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.

My Week with Brian: A Conversation with the Collected Works of Brian Sutton-Smith

Alec S. Hurley, 2018 Strong Research Fellow
PhD Student, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

A photo of the label of Box 1 of 171 of the Brian Sutton-Smith papers at the archives at The Strong.

 
 

Despite growing up in Rochester and routinely passing The Strong museum en route to the family business on Oregon Street, I failed to take advantage of the museum’s wonderful exhibits and its abundant collections until late June of 2018. Then, over the course of five days leading up to the July 4th holiday, I was fortunate enough to take a break from my doctoral studies at the University of Texas at Austin to work through sections of the museum’s Brian Sutton-Smith Collection.

 

Hailing from New Zealand, Dr. Sutton-Smith spent a 37-year career in academia focused on the sociological and anthropological development of games in both children and adults. Among his final stops in a storied career was as a resident scholar at The Strong National Museum of Play, where the collection of his life’s work would be housed. While my dissertation research (the intersection of sport and global imperialism) does not mirror the focus of his life’s work, the research fellowship afforded me the opportunity to explore a tangential interest of mine.

Draft diagram and description of the game Foursquare, The Strong, Rochester, NY

 

The research question which drove me to The Strong was “when do games turn into sport?” I had been stuck attempting to answer this question philosophically, and it was not until my hours-long engagements with the esteemed professor’s collection that I realized the question was better approached sociologically. The collection—comprised of his own drafts (over 300 articles and books), research notes, community outreach, and correspondence—runs 171 boxes deep. After scratching the surface of the deep and fruitful collection—19 boxes and roughly 8,000 pages—I had discovered several novel approaches to answering my initial question. Sutton-Smith, through his work, guided me to more nuanced models focused on gendered approaches to conceptualizations of sport. Therefore, the point at which games turn into sports could be significantly influenced by the relationship between games and young girls versus young boys. Furthermore, the professor’s collection included a prodigious amount of material on board games and, much to my surprise and delight, jokes. How children and adults are socialized through what might be broadly termed as “mind-sport” is something I have incorporated into my research since my visit.

Handwritten notes on play, The Strong, Rohcester, NY

 

My week with the professor proved both enlightening and productive. Sutton-Smith’s collection provides the theoretical backdrop for a paper currently under construction focused on debunking the myth of the “weakest link” in youth team sports. To those who embrace visits to The Strong for the museum’s incredible collection of play memorabilia and interactive exhibits, I strongly encourage a moment with the papers of one of the most esteemed professors of play. A collection filled with powerful research, personal anecdotes, and a touch of well-placed humor—one would be well served to take a step off the typical museum path and spend some time with Brian Sutton-Smith.

Ken Fedesna Donation Documents Video Game Developer and Publisher Midway Games

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Paper, Please: What I've Learned (So Far) from Three Decades of Video Game Fanzines

In May I had the good fortune to spend two weeks as a research fellow at the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, which sits atop the too-tempting playground of The Strong National Museum of Play. My objective: to capture, using only my iPhone, every last page of Chris Kohler’s collection of 300+ fanzines. Note to future fellows: a two-minute stretch routine will help prevent back pain!

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Paul Reiche III Papers at The Strong

The histories of tabletop games and video games are deeply woven together. Analog and digital games often share similar mechanics (such as experience points) or similar settings (e.g. dungeon crawling). Many times in the past, game makers have ported titles from one medium to the other. And yet perhaps the most crucial connection between analog and video games lies in the personal biographies of many game designers, who often began work with board games before applying their skills to the digital medium.

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Game Saves: Fallout Extreme

 

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Sidewalk Surfing: The Gnarly History of Skateboarding Part III (1994 to 2019)

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Space to Play: A Cosmic History of Video Games

A short time ago, in an archive a few states away, I had the pleasure of exploring the far reaches of space—as represented in video games. I am working on a dissertation project examining the role of outer space in the history of the American video game industry.

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Even More Stories from the Toy Hall of Fame

Get out your library cards and alert your book club! With three new inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame in November, it’s time for another edition of Toy Stories: Tales of the Games and Toys We Love. Last year, I recommended books about five Toy Hall of Fame Inductees and their inventors. This year, dive into four more “old-timers” and one new inductee with this fresh reading list!

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Play and Language: A Reciprocal Relationship

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2019 Class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame

Every year The Strong welcomes new inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and this year the inductees are Colossal Cave Adventure, Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, and Super Mario Kart. It’s a fabulous class, one that well embodies the criteria for selection of icon-status, longevity, geographical reach, and influence.

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Kitty Black Perkins: The African American Designer behind the First Black Barbie

Born in racially segregated South Carolina in 1948, Louvenia (Kitty) Black Perkins grew up playing with white dolls gifted by her mother’s employers. In the 1960s, Black Perkins attended an all-black school, Carver High School, where she excelled in art. Upon graduation, she received the gift of a trip to visit her aunt and uncle in California. There Black Perkins put her name on a wait list for commercial art classes at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and, in the meantime, took a fashion design course.

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