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.
Play Stuff Blog
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2018, The Strong received a donation of thousands of artifacts, including first-edition strategy and simulation games, wargames, and role-playing games from Darwin Bromley, co-founder of Mayfair Games. The artifacts constituted the single largest gift the to the museum’s collection and will help scholars understand the importance and influence of a transitional era in games, charting their effect on the development of contemporary examples and on video games.
Is pinball a game of skill or a game of chance? Most people today would argue it’s a game of skill. The player chooses when to hit the ball with their flippers and some can even aim with deadeye precision at the glitzy little light-up targets that make these games so iconic. But what if we stripped that all away? No lights, no million-point multipliers, and most importantly, no flippers. Is still a game of skill when all you’re armed with is a spring-loaded plunger and the power of gravity?
In the beginning (or at least in the late 19th century), there was film. Capturing moving images and playing them back for astonished audiences at the cinema more than a century ago was magical. Though many people are still familiar with film, which has endured as a medium despite changing technologies, there are plenty of moving image formats which have been rendered obsolete over time and have found their way into the holdings of numerous libraries, archives, and museums.
Jana Rosinski 2018 Strong Research Fellow Syracuse University, NY