September 30, 2006

Flat Daddy

by Andrew Stern · , 2:40 am

NYTimes

I’ve posted numerous times about virtual characters (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8), and in my posts I’ve always been critical of shallow, cardboard-cutout characters. I’ve always had trouble understanding how players can tolerate them.

However, sometimes a cardboard cutout is all you’ve got, and it’s better than nothing.

The Maine National Guard is giving life-size from-the-waist-up pictures of soldiers to the families of deployed guard members. Guard officials and families say the cutouts, known as Flat Daddies or Flat Soldiers, connect families with a relative who is thousands of miles away. The Flat Daddies are toted everywhere from soccer practice to coffee shops to weddings.

That’s from an article today in the NYTimes; there’s another from a month ago in the Boston Globe.

Boston Globe

“I prop him up in a chair, or sometimes put him on the couch and cover him up with a blanket,” said Kay Judkins of Caribou, whose husband, Jim, is a minesweeper mechanic in Afghanistan. “The cat will curl up on the blanket, and it looks kind of weird. I’ve tricked several people by that. They think he’s home again.”

My first reaction was, this is incredibly sad. That image of the kid on the swing next to his Flat Daddy is heartbreaking, and also creepy.

But then I read this part of the NYTimes article:

Ms. Sorenson said it helped Sarah, now 4, recognize her father when he came home on leave. “She saw him on the jetway and said, ‘Daddy, Daddy,’ ” Ms. Sorenson said. “There was no anxiety.”

That helped me remember why virtual characters, or fictional characters of any kind really, can be so powerful and useful to people. And depending on the circumstance, even a flat character can be effective.

(These virtual daddies and mommies aren’t “characters” of course, they’re of real people, but I think the same principles apply.)

While it’s still sad to me, it also feels positive. Now I see the Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies as being really important, especially for kids. It’s more than a photo; because you can carry them around, and they’re life size, they’re almost like big dolls, really. So strange.