Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Site visit: The Strong Museum of Play, Rochester, NY

Hi! Dave recently gave me privileges to write posts for this blog, ostensibly to give readers an idea of what it is like to do technical support to CVGA. However, I'm taking this post to share a few images from another terrific gaming archive.

I just returned from a classic family road-trip during our local school district's spring break. We visited many museums and parks, from the Carl Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, NY, to A Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland, OH. My favorite museum we visited, though, was The Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, NY.


The Strong blends museum-style exhibits with a soup├žon of science education and a lot of straight-up playtime. We spent an afternoon there but could easily have spent all day and will probably return to Rochester in the not-too-distant future to spend some more time there.

When you first enter you are immediately confronted with a carousel, an old-timey dining car restaurant, and a gift shop of course. Pass them all on by and head for the admission desk, you can ride the horses later. Read the walls, though, those quotes are pretty cool.

There is a definite age progression to the exhibits. On the left when you come in is a Sesame Street exhibit, where you can sit on the stoop at 123 Sesame St., see some vintage Sesame memorabilia and watch some clips, do a green-screen skit with one of the Sesame Street Muppets, things like that.


Immediately adjacent is a section called "Kid 2 Kid," that is basically the little-kid playland I'd prefer Chuck E. Cheese to be. No ball-pit, no cargo-net rope climb, but many small-kid-sized sets and playhouses for kids to dress up and pretend, including a theater, a plane cockpit, a dig site, a post office, and a miniaturized supermarket with working cash registers -- scan the barcodes on each item and print a receipt. This was a little too close to real life for me, to be honest, but my kid had a blast shopping, restocking when she'd finished, and even putting on the Store Manager apron.


There is also a room made up like a house from 100 or so years ago. That's me on the right, sitting in the parlor, hugging a huge teddy bear, while my youngest prepares a pretend cup of tea for me.

The kids had so much fun playing in this pretend stuff on the first floor, that I barely had any time to check out most of the exhibits for bigger kids and grownups. So I spent most of what little time I did get taking photographs, and very little actually playing games. I really regret not spending much time in Reading Adventureland.
My other regret is that I didn't have time to track down any circulation personnel who could tell me more about the Strong's impressive integration with the Monroe County Library.

If you are a county resident, you can check books out from the museum, and return them there, or to your nearest branch. They can even issue you a library card at the museum! This photo is from the little alcove between the supermarket and the TV studio and shows the museum's collection of food and farming themed books. Each exhibit had at least a couple of shelves of books!
The first floor also has a handful of arcade games sprinkled throughout, themed to the exhibit. The Superheroes exhibit had a Batman themed whack-a-mole machine, a balance game where you chased a villain through a city, and this Captain America and the Avengers arcade machine. An active-sports themed exhibit features both a weird little Peyton Manning jack-in-the-box and a late-vintage DDR machine with something like 150 tracks, including my favorite, NPD3's "After the Game of Love." I learned that I'm not very good at DDR anymore. The games on the first floor are free play.

Upstairs you are immediately confronted with the Toy Hall of Fame. The upstairs exhibits are definitely more of a museum feel. Most are behind glass, but there are still quite a few things you can play.

My older daughter narrowly defeated me at giant checkers while another family played Atari games nearby. This was fairly popular and had some sort of mechanism to choose games without swapping cartridges -- I suspect it was one of the latter-day Atari Flashback consoles with the games built in, but I didn't get close enough to look.


Here are some of the video game inductees into the Toy Hall -- special variant-color Nintendo Game Boy hand-helds [above] and an Atari 2600 with games and original packaging [below]. Just a short walk down a hallway from here to Game Time and eGame Revolution, which is what you are probably reading this for.



Oh yeah.

I really haven't spent a lot of time in Rochester but I would wager this is the nicest arcade in town. Nice and dark like an arcade should be, but clean like a museum is.

The arcade games operate on tokens, I think they were five for a dollar. They have a decent selection of the past forty years of coin-op video and pinball games. I liked showing the 80s-era games to my older daughter: "Look, these are the games I played when I was your age."

They also have a few arcade games I hadn't yet seen, and which is not exactly what I imagined for the future of arcades. I mean, I can play Temple Run [left] for free on my telephone! It's a phenomenon, though, so it's worth a try, right?



Above is Sega's "Tetris Giant." Those green and red balls are joysticks, with rotate buttons on them. How does making the joystick bigger not make one anything but much, much worse at Tetris? But Fruit Ninja is always better with friends, so I imagine there are certain atmospheres where these games are a big hit.

Left: a vintage Nintendo PlayChoice SuperSystem, a coin-op Super NES with game selector.
Right: That old chestnut Fix It Felix Jr. I can't count how many afternoons I whiled away as a youth, fixinWHAAAFIX IT FELIX JUNIOR? 

For real, Disney commissioned retro Felix cabinets as a promotion for "Wreck-it Ralph." I'd previously seen them at Disneyland in the arcades, nestled among the real throwbacks, but I was happy to see one here.

Here are the playable consoles in the eGR exhibit. That's Pong in the foreground, not sure which flavor. The Genesis is playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the N64's representative game is Super Mario 64. Can't remember what the PlayStation was playing. You can, of course, visit us at CVGA and play all these games and many others on the original hardware.

The Xbox 360 is playing Disney's racing game SplitSecond. As far as I know, you can't change the games on these consoles, though I think there might have been another game to choose on the Xbox's hard drive. A generic Xbox Live user is preselected, the same way we do at CVGA.

There are many display cases of original consoles and original games, but I was particularly taken by the rarities. Above, see this case of Xbox 360 stuff: an Xbox 360 Dev Console on the left and a prototype Kinect on the right, both with Microsoft asset-tags. In the photo below, there's a PC Engine, the Japanese console that NEC eventually released here as the TurboGrafx-16, and a Hello Kitty game-and-watch hand held.

They also have a nice selection of Sierra memorabilia from the King's Quest and Gabriel Knight era.









 Finally, I wanted to give you a glimpse at Game Time, the archive of board and parlor games. Much like the Toy Hall of Fame, a lot of this is behind glass and not for visitors to play, but they have some neat tables set up to try a few things out.



The ones I've included here are a "Four In A Row" board of touch-sensitive discs on the wall, a purpose-built Paper Football table with some kind of digital instructions and scoring, and a good old-fashioned Jenga table. I think I remember other museum visitors playing at a dedicated Sorry! table, too. 
My family is already talking about coming back to Rochester just to visit the Museum of Play again, so hopefully I'll be able to write a more in-depth piece sometime soon. I really never even got to look at the music section. I also can't wait to get dinner at Dinosaur BBQ again.

Until then, Peyton-in-the-Box says "bye for now."

(UPDATE 4/17: Corrected spacing errors and Captain America's name -bw)

3 comments:

Beth Lathrop said...

Britain, I am so glad that you enjoyed your visit to The Strong! I am the Director of Libraries, and can answer any question you have about our circulating library - and also about our research library dedicated to the study of play. Please contact me and we can chat! My email is: blathrop@museumofplay.org

Anonymous said...

This looks cool, Britain! Thanks for posting about your visit!
-Sara S.

Timothy Streasick said...

It's about a month after the posting, but just wanted to pop in and say that this was an awesome addition.

Thanks for sharing your trip, Britain!