My baby doesn't watch a lot of TV, because she's a baby and she sleeps too much to keep up with my Netflix marathons of The Vampire Diaries. But when Charlie (who just turned a year old this month) does watch TV, she prefers cartoons, specifically, she prefers Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Jr.
She loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, or MMC, if you're in the know. Loves it. As in "My dad Justin has an unbroken two-week-long streak of tripping on at least one piece of Mickey Mouse paraphernalia per day."
I've been down with MMC from the jump, largely because it's got a great intro and outro theme by my favorite band, They Might Be Giants. Incidentally: If you're not familiar with "Hot Dog" brace yourself for one of the most potent earworms known to man:
Hot Dog! (sorry, it's instinctual at this point)
I developed a deeper appreciation for MMC, however, while watching the episode where Donald Duck wants a clubhouse of his own for the 13th or perhaps 15th time: Mickey and the gang weren't just pacifying my daughter long enough for me to eat a cold slice of pizza and get in a nap/cry on the kitchen floor. They were teaching her how to play adventure games.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has a narrative, but to keep kids engaged it's also got some pseudo-interactive segments where the gang gets stumped in their adventure and have to call in some additional help.
That help comes in the form of Toodles, who begins every adventure with a pre-selected batch of four items (OK, fine, they're "Mouskatools"), one of which is unknown. Toodles himself is — well, let me show you.
You don't need to be Roberta Williams to recognize Toodles for what he is: A sentient, floating, adorable adventure game UI.
Now these puzzles aren't particularly challenging to an adult (I beat Charlie to the punch with a solution so frequently I don't even know why she keeps trying). But they do often involve some cool examples of lateral thinking.
For example, the above Toodles toolset is from an episode where Mickey and Co. are trapped in a massive sandcastle. The solution, as it happens, is to use the trashcan as a giant scoop to dig their way out. It's no cat hair mustache but it's a level of convolution any adventure gamer will recognize.
Beyond adding a little variety, the presence of the mystery Mousekatool is also a smart piece of game design, as it keeps the viewer from assuming something in their inventory has to provide an answer. This seemingly simple choice forces additional of creative contemplation of each item to see if they can dream up an application, rather than just slotting solutions into slots.
The series has been airing since 2006, so this won't come as a surprise to those who've been parenting/getting high and watching cartoons in the last decade. But it was something of a revelation to a guy who grew up in an era when cartoons existed solely to sell toys. Amazing, perfect toys where illusion is the ultimate weapon.
The series' long run also has broader implications. Think about it: You are, in your everyday life, surrounded by millions of 9-minus-years-old sleeper adventure game fans just waiting to be activated. Keep a close eye on your rubber pulleys inside of chickens, they're coming for them all.
If you were to ask folks at Disney, they probably wouldn't cop to covert adventure gamer training. They'd probably say something boring like the show is "combining The Walt Disney Company's rich tradition of storytelling with Playhouse Disney's ‘whole child' curriculum of cognitive, social and creative learning opportunities." Zzzzzz.
That's fine, they have to toe the company line. But you and I know the truth. We know that when my daughter drops out of high school to apply to be Telltale's first 14-year-old intern, she's gonna have a leg up on candidates who wasted their baby years watching Doc McStuffins or interacting with their parents. She's going to be the greatest adventure gamer on the planet, and she'll have Mickey Mouse to thank.