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
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.
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.
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.
When I left home for graduate school and my first apartment, I could barely boil water. But I rapidly recognized that I couldn’t afford to go out to eat very often and I didn’t want to subsist on products from the supermarket’s freezer case. My solution? Learn to cook! Living alone let me experiment and hone my kitchen skills without anyone else around to say, “I thought we were going to eat before 8 p.m.” or “Did you really mean it to turn out this consistency?” And I found that I liked cooking—both the process itself and the tasty results.
Ralph Baer is perhaps best known as the father of home video games. He patented the idea for playing a video game on a television and then successfully developed the first home video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey, that came out in 1972. And yet Baer’s work on video games was only one small part of a lifetime of inventing. He had worked for decades in the defense industry, ultimately heading a major engineering division of Sanders, a large military contractor. And in the 1970s—after the success of the Odyssey—he became an active creator of many successful electronic toys.
Not long ago—1977, to be exact—in our very own galaxy, moviegoers witnessed the birth of a legend. Since its inception, the Star Wars franchise has generated billions of dollars in film, television, and merchandise, and is one of the most iconic titles in entertainment history. But while its popularity is undisputed today, that was not always the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite, which led to what could have easily become one of the biggest faux pas in toy history.
While recent world events may be causing many of us to feel uncertain—or even stuck—as most businesses, restaurants, and entertainment venues remain closed indefinitely, the circumstances seem to be fueling something much bigger: a global tidal wave of creativity.