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.

Bicycle Time Machines

You mark time when you ride a bike. Your mind drifts. It’s the rhythm, probably, the lulling tempo.

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Are You a Gamer?

Recently while visiting a friend, we began talking about Nintendo Wii. She noted that she had not purchased any video games for her six-year-old son yet and wasn't sure if she wanted to.

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So Many Careers, So Little Time

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Out of the Wild Blue Yonder

For curators at the museum, some days feel just like Christmas.One day—out of the blue, appropriately—I received a phone call about a local collector with an extensive collection of toy airplanes and related playthings.

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Comic Book Superheroes

Just how popular are comic book superheroes today?

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Jenga. Jenga? Jenga!

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The Stick Stands Out

Excitement was building at the start of November as we prepared to induct three new toys-the baby doll, the skateboard, and the stick-into the National Toy Hall of Fame. I'd studied up on the toys' histories, gathered my anecdotes, and felt prepared to explain to anyone who asked the all compelling reasons why they should join the 38 classic toys already in the Hall.

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Old Play=New Play?

Ever since they started appearing in kids’ lives in the 1970s, video games have caused controversy. Many grownups fret that video games keep kids glued to the screen instead of setting up a board game, heading outside to play ball, or engaging in other forms of more traditional play (click here for a great demonstration of this view).It’s true that children are spending more time playing video games.

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Calling all Barbie Play Sets!

Feeling nostalgic for your old Barbie dolls?

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The Perfect Holiday Gift

Growing up in the late '70s and early '80s, "visions of sugarplums" never danced in my head and my dream of the perfect holiday gift never included a Red Ryder BB gun. What I really wanted to find under the tree was the latest video game.

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