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.
Play Stuff Blog
How do you tell the history of video games?
For more than a decade, The Strong has been collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history of video games. Over that time our collection has grown to more than 60,000 video games and related artifacts, as well as hundreds of thousands of video game-related items in our archives. We’ve showcased them in exhibits, featured them in online content like our timeline of the history of video games, and made them available to scholars from around the world who have come to The Strong to do research.
Now we’re highlighting this amazing collection with a new book from The Strong’s World Video Game Hall of Fame: A History of Video Games in 64 Objects.
The book uses 64 items from the museum’s collection to tell the story of how video games have changed, and how they’ve changed society. For me, one of the most challenging aspects of producing the book came at the very beginning—choosing which items to include and which to exclude.
Some choices were easy. We knew we wanted to represent each member of the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Will Wright’s design notebooks for The Sims? Check. A Pac-Man Halloween costume (anytime something becomes a Halloween costume it’s probably of some cultural significance). A Pong arcade cabinet? Obvious. But after accounting for the games inducted into the first three classes of the World Video Game Hall of Fame, there were only 48 slots remaining in the book. How to pick 48 objects from the hundreds of thousands in the collection?
We chose some because they represented the work of pioneers. Humpty Dumpty, the first pinball with flippers, offered useful historical perspective about the development of the playfield. John Burgeson’s baseball game from 1961 was the first computer version of the nation’s pastime. Jordan Mechner used rotoscoping techniques to fluidly render human movement on a computer, and so it was natural to feature the photo prints he had originally created for that purpose.
Other objects represented milestone games or symbolized an era. Thus anyone who grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s probably played a handheld game like Mattel’s Football, owned a Texas Instruments Speak & Spell, traveled the Oregon Trail, or matched wits with Simon.
Some artifacts, our curators knew to be historically compelling. The Digi-Comp 1, which came out in 1963, billed itself as the “first digital computer in plastic” and offered kids the chance to write simple programs in binary, such as a rocket countdown and the game Nim. Produced at the height of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, it showed how grand geopolitical concerns often filtered their way into kids’ play.
The Magnavox Mini Theater, the first retail display for a video game, opens a window into how manufacturers tried to make video games understandable to audiences who had trouble even conceiving what it meant to play a video game on a television. A game like Densha De Go, a Japanese train simulation game, shows how tastes in video games vary from place to place.
We easily could have filled a book with another 64 artifacts, but we’re excited that these selections provide not only an introduction to many of the games in the World Video Game Hall of Fame but also an introduction to gaming history as a whole.
So we hope you enjoy the book, available online from HarperCollins or in the museum shop.
In October 2015, I was awarded a Research Fellowship from The Strong. I had access to the library, the archives, the museum itself, and the seemingly endless rows of shelves full of playthings of the past. Both my 14-year-old self and my current 30-something researcher self were in a happy place. My job is to study video games and teach about them—not a bad gig at all, I must admit—and I have been interested in the history and theory of digital and non-digital play for some time.
It is impossible to tell the story of educational computing without acknowledging the tremendous importance of Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC), the first organization to provide widespread access to games and other computer software for educational purposes.
Barbie has raised eyebrows since her debut at the 1959 Toy Fair. Modeled after the German Bild Lilli novelty doll, Barbie provided girls a playroom outlet for their dreams and aspirations. Inventor Ruth Handler knew that girls wanted to play at more than being a mother to life-sized baby dolls, but Mattel executives were skeptical.
If you are a human with a job and colleagues, your coworkers probably send you links to various items on the Internet. These may include the occasional funny cat video, but most of the time the content probably has a legitimate connection to your job. In my case, people send me numerous articles about preservation and, thankfully, most of it is good news.
Being a fan of a professional sports team can be a lot of work. Sure, you can casually flip through the television channels on a Sunday afternoon and watch a few minutes of football, or you can accept some free tickets to a baseball game just to appreciate the sunshine and some stadium hot dogs, but folks who call themselves “die-hard fans” really take their enjoyment of sports to a different level.
It’s 9:43 a.m. on September 19, and you’re eyeing the morning’s deadlines when the usually reserved graphic artist pokes her head into your office and says, “Ye’ll have me that copy before the sun is over the yard-arm, or I’ll have ye walkin’ the plank, ye swab, ye scurvy son of a sea dog.” With a flourish, she whips an X-Acto knife in her teeth. You notice that she’s wearing a tri-cornered felt hat with the Jolly Roger on the brim.
Recently for The Strong’s American Journal of Play, I reviewed Garry Fine’s new book on the sociology of chess, and I particularly enjoyed his discussion on the role of computers in chess.
Several years ago, friends came to visit and brought along their Australian shepherd/border collie mix and this black Ko
Shopping. Chances are that word triggers a sensation of either joy or dread in your brain. Love it or loathe it, shopping plays a pretty hefty role in most of our lives, whether it’s a quick trip to the market for some essentials or a day-long event to find that one perfect item. Regardless of your shopping style—necessity or hobby—it’s hard to ignore that shopping represents a large part of our everyday culture, including how we play.