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.

Getting Away: Is It a Vacation or Trip?

Vacation, about 1986. Photograph courtesy of Victoria Gray. Vacation. It’s a pleasant-sounding word and an even nicer thought. Most folks sigh at the very mention of it or even get a wistful, far-off look, whether they’re thinking about an upcoming planned getaway or just wishfully dreaming of one (as many of us are these days).

There are scientific studies dedicated to proving the legitimate health benefits of regular vacations, research that most of us would favorably support. On the other hand, I’ve also encountered people who have just returned to town only to utter the phrase “It’s wasn’t a vacation, it was a trip!” while looking completely exasperated, the implication being it was not quite the relaxing getaway they had envisioned. In general, it seems this response corresponds directly to the individual’s travel companion(s). Which makes me reconsider the years of family vacations I remember so fondly as a kid. Were my parents those people who returned to work harried and exhausted, touting our vacation as “a trip!” to friends and coworkers? Were my brothers and I terrible travel companions?!

Card deck, souvenir of New York City, about 1990. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Regardless of how our individual vacation experiences may stack up, it’s clear that the industry of vacations certainly isn’t going anywhere, a notion substantiated by the trove of vacation-related artifacts housed at The Strong. Postcards, photographs, toys, games, hats, keychains—items of all shapes and sizes. While souvenir trinkets often boast a seemingly idyllic locale, photographs and handwritten postcards are likely to capture a more realistic experience. The museum’s extensive postcard collection holds some beautiful handwritten messages—and a few others. In one such exchange between friends Flop and Chub in 1906, it seems that things have gone horribly awry for poor Chub. The same applies to photos; some are breathtaking and picturesque while others capture those candid moments vacationers might rather forget. Regardless of where or when we go, one thing is certain: vacationers always return with a story. Good or bad, there’s usually at least one. Some are so ridiculous they’ll be told over and over again, regaling others and fueling fits of laughter, shock, or awe.

Postcard, 1906. The Strong, Rochester, New York. So next time you take break from your routine for some time away, be sure to bring back the best souvenir of all: a story to share. We could all use a little getaway from the day-to-day, even if it’s just a momentary escape in our minds. Would you call it a vacation or trip? It doesn’t matter. You’ll likely have an audience either way.

Go Figure

I grew up in a world without LEGO minifigures. I received my first set of LEGO bricks as a Christmas gift in 1973—a wide, white box full of flat, green “grass” pieces, primary-colored bricks, and potential. I constructed houses with doors and windows that opened and closed. I built cars, both the ones illustrated on the box and monstrous contraptions not unlike modern Humvees. And when I needed people, I made them. So did every other kid I knew.

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New Year’s Resolutions from the Artifacts

Some folks have reported visions of sugarplums recently—I’ve worked so closely with museum artifacts that I’m hearing their voices. Call me the Toy Whisperer or just plain loopy, but I listen when the museum’s toys and games talk about their New Year’s resolutions. The artifacts have some ambitious goals for 2012, but this doesn’t surprise me at all—they were busy last year, too.

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Playing in Time

Recently, a museum guest asked me to tell her about the most interesting question I’d received as director of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play. The answer was easy—I take great satisfaction in uncovering some elusive fragment of information that helps a researcher resolve an issue or solve a puzzle.

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Do You Think Video Games Are Worth Saving?

We do! Recently, news reports cited as wasteful spending a $113,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games to preserve video games. We disagree. We believe video games not only are the most dynamic, exciting, and innovative form of media today but also an important form of play and a driver of cultural change.

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Entering the Dragon’s Lair (into ICHEG’s Collections)

The more than 140 arcade cabinets ICHEG owns are key components of our tens of thousands of video games and related artifacts.

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Hot Wheels: A 2011 National Toy Hall of Fame Inductee

I was eight years old in 1968 and, like many of my friends, I played with toy cars. That year, Mattel introduced toy autos called Hot Wheels. Unlike the toy cars before them, Hot Wheels rolled really fast either downhill or with a touch of a finger.

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Edible to Elaborate: Holiday Gifts Then and Now

The holiday season is once again upon us. With seasonal songs filling the airwaves and retailers decorated with all that sparkles, I am amazed at how the holidays have managed to find their way back again so soon—this time more expensive than ever.

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Do You Hear What I Hear in This Video Game?

Last month, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered aired a piece titled “Why Do We Hate The Sound of Fingernails On a Chalkboard?” Musicologist Michael Oehler reported that this sound produces a frequency that reaches the most sensitive spot of the human ear and creates an amplified “open ear gain.” He further explained that some of our reaction is also emotional.

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The Open Road

Getting behind the wheel can be stressful. Congestion, construction, and detours are no day at the beach . . . especially when all we want to do is make it to the beach. Most of us enjoy a good road trip, but with so many obstacles taking the air out of our tires, who can blame us for just wanting to get from Point A to Point B? What happened to the days when simply riding in an automobile was cause for celebration, and the journey was as exciting as the destination?

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Five Games Contending for Spike TV’s Top Prize

Numerous organizations annually honor top video games. Spike TV will soon announce its “Game of the Year” prize during the network’s Video Game Awards show. Every gamer I’ve spoken to agrees that 2011 proved an amazing year for games, both in terms of increased graphical capabilities and storyline developments. The Spike TV VGA Advisory Council, made up of video game journalists from Game Informer Magazine, Kotaku, Joystiq, and Wired, among others, choose the top five contenders.

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