Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history. Learn even more about the museum’s archival materials, books, catalogs, and other ephemera through its Tumblr page.

Dolls in Focus

In October 2017, I had the chance to be at The Strong National Museum of Play as a research fellow collecting data for my Dolls in Focus project aimed at revisiting and expanding the findings of my previous linguistic investigation on dolls’ language. Surprisingly, what I thought would primarily be an exploratory incursion into dolls’ universe from an academic perspective turned out to be a rather touching and personal experience that allowed me to revisit my own childhood memories.

Bébé Triste doll, Jumeau, 1889-1895For a whole week, I had a wide variety of dolls coming in my direction, from old Jumeau Bébé dolls, walking and talking baby dolls, to Barbie dolls, of course. The Strong curators carefully selected more than 70 dolls for my examination, as well as seminal books I had requested. The museum’s staff proved to be extremely efficient in providing me with all information regarding the artifacts I was analyzing, such as their production date by the toy manufacturer. They also supplied me with instructions regarding the use of museum images in my future academic publications.

Barbie Game Developer, Mattel, Inc., 2016As an academic from the area of linguistics, I’ve been conducting toy research for almost 15 years, but I had never enjoyed the chance to engage with such a large collection of artifacts. My previous work had concentrated on language and images, notably the verbal and visual features of web advertisements for dolls. For this reason, being at The Strong gave me the opportunity to carry out a thorough analysis of dolls mainly as three-dimensional objects, which ended up enlightening my view of dolls’ material configurations.

From a linguistic perspective, my research and data collection experience at The Strong confirms that examining toys such as dolls as actual three-dimensional objects opens up possibilities for a broader analysis. The analysis can deal with the toys’ meanings as supported by design features such as their iconography, composition, material qualities, and the degree of realism of their representations. Such multimodal properties can lead to a deeper interpretation of their given motifs—or visual pointers—as clues to the meanings that their symbolic, somehow “unnatural” features convey. Observation on toys’ kinetic design perceived at the tactile level can also lead to relevant findings on their attached gendered meanings. In other words, a linguistic analysis that privileges not only a two-dimensional perspective but also a three-dimensional investigation of the visual, tactile and kinetic properties of toys like dolls might help to capture the essence of the social view on men’s and women’s roles in contemporary society.

These are only some of the reasons that made my research period at The Strong such a happy and productive one. This will certainly reverberate throughout my future academic productions on the language of toys, both in national and international contexts.

Seeing Is Believing: Play Twister!

When Twister’s three developers brought the concept to game pub

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Puppets Stage a Big Showing in the National Toy Hall of Fame

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Super Soaker Joins National Toy Hall of Fame

The National Toy Hall of Fame is awash in good news these days. On November 5, 2015, The Strong announced that Super Soaker—along with puppets and the game Twister—joined the 56 classic toys in the hall of fame. Kids had water toys before the Super Soaker debuted in 1990, but the drenching machine altered the ways they played outdoors.

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Random Knowledge: Brain Games

“All right, play time is over; it’s time to get your head in the game,” my friend Lauren sternly implores our team. We’ve been through six rounds. By our calculations, we must only be behind our chief rivals by a few points. Our highly competitive team has its regular starting line-up this week, and we haven’t sustained any major injuries (yet). This isn’t an outdoor team sport or your ordinary parlor game, however—this is serious business. This is weekly pub trivia. For as long as I can remember, I liked collecting facts.

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Work vs. Play: Do I Even Call This Work?

An interesting dynamic exists between work and play. In my last blog, I discussed how domestic chores can be play. The work versus play issue came to mind recently since so much of what I do in my current job is playing (just don’t tell my boss that). When it comes to a career, I never thought I would be someone who liked their job. It was called work for a reason.

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ICHEG, the RPO, and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy

As a child, I always enjoyed playing video games, but I never paid too much attention to the musical accompaniment in the background. It wasn’t until college that I first heard gaming music on its own. Prior to that, I simply enjoyed the music as background noise for games, or as musical cues that prompted me to “jump” or dodge an enemy.

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The Williams Pinball Playfield Design Collection

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Reader Beware—You’re in for a Scare!

Childhood is sometimes punctuated with brief but potent moments of blinding fear. Children often have imaginations that run amok and dark, isolated places are perceived as settings of unspeakable horrors that must be avoided at all costs. Kids can convince themselves (and some of us, even as adults, are still convinced) that horrible creatures await in the basement to snatch an unsuspecting victim; that vengeful ghosts haunt dark hallways; and hideous monsters hide under the bed, preparing to grab the next set of feet that come too close.

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Let There Be Light

What do you get when you take a grand Victorian mansion, all of its ornately detailed furnishings, wallpaper, wooden flooring, and inhabitants (including pets!), and shrink them down to 1/12 their natural size? Well, a dollhouse, of course!

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Go Greyhound!

From my childhood, I seem to recall an early TV advertising ditty that ended with: “Lucky us in a Greyhound bus!” Growing up in a village too small for Greyhound service, my introduction to the transportation line came from ads in magazines, newspapers, and television and from glimpses of Greyhound buses in movies, songs, and popular culture.

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