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.

Stories from the Stacks: What You Don’t Know about Stormfront Studios

While processing the Don Daglow papers for The Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, I had the privilege of sitting down with Daglow himself when he was in Rochester for an event here at The Strong. Though our time together was short, the stories he told me made a big impression. I think it’s important to document these details that provide so much context for the materials we have in our archive and I’m happy to share these fun anecdotes with you.

Name change survey with comment from Sarah Stocker, 1992. From the Don Daglow papers, 1977–2012. The Strong, Rochester, New York.The first story relates to the company’s name change from Beyond Software to Stormfront Studios. According to Daglow, the company had been trying very hard to find a new name that would differentiate itself in the industry. Finding one that employees liked and that also cleared the trademark search proved difficult. Daglow came back from lunch one day to find a post-it on his computer with the proposed name “Stormfront Studios” written on it. Thinking that it was co-worker Sarah Stocker’s handwriting he asked if she wrote the note, to which she teased him about being able to recognize her handwriting. Daglow said the proposed name cleared the trademark search (no easy feat) and although one third of the company did not like it, the name stuck. The Don Daglow papers contain, among other employee surveys on the name change, the one on which Sarah Stocker wrote that she didn’t like any of the proposed names.

Article showing workers being escorted to the movie by Darth Vader and a storm trooper, 1999. From the Don Daglow papers, 1977–2012. The Strong, Rochester, New York. Just as the company solicited employee opinions for a new name, the firm also paid attention to its staff culture as evidenced by events, activities, and monitoring morale. One article in the collection, titled “Fans gush over Star Wars” describes a company outing to a Star Wars film, but in person Daglow filled in the details . He remembered calling an all staff meeting where invented speaker “Burton McKinney” was scheduled to give a boring presentation about “staying on the cutting edge, while retaining [a] unique corporate culture.” The ruse was bolstered by a doctored photograph of the speaker, crayons and index cards laid out on tables—everything Daglow needed to fool staff members. When ten minutes had passed and “Burton McKinney” had faxed that he was running late, Darth Vader and a stormtrooper burst in to take staff members to the opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 —The Phantom Menace followed by lunch. Daglow had coordinated similar events, like attending the release of The X-Files film, keeping staff on their toes.

The final anecdote relates to groundbreaking video game footage from Eagle Eye Mysteries (1993), a kid-sleuthing mystery game which (along with the Dungeons and Dragons titles) was one of the games that allowed users to play as male or female characters, a rare occurrence in the early 1990s. ICHEG’s corresponding collection contains nine model buildings from Daglow that were part of a miniature town used to create the first motion control shot (using stop motion) in a video game. The company had to rent another office space in order to create this dimensional town. Upon renting the space, they were given a warning to keep the door locked or things would disappear due a neighboring business employee with sticky fingers. Daglow said it wasn’t worth the expense and effort; the 30-second motion shot in the game was interrupted by game text, a trade-off prioritizing the game’s goal to encourage reading and learning for its players. 

I hope you have enjoyed this rare glimpse into how archival material can tell a story and how details, often in peril to be lost to time, are worth saving. Supporting materials related to these stories can be seen in the Don Daglow papers, which opened for research in January 2020.

Memories of Atlantic City: It’s Not Just Monopoly

Mary Valentine, The Strong Museum Trustee
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Fabrics and Findings

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Ten Reasons Why Play is Essential (for Children AND Adults)

Play is good to do and good for you! That’s why play is universal in humans and widespread throughout the animal world. Here are 10 reasons to play:

1) Play Makes You Smarter 

2) Play Strengthens You

3) Play Helps You Make Friends

4) Play Boosts Creativity

5) Play Reduces Stress

6) Play Enhances Attractiveness

7) Play Builds Resilience

8) Play Helps You Solve Problems

9) Play Promotes Discovery

10) Play is Fun

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Digitizing and Preserving Toy Trade Catalogs: The Sacred Duty of the Librarians of Play

There are five laws of library science, penned by S. R. Ranganathan in 1931:

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Off the Grid: Tron Evolution and DRM Authentication

Digital rights management (DRM) tools have been used on software for decades. Companies install these protections to defend software from piracy or the unauthorized copying of the data. However, although designed with the best of intentions, DRM can have a negative effect on legally purchased software as well.

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Unboxing the Past: The Don Daglow Papers

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Costuming for Everyone: Cosplay

Imagine being able to dress up for more days than just Halloween. You could opt for a Renaissance faire, but if your character of choice is a superhero, Jedi, or video game villain, cosplay is a better option. With cosplay comes conventions, school clubs, events, library programming, and just the idea of having fun with those who share a similar hobby as you!

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Building a Mystery—Spotlight on Jane Jensen

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Displaying Your High Score With Activision Patches

People play video games for a myriad of reasons. Relaxation, mental stimulation, engrossing plotlines, eye-catching graphics, and much more draw gamers to certain titles. But one goal in

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A Precursor to Wegmans?

Mary Valentine The Strong Museum Trustee
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