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.
Alec S. Hurley, 2018 Strong Research Fellow PhD Student, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
In 2006, when we began our efforts at The Strong to preserve the history of video games, we knew we were onto an important subject, but we did not truly foresee the vast array of challenges that we would face in preserving video games. Over the years as we founded the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) and grew our collection to more than 60,000 video games and related objects we’ve learned quite a bit about how to care for these materials.
Video games have become increasingly popular over the last few years. In fact, a recent survey suggests that approximately 2/3rds of American adults partake in the pursuit. But even with this emerging success, gaming continues to be dogged by decades-old accusations. Many of the medium’s most ardent critics argue that games offer only vacuous experiences. Lying beyond the pixels, polygons, and interactive scenes is just empty entertainment. Or, even worse, they argue that games are only a vehicle for mindless violence and other moral corruptions.
In September 2018, I g
In September 2018, I had the chance to go to Rochester and work at The Strong, thanks to its generous research fellowship program.
Just after Thanksgiving of 2018, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at The Strong museum on a Valentine-Cosman fellowship. I wanted to know how board games mirror our understanding of ourselves, and how that understanding has changed over the last half-century or so.
When’s the last time you thought about everyone’s favorite old-fashioned magnet