Play: Not Just For Kids
by Bryanne McDonough | published Sep. 8th, 2017
What if I told you that there was a place where you could let out your inner child? A place that showcases the toys you played with in your youth? A place where you could visit a pirate ship and a castle, an arcade and a butterfly garden?
Such a place exists, and it exists right in Rochester. The Strong National Museum of Play is the only museum in the world dedicated to the study of play.
“The museum is very interactive and hands-on," said Shane Rhinewald, senior director of public relations for the museum. "We’re also an American history museum at our core. We are a collecting museum; we have the world’s largest collection of dolls, toys, board games, video games and then through those collections we interpret history.”
While it may seem like a museum meant for kids, there is plenty for college-aged students to enjoy. To get a first-hand experience, I brought a group of friends to the museum to see what it had to offer us.
The Second Floor
“[Adults without children] gravitate toward the hands-on, especially the video game and pinball, but want to peruse — especially the second floor,” said Rhinewald. At this suggestion, we decided to start on the second floor.
The entire museum tries to incorporate hands-on experiences with related artifacts, but the second floor emphasizes the artifacts. In the National Toy Hall of Fame, you can see what the museum considers to be the best of the best. Ranging from classic toys like swings, to brands like Beanie Babies and Little People, you're sure to see toys you grew up playing with. This grand room also contains cutting-edge technology. I sat down and had a truly terrible portrait drawn by a large computerized Etch-a-Sketch.
The America at Play and Game Time! exhibits examine culture and history through the lens of play. Here, you can read about the origin of classic games and laugh at what your parents would have considered fun.
The second floor also encapsulates the history of video games.
“We recognize that ... you can’t tell the story about play without looking at how play in the last three to four decades has changed," said Rhinewald. "And video games have single-handedly had the biggest impact on the way that people can play and the ways that people can connect.”
eGameRevolution walks through the history of video games, from their inception to modern-day consoles. Many of the games in the exhibit are free to play, like classic console games and an LED Lightspace floor. You can also entertain yourself in a classic arcade with the purchase of tokens. There are plenty of rare and unique artifacts, like an Atari game so horrible that it was dumped into a landfill and nearly forgotten about.
The second floor is great if you have an interest in games and how they have changed over time. There is a lot of information, but still plenty of interactive exhibits designed for adults and children alike.
The First Floor
A common sentiment expressed by my friends and Rhinewald was that you can't take yourself too seriously on the first floor; that's no fun anyway! This is where you can let loose and really play like a little kid again.
You can't take yourself too seriously here.
American Comic Book Heroes is a must-see for superhero fans. Interactive exhibits let you pretend to be a superhero while reading about their evolution through the collection. There is even a painting of Captain America by co-creator and Rochester native Joe Simon, made especially for The Strong's exhibit.
Pinball Playfields is another popular exhibit for adults, according to Rhinewald. See original pinball game prototypes, learn how they work and buy tokens to experience classic games for yourself. This exhibit covers 80 years of pinball history and includes recent games as well. My friends and I had a blast, so this is well worth the visit.
Reading Adventureland recreates the worlds of your childhood imagination. Become a pirate and explore Adventure Island's caves and shipwreck or become a detective in Mystery Mansion. Delve into the world of your favorite fairy tales in the Fairy Tale Forest and learn about fantasy in the Wizard's Workshop. This is where you really need to hand over the reins to your inner adolescent.
Typical adult admission is $14.50, but The Strong offers a buy-one-get-one discount for students with valid ID. It can be fun to go as a group or on a date. The Butterfly Garden on the first floor is a popular spot for couples. The enclosed garden contains hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Unfortunately, admittance costs extra.
There are also special 21+ events three nights a year called "Happiest Hour," which allow adults to explore the museum after hours, free of children. There is food and a bar; sometimes the best way to relive that carefree bliss of childhood is to get a little tipsy. The experience of the museum is the same, sans screaming children.
Rhinewald says that he always loves to see adults enjoy the activities designed for kids, like making paper crowns in the Fairy Tale Forest instead of going straight to the pinball machines.
“Sometimes I think adults just want to be big kids when they are here,” he said.
"Sometimes I think adults just want to be big kids when they are here."