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.
Is pinball a game of skill or a game of chance? Most people today would argue it’s a game of skill. The player chooses when to hit the ball with their flippers and some can even aim with deadeye precision at the glitzy little light-up targets that make these games so iconic. But what if we stripped that all away? No lights, no million-point multipliers, and most importantly, no flippers. Is still a game of skill when all you’re armed with is a spring-loaded plunger and the power of gravity?
In the beginning (or at least in the late 19th century), there was film. Capturing moving images and playing them back for astonished audiences at the cinema more than a century ago was magical. Though many people are still familiar with film, which has endured as a medium despite changing technologies, there are plenty of moving image formats which have been rendered obsolete over time and have found their way into the holdings of numerous libraries, archives, and museums.
Jana Rosinski 2018 Strong Research Fellow Syracuse University, NY
Alec S. Hurley, 2018 Strong Research Fellow PhD Student, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
In 2006, when we began our efforts at The Strong to preserve the history of video games, we knew we were onto an important subject, but we did not truly foresee the vast array of challenges that we would face in preserving video games. Over the years as we founded the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) and grew our collection to more than 60,000 video games and related objects we’ve learned quite a bit about how to care for these materials.
Video games have become increasingly popular over the last few years. In fact, a recent survey suggests that approximately 2/3rds of American adults partake in the pursuit. But even with this emerging success, gaming continues to be dogged by decades-old accusations. Many of the medium’s most ardent critics argue that games offer only vacuous experiences. Lying beyond the pixels, polygons, and interactive scenes is just empty entertainment. Or, even worse, they argue that games are only a vehicle for mindless violence and other moral corruptions.