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.

Little Boxes: Plasticville Plays at Post-World War II Suburbia

Neighborhood shot from Edward Scissorhands film, 1990 Following World War II, William Levitt applied techniques of mass production to construction and built neighborhood developments on Long Island. Wartime shortages had crippled the housing industry, but Levitt knew that veterans would be eager to establish a normal life. When the Levitt homes hit the market in 1949, more than 1,400 sold on the first day. Over the years, post-World War II suburbia propelled a new type of domestic design and many Americans exceeded the standard of living appreciated by previous generations. Economists, sociologists, historians, and artists, among others, often deem suburbia as an uncontrolled sprawl that imposed conformity and served as a tool for segregation. Others get nostalgic about the suburban neighborhoods that shaped their childhoods. Director Tim Burton once told a reporter that “it’s not a bad place … it’s a place where there’s a lot of integrity.” As I prepared a display of train accessories to highlight at The Strong, I found this discussion especially pertinent to Plasticville, a brand of plastic toy train accessories by Bachmann Bros.

Bachmann Bros. originally manufactured celluloid hair combs and optical frames. In 1946, the company marketed injection molded fencing intended to serve as a “Christmas fence” for Yuletide displays. Rather than use the fencing for their Christmas gardens, consumers tended to incorporate it in their model train layouts. Bachmann caught onto the trend and began to add other accessories such as trees, bushes, and bridges. By 1950, Bachmann added houses and municipal buildings to the line and named it Plasticville U.S.A. With prices ranging from 39 to 99 cents (much lower than wood and lithographed toy buildings), children could afford to purchase a set from the hobby store or other local retailer. The sets also featured snap-together construction and required no glue to assemble. Plasticville quickly became a playtime staple.

Plasticville 1852 Ranch House construction setChildren growing up in the 1950s also often wanted to replicate the neighborhoods in which they lived through play. Unlike other manufacturers that often stuck to traditional platforms, stations, newsstands, and switch towers, Bachmann designers created kits that provided insights into everyday life. Plasticville provided “a city in a box” and included hardware stores, highway motels, supermarkets, trailer homes, airports, greenhouses, firehouses, schools, police stations, and ranch houses in pretty pastels and picturesque boxes. With a few dollars and a little imagination, a child could create a miniature ‘ville that resembled the one just outside of his window.

Plasticville captured the spirit of early post-war America. People were excited about the potential of new innovations such as the more than 500 plastics that hit the market following the war. The possibility of affordable tract housing with nearby amenities also encouraged feelings of optimism. Plasticville continues to represent the suburban tranquility dreamt up more than 60 years ago.

Why collect gaming magazines?

Game enthusiast Joseph Qualls recently donated more than 750 back issues of video game magazines to NCHEG. The magazines, mostly from the 1990s, wonderfully document the industry’s transition into the 32-bit era and beyond. Select almost any time from that decade and you will learn about the state of video games from this collection.

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Alternate Interfaces and Project Natal

The first time I played a video game without holding or stomping on a controller was at a 2002 traveling museum exhibit.  There was no joystick, no steering wheel, no pads to stomp on--simply  cameras that sensed my body movements.  The interactive graphics were fairly primitive, but they allowed me

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Game Boy’s 20th Birthday, Already?

Can it be 20 years already for Game Boy? In 1989, Indiana Jones embarked on his “Last Crusade,” Joe Montana and Jerry Rice led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl victory, and Milli Vanilli lip-synced their way to the top of the charts.

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Research on Roller Coasters

Maybe you think that I mean “research about roller coasters,” but you’d be wrong.

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NCHEG Advisor Tallarico Praises Museum During Visit

Tommy Tallarico, Executive Producer of Video Games Live, made a special visit to Strong National Museum of Play recently to spend time with the CHEGheads and museum President and CEO, Rollie Adams.

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Buckleitner’s Great Gift

NCHEG’s collections have grown rapidly, and I wanted to take a moment to highlight one of the largest recent additions: more than 5,000 educational children’s computer games donated by Dr. Warren Buckleitner, Founder and Editor of Children’s Technology Review.

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Preserving Memories

I was a kid once, too. I spent every summer, between the ages of seven and ten or so, with my Mom's parents at their big house in the country. There were four of us kids, and I think it was a favor to Mom to have us out from under her feet for a few weeks.

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Thinking Outside the (Console) Box

In my last blog you read about OnLive’s new streaming games-on-demand service (now in beta, expected to be launched in winter 2009). That entry discussed OnLive’s potential for changing the way games are played, which got me wondering about the possibilities for changing how games are developed and distributed. OnLive claims that the market is ripe for games-on-demand service because there is a trend of “unprecedented innovation, creativity, and expansion within the video game market.” This is easy to agree with.

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Graphic Violence as a Motivator for Game Players?

The debate over violence in video games is one that has shadowed, and at times nearly overshadowed, the electronic games industry (despite the fact that they account for a relatively small percentage of the game market). When did all this fuss begin and where has it led?

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Play’s the Thing—Really

Some years ago, I watched Maggie Jane, my four-year-old niece, play with a few of her toys.

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