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
We receive lots of donations every year at The Strong, from single items to accumulations numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. One of the largest collections ever gifted to the museum has been the game collection we received from the founder of Mayfair Games. This collection includes not only thousands of games, but important archives related to a game manufacturer and to game design and marketing. And the collection holds game prototypes which I find fascinating artifacts.
Most of the prototypes relate to Mayfair’s published games, from the early, simple Translyvania (notorious for its spelling error) to the firm’s 1991 version of Cosmic Encounter. But recently I found a non-Mayfair prototype called Heroic Adventures with a many-years-old Post-It note that said “Return to Designer.” The museum chose to honor this request if we could. But all I had was a name.
Sometimes the internet rewards those who Google. Without much stress, I found a person with that name, who worked as a game designer. I emailed the firm, explaining what we had. Not long afterwards he wrote me back, astonished that his 20 or 30-year-old prototype had survived, and grateful that we offered to send it back. In exchange he said he’d be glad to send us a first edition of his latest successful and award-winning board game. Thus, The Strong added Clank! to its collection.
Clank! won a Mensa Select award in 2017 and was highly recommended or nominated for about 15 other awards. The game is a deck-building grab for points while exploring a dungeon. Your wooden pawn hopes to steal an artifact for more power. But a dragon—represented by a beautiful black silhouette—hunts any intruders and may find them if they stumble and make a noise like . . . Clank! Quality materials and artwork characterize the game, and now there are expansion sets, multiple specialty versions, and different language editions. As a curator, it’s an honor to add such a gift from the game’s designer to The Strong’s holdings. The museum gains a new game , and I think we’ve also won a friend.
Recently I was engaged in a heated match of pickleball. For those not familiar with the game, imagine it as a cross between tennis and ping-pong, played on a court about half the size of a tennis court with solid wood rackets and a perforated ball sort of like a Wiffle ball but with holes all over the sphere. Pickleball itself was invented in Washington State in the 1960s and in recent years has gained enormously in popularity, evidenced by the number of tennis courts that have now been striped to support the game.
“Only boring people get bored.”
This was my mother’s retort every time I told her I was bored. Like, so bored. Like “roll your eyes and sigh and flop down on your bed in exasperation” bored. When toys, TV, and friends fail you, it feels like the end of the world. Most of us have not experienced that uncomfortable feeling of boredom in our adult lives very often. There has always been something to do, something new to see (even if it is in the small, rectangular screen of our smartphone).
Chris Kohler, Editorial Director, Digital Eclipse
One of the most frequently asked questions about video game history is perhaps the simplest: what was the first video game? It’s a logical question to ask. After all, we’re always curious about these questions of primacy. Who was the first man on the moon? Neil Armstrong. Who was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic? Amelia Earhart. Who was the first person to climb Mount Everest? Well, in this case it was actually two people: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. So what was the first video game?
Congratulations to sidewalk chalk for earning a place of honor among the three toys inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame on November 5, 2020. For a plaything that’s been around ever since our early ancestors were drawing on the walls of the caves they called home, that’s proof persistence earning well-deserved acclaim.