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.

Outlook Good: Magic 8 Ball Inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame

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Switches and Screens: Researching Video Game Interface Design

In Will Wright’s game design documents

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The Strong Acquires Monster Toys

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Which Came First—The Comic or the Toy?

Since their inception in the early 20th century, comic books have been synonymous with American youth and playfulness. The colorful, action-packed stories in the pages of comics translated into creative play in the backyard with capes and masks and into elaborate worlds scaled to the action figures on the playroom rug. As comics and action figures evolved, lines became blurred: which came first, the comic or the toy?

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Not Just Fan Fiction: The Allen Hammack D&D Collection

My first library card was a small rectangle made of royal blue cardstock, with the handwritten number “9555” in the top right corner. This very valuable document allowed me to check out up to six items at a time from my town’s library. Ever the opportunist, I always checked out the first six books that I picked up, knowing that I could come back anytime (!) and swap them for a new batch. This method of binge-reading let me plow through entire runs of some of my favorite children’s (and young adult) series while in elementary school.

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Documenting the Skylanders Story

It began with a phone call from Paul Reiche III last summer.

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Dolls in Focus

In October 2017, I had the chance to be at The Strong National Museum of Play as a research fellow collecting data for my Dolls in Focus project aimed at revisiting and expanding the findings of my previous linguistic investigation on dolls’ language. Surprisingly, what I thought would primarily be an exploratory incursion into dolls’ universe from an academic perspective turned out to be a rather touching and personal experience that allowed me to revisit my own childhood memories.

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Sidewalk Surfing: The Gnarly History of Skateboarding Part II (1973 to 1991)

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Game Saves: Preserving the First LGBTQ Electronic Game

Floppy diskettes are an incredibly volatile medium. Available in multiple shapes, sizes, and formats, the magnetic disks were often used, rewritten, and eventually tossed aside as new methods of data storage arrived. Disks by their very nature are disposable, and younger generations may only recognize a floppy disk as a save icon. With some experts estimating the lifespan of a floppy disk at 10 to 20 years under the best conditions, many pieces of software, including games, are at risk.

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Sturdily Built: The Playful Longevity of the Cardboard Box.

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