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.

Screen Time…Then and Now

With many of us spending more time at home right now, it’s likely that our screen time—time spent in front of our televisions, laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc.— has increased a bit.

Yo! MTV Raps Collecting Card: M.C. Hammer, 1991. The Strong, Rochester, New York. For those of us who grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the term “screen time” wasn’t a thing yet. In homes across the country, parents worked and entrusted many of us kids to look after ourselves for a couple hours after school, eventually earning us the moniker of Latchkey Kids. For most, this meant letting yourself in and enjoying a snack (or several), likely with the television on while you munched in the company of your favorite characters. I fell into this demographic in my early teens when my older brothers were both off to college. As the youngest of three, I loved it. It meant I could choose the show, I could choose the snack, and most importantly, no one was trying to stuff me down the laundry chute.

Breaking Bad Walter White action figure, 2013. The Strong, Rochester, New York. As an introverted homebody, those couple of hours each day were something I looked forward to, as it allowed me to decompress from the noise and chaos of school. I loved TV and could get lost in shows for hours, find new music on MTV (back when they aired music videos), or even occasionally learn something useful from the comfort of my parents’ big plaid couch accompanied by my cat and dog. What could be better?

Over the years, my surroundings changed—college, grad school, a variety of little apartments, and eventually my own house—but my inclination to stay home and delight in the simple pleasure of television and snacks in a cozy atmosphere stayed firmly in place, even when it wasn’t exactly cool among my peers. As jobs and other responsibilities grew, the opportunity to enjoy down time at home decreased significantly, making me appreciate it even more.

Golden Girls Clue board game, 2017. The Strong, Rochester, New York. Today—finally!—the notion of staying home to relax and enjoy television isn’t just common, it’s downright trendy. Some dedicated folks proudly tout binging an entire season (or more) of a show over the course of a single weekend as a great achievement. And with so many award-winning shows and streaming services to choose from, it’s no wonder. During what has been dubbed a golden age of television, the instant gratification and convenience for viewers to access their show of choice whenever and wherever only adds to the experience. This new style entertainment seems to far outweigh the selection at any local movie theater, and for many folks on tight budget, it’s also better for the wallet.

Game of Thrones Risk board game, 2018. The Strong, Rochester, New York. Perhaps what we didn’t anticipate in this new era is that many of the shows haven’t just been popular, they’ve become full-blown cultural phenomena of epic proportions, making their way from the screen into nearly every aspect of our culture, often including seemingly unrelated products. Perhaps the best example is HBO’s Game of Thrones—responsible for a seismic shift in the television zeitgeist. Since its debut in the spring of 2011, the show seemed to explode, leaving its mark on countless products ranging from board games such Risk to Funko Pop! Toy figures, and even a variety of consumables from Oreo cookies to wine. We’ve seen similar trends with other shows such as 2008’s hit Breaking Bad (which yielded some great action figures) but also older sitcoms that seem to be experiencing a resurgence of popularity among younger views, such as Friends or The Golden Girls. Those four sassy seniors from Miami now appear on shirts, cereal boxes, and, again, board games. Love Golden Girls and the board game Clue? There’s a game for that. Love to watch Bob Ross paint happy little trees? There’s a game for that too. And a mug. And a chia pet. The combination of shows and spinoff products are seemingly endless.

So fill up your Bob Ross mug, grab your GoT Oreos, and set up Golden Girls Clue because we could all use some entertainment right now. Just don’t forget the remote.

Activity Sets: Playing with Glass, Foil, Plastic, and Goop

Spending most of my time at home with my young children has revealed that I’m not especially innovative when it comes to crafts. Thankfully, there are people willing to experiment with materials to develop activity kits and craft ideas for kids. Their work has resulted in some notable successes, as well as a few questionable developments over the years.

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Playing with Sidewalk Chalk Brings Us Together While We’re Apart

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Family Aggravation

However much you care for them, there’s no denying that families can be aggravating. That said, in my experience growing up, aggravation wasn’t an emotional response to stresses in our household—it meant Aggravation, my family’s favorite board game.

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Patience, Persistence, and Paper Craft

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Down the Rabbit Hole

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Preserving Rubber Toys

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Collection of Street Photographer Martha Cooper

The Strong recently acquired the photographica collection of world-renowned photojournalist Martha Cooper. Kodakgirl, the nickname given to Cooper by New York City B-boys and B-girls, began collecting with a focus on women with cameras and Kodak advertising in the 1970s. Her collection also grew to include photography-related postcards, valentines, snapshots, doll cameras, figures, wind-ups, play cameras, and figurines. To delve into the significance of the collection, it’s helpful to become familiar with the impact of Cooper’s own work.

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Game Saves: Unreleased Gremlins The Arcade Game by Atari

Digital Games Curator Andrew Borman uncovers the history of Atari's Gremlins The Arcade Game, from its initial conception in 1983 to its cancellation in 1985. 

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Remembering Educator and Play Advocate Vivian Gussin Paley, 1929–2019

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Clones in the Archives: Console and Software Cloning Practices in the Early Years of Video Games

Ian Larson, 2019 Strong Research Fellow PhD Student, University of California, Irvine; Irvine, California
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