enthusiasts from Germany and Austria compete against each other. Adults build ball tracks, hydraulic models and robots from the toy manufacturer Fischertechnik's range. Or large scenarios with Playmobil characters such as the Hambach Festival, the storming of the Bastille and modern city scenes.

A good game casts a spell over the players. You sink into this other world. Psychologists call this state flow.

At this year's toy fair, the Siku company presented a model of a Claas tractor on a scale of one to 32, controlled by an app with a smartphone. The adult trade visitors, men and women, devotedly steered the six gears, drove forwards, backwards, left, right, switched the 22 light-emitting diodes on and off and turned the driver's cab.

“These are products that are not bought for children,” says Axel Dammler, managing partner of the market research institute Iconkids & Youth. He speaks of a play gene that humans carry within themselves and that allow them to get out of everyday life.

Disengage from the digital world

This is also evident on game evenings. Andreas and Heike Pietsch sit at the table and continue to build their subway network. Concentration is important. A wrong move can give the opponent an advantage. Heike defended her lead: "I love to beat Andi," she says. There are around fifty games in their cupboards. You belong to the 70 percent of Germans who play card or board games according to the market research institute Yougov. More than half of the people surveyed cited childhood memories as the reason, as well as the possibility of withdrawing from the digital world into the analog world.

A good game casts a spell over the players. You forget the trappings and feel challenged. You sink into this very other world. Psychologists call this state flow.

However, not every game is suitable for everyone. So the players from "Colt Express" attack a train together - and work against each other, there are wild shootings and fights. Andi thinks it's funny because the game mechanism makes many actions unpredictable and planning is thrown overboard again and again. Heike just doesn't like this unpredictability.

However, everyone should find something on the retailer's shelves, regardless of whether they are looking for a strategic challenge, have fun or want to let their creativity run free. A comparatively new approach are games with intermediate rewards, small success stories like in a computer game, for example because the group has solved a puzzle. "This way we can reach new target groups, for example people who have only played digitally up to now," says Silke Ruoff from Kosmos-Verlag. In other games, the participants work with each other instead of against each other, fighting fires in the role of firefighters or epidemics as paramedics.

Sociologist Roet speaks of a protected environment that enables gaming. Players could let out their characters or try other behaviors with no negative consequences. Resignation, sharing, aggressiveness and deceit, the whole range of emotions is possible - and at the end of the game it is all over.