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.

America at Play Contest Winners!

The America at Play: Play Stories Video Contest ended on Friday, April 15, and the results are in! Voters selected the first, second, and third place winners: How WE Play in Justin, TX, Dance, and My Game. All three videos prove that play doesn’t end when you become an adult; “grownups” embrace and enjoy play too! Congratulations to the prize winners and thanks to everyone who submitted a video to the contest. You’re to be commended for your dedication, creativity, and love of play.

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Playing with Living Pictures: Clockwork Tableaux

Imagine that it’s January 1896. To your dismay, you find yourself stuck at your aunt’s house one particularly dreary winter day with absolutely nothing to do.

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Top Video Picks

Over the past few weeks, the America at Play: Play Stories Video Contest has received dozens of fun and creative videos that illustrate the way Americans play, now and in years past. Browsing through all of them takes some time, so I wanted to share a few of my personal favorites and guide you to the ones that I think shouldn’t be missed. 

Bicycle Tag

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Cracking the Case in Video Games

My recent TV line-up includes Bored to Death and Pushing Daisies. And I just read Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon. The detectives in all call to mind a list of favorite video game sleuths:

 1. Nancy Drew, amateur sleuth from the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

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A Librarian’s Top 5 Video Game Strategy Guides

In 2010, The Strong received a sizable and generous donation from Prima Games, one of the leading strategy guide publishers in the electronic games industry. The gift consisted of more than a thousand strategy guides for both PC and console video games from 1990 to 2009. Following an eight-month cataloging project, all 1,264 game guides can now be found in the Brian Sutton-Smith Library & Archives of Play’s online catalog.

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Outside the Box: What We Remember About Play

When you reminisce and think of your brightest, fondest memories of childhood play, what comes to mind? You might recall hours in front of a Monopoly board or days spent crafting intricate models made from LEGO bricks, but are those truly your most treasured memories? Or is it the recollection of rowdy games of freeze tag in the front yard or wrestling with your little brother in a makeshift ring that you hold closest to your heart?

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Charles M. Crandall Toys—Vintage Playthings, Modern Play

Last fall, The Strong’s National Museum of Play began to look anew at some of the dolls, games, toys, and other playthings originally catalogued and photographed more than 30 years ago. Since that time, historians and collectors have added to the museum staff’s knowledge of how these toys were made, marketed, and played with.

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Choosing the Right Video Game

More video games exist than can be played in a lifetime, so every gamer has to choose what is most enjoyable to play. The big question is how to make this decision. Here are some of the things I consider when selecting what games to play, and I hope you might find them helpful, too.

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Imaginary Gardens

Time can be as regular as clockwork or supple as our shifting perceptions of it. Each year I note the winter solstice and hold onto the certainty that each day afterward is growing longer, minute by minute. As the days lengthen, I inevitably succumb to the seduction of the gardening catalogs that “like clockwork” begin to arrive in my mailbox. Though the ground remains buried beneath drifts of snow, these harbingers of spring fill my thoughts with images of lush greenery, exuberant blossoms, and succulent fruit.

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Nostalgia: It’s Good for You!

Last spring, I graduated from college and found myself, diploma in hand, thrust into an unfamiliar world. I felt disoriented without a magical meal plan that guaranteed regular feedings or the overwhelming piles of homework that occupied my time. What good would a double major in history and sociology do me now? In this new world brimming with unwanted responsibilities, I began to reflect on my experiences. I “waxed nostalgic”—a phrase that once was associated with heartsickness, suffering in the present because of the desire to return to times past.

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