Outside the Box: Is the Playful Revolution Here?

Outside the Box: Is the Playful Revolution Here?

Nintendo Enters the Fold!

The cardboard box is an open platform transporting imaginations of young “space explorers” to new frontiers. Or is it? Boxes alone don't cut it. But cardboard does. As we navigate the world from childhood to post-childhood, oftentimes our imaginations linger on the forgotten realms we once traversed- the cardboard fortresses we left behind and undefended and the potential of making something -anything- with our hands. Where is that curiosity now, Captain?


Set your cardboard phasers to stun, because there is a playful revolution afoot. And yes, it will be cardboard.


Earlier this week Nintendo announced  LABO, a collection of DIY cardboard projects that when built become consoles that activate when Nintendo’s Switch game controller is interfaced into the cardboard. The result is a “Make, Play, Discover” tiered experience that unites crafty cardboard construction with high tech digital gaming, merging a digital and tactile process. Use the instructions on the Switch to construct a cardboard fishing pole, and soon you are fishing into the touch screen. Slide the controllers into a cardboard piano, and now the keys are activated to make a cardboard keyboard. Pretty neat Nintendo, but were you the first?

What's the Big Deal About DIY Cardboard?

Corrugated cardboard has long been diminished because of its day job as a transportation vehicle for consumable products. Sure it's not glamorous, especially in its functional brown uniform. But cardboards strength combined with its accessibility and versatility makes it an accessible building material for young designers. Its renewable and better for the planet than plastic. The assembling of your own play unique play experience supports grit, a valuable skill that is often overlooked in the industries of immediate gratification. Lego knows this, and so they actively promote builders, thereby forming a unique community that extends far beyond childlike aspirations.  


The biggest benefit, however, is not the products that can be produced, but a reassessment of the waste that we already consume. With the advent of awesome cardboard, young people could turn away from standard toys and collect tools instead. Perhaps makers will view the waste stream as a potential resource, focusing manufacturers on packaging that will catch the attention of these tactile hackers. You can see the design choices in products such as the subscription-based Tinkercrate from KiwiCo. as well. The box is not just the package. Oftentimes, it’s the base for the project itself.

Star Wars AT-AT made from cardboard

Cardboard Teck Instantute constructed this 10ft by about 13ft AT-AT out of cardboard, staples, box buttons and scrap bike tire tubes during the North East Kingdom Music Festival.

Cardboard can be used to make a variety of things

A sprawling cardboard conglomeration collaboration project made with Paper Hand Puppets.

Cardboard Gets a Second Chance, In the World of DIY Toys

Toys have always been ephemeral, but experiences have lasting effects, and can pile up into skills and knowledge. For the last 12 years, we here at Cardboard Teck Instantute imagine micro cardboard teck inventor shops co-mingling with lemonade stands- kids on the verge of discovering their entrepreneurial and artistic opportunity to make a playful world by their own design. The next generation of youth will know how to build instant worlds, and compliment them with hackable, modular, and post-digital accessories. We begin the revolution with the PinBox 3000 cardboard pinball machine as DIY altar to the experimental and prototyping playground. This platform embodies all that Cardboard Teck has come to believe. Its uses in education and as gravitationally-powered gaming continues to amass awards and tilt heads.

As we play out the recycled renaissance, tool boxes with kid-sized tools will replace the toy box and DIY projects will become the standard for active, tactile, and creative engagement. Combine these visions with the work of hundreds of puppeteers, cosplayers, Box Warriors, educators, students and makers around the world who are continually pushing cardboard to the limit in sculptures, costumes, and wacky contraptions and you have some serious potential given the freedom and diversity of shapes afforded by cardboard. As this future unfolds, we relish in the current moment of cardboard's increasing legitimacy as an open platform that invites imaginative play in real, non-virtual space.


Tilt the Future!

- Professor Ben t. Matchstick

Back to blog

Leave a comment