Huggy Wuggy is a blue puppet with red lips and sharp teeth. Seemingly snuggly and looking for cuddles, this video game protagonist (from the survival video game "Poppy Playtime," released in October 2021) is, in reality, a ruthless killer.
While the name implies that he is used to giving and requesting hugs, after tricking his victim, he is instead immediately ready to lash out with lethal attacks.
Brought to the limelight in Italy by Me vs. You (“Me contro Te”) YouTubers, Luigi Calagna and Sofia Scalia, but widespread in various parts of the world (starting with the United Kingdom), this stuffed animal has rightly caused an uproar amongst many parents who are concerned about its possible harmful effects on young children, so much so that the Italian state police of communication have sounded an alarm.
A game not suitable for children under the age of 13
The video game's rating is PG 13, so it is only intended for kids 13 and up. From the outset, it is easy to understand why it has this rating just by listening to the accompanying lyric: "Sharp teeth leave you bloody. Don't you ever call me ugly. Hug me 'til you die."
The puppet is the antagonist found in the first level of the video game, available on various Apple and Android devices. Basically, it is a "horror escape room." Huggy Wuggy suddenly appears as the player must solve riddles to escape from the Playtime & Co. Toy Factory (where the toys are evil and have a life of their own and of which Huggy is the mascot).
Another thing that has been concerning to parents and educators is the fact that so many YouTubers who entertain kids (such as Me vs. You) subtly show images of the characters. It is also easy to find coloring pages intended for very young children, just like they do with other age-appropriate cartoons.
Still, the tale of Huggy Wuggy is not for children: it is similar to that of another horror character, Slender Man, a sinister figure with long limbs who has no face, who went from being a video game character to quite a phenomenon. But it is also reminiscent of the Momo Challange or Jonathan Galindo: all pseudo-characters who share the "evil puppet" persona and who show up in web videos or games.
Why keep children away from horror content?
First of all, it is good to remember that when we watch a movie or play a video game, we know—at least we adults—what we are seeing or doing is not real. Yet, sometimes the scenes are so realistic that we hold our breath and experience the protagonist's experiences firsthand. Movies and video games are fictions, but the emotions we feel and the reactions they trigger are real. So much so that when faced with horror scenes, as the article What horror movies do to your brain points out, "The reaction to what we see on the screen is not limited to the brain but extends to the whole body, since the brain sends an alarm signal that activates the autonomic nervous system through increased production of cortisol and adrenaline, two neurotransmitters that cause certain changes at the physiological level (your heart rate increases, you start sweating, your muscles contract)."
Children are unable to rationalize and sharply delineate, in their minds, the boundary between reality and fiction. And, if it is true that the presence (and explanations) of a parent while watching a horror scene reduces the emotional impact and the possibility of trauma, it is also true, as many pediatricians and psychologists agree, that there is no need to risk causing anxiety when kids could be entertained in better ways.