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
When I was a kid I loved to play "grocery." Every Saturday morning, I would hear Mr. Maroni's old produce truck groan as it came up the hill, turned the corner and slowly limped down my street. I would throw open the screen door on the porch, scamper past the glider, and fly down the steps out front to be there just as the big, uncovered wood-sided truck ground to a stop directly in front of my house on Lafayette Avenue.
My mother would follow with her change purse in hand. From the crates of fiery red beefsteak tomatoes and the orange-fleshed yams, to the bright yellow bananas, and the purple eggplant, I got to gently place the chosen pieces into the faded and dented aluminum scale in the rear of the truck, and watch the arrow spin around and stop at the weight of each selected fruit or vegetable. Then Mr. Maroni placed my chosen produce into small paper bags and handed them to me with a smile.
Then came my favorite part of the game. My mom handed me her change purse, and I got to sift through the shiny coins and choose the right amount to pay for my treasures. I counted out each nickel, dime, and quarter and proudly handed them to Mr. Maroni. Sometimes I would even get change back!
I discovered at an early age that learning was fun, and a big part of that was my mother encouraging me to choose the vegetables and fruit from that old wooden truck. How to pay for my purchases taught me not just arithmetic, but the value of each precious coin and spending it wisely. It also gave me a feeling of accomplishment, independence, and made my mother proud.
The ability to try to make good choices and learn the value of money are traits I have tried to foster in my life. Every time I shop for produce, I still remember my mother telling me to pick out a shiny onion or shake a musk melon to hear the seeds inside that would tell me it was ripe. I use a credit card now to pay for my purchases, instead of counting out change. But I still smile as I approach the produce aisle and recall fond memories of the "grocery game." I think I'll thump a watermelon on my next trip to the store.
Growing up, I never owned a single video game console. I owned a few sports games that I played on my old Apple IIe computer, and I recall playing Super Mario World when I was at my babysitter’s house. But that was about the extent of my gaming knowledge. All this changed when I got married, however.
I remember the roar of the crowd as I confidently gripped the ball and took aim—the way the noises faded as I focused on my target—and the broad smile on Bozo the Clown’s face during my successful run on the Grand Prize Game.
Cataloging a large collection of video games and related materials involves a ton of research and leads to game development stories that often are as fascinating as the games themselves. ICHEG’s recent acquisition of a group of games and game systems from Japan brought Super Mario Brothers’ history to the forefront.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve had the privilege of cataloging more than 10,000 electronic games for ICHEG. As a gamer, I’ve found this a great way to learn about the various genres and mechanics that make up the history of electronic games.
A few days ago a researcher in our ICHEG lab sparked a rich conversation about her favorite childhood gaming platform, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Like so many gamers in the late 80s, she spent endless hours assuming the role of Mario and squashing Goombas in the Mushroom Kingdom. Her memories of Super Mario Bros.
Tetris is a great example of how simple ideas often inspire the best video games. In my recent conversation with Alexey Pajitnov, he recounted how a simple wooden puzzle game inspired him to create Tetris.
Over the last few weeks my e-mail filled up with friends and other electronic games enthusiasts bringing to my attention a couple of eBay auctions. Amused at first, I quickly saw a collectors’ chain reaction happening.
These auctions centered on the rare and elusive Stadium Events video games by Bandai, a Japanese toy making company founded in 1900. The first e-mail I received referred to an auction on eBay for an “Old Nintendo NES system and five games” that sold for $13,105.