Expansion of historic museum in Rochester, N.Y., highlights impact of video games

By Adele Chapline Smith | OSV News


After five years of construction, the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, held a grand opening for its new 90,000-square-foot expansion, which includes a home for the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

Originally founded in 1968 by prolific toy collector Margaret Woodbury Strong, today the museum houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of artifacts related to play and video games.

This $75 million expansion represents not only the work of the local community but also the national community of those who cherish and value the impact of play — and of video games — on society.

“In a way, what’s even more amazing is the scope and diversity of the people and organizations who have supported this campaign and who support this museum. It has been a truly national effort,” said Lisa Feinstein, vice president for advancement and co-chair of Women in Games Initiative.

Hasbro Toys and Nintendo of America were among those involved with the expansion campaign, together with donors from across the country.

“From a sunken highway that ran through the museum’s backyard … we created an entire neighborhood that is now at the epicenter for celebrating and studying play,” said Steve Dubnik, Strong’s president and CEO.

The World Video Game Hall of Fame is an interactive exhibit administered by the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y. The museum held a grand opening ceremony June 30, 2023, to celebrate its new 90,000-square-foot expansion, which was five years in the making. (OSV News/Adele Chapline Smith)

The expansion includes 17,000 square feet for the Hasbro Game Park, which celebrates iconic board games. Visitors can climb across giant Jenga pieces, spin the wheel from “The Game of Life,” and take in the impressive sight of a 14-foot long dog from “Monopoly” that watches over the park.

Meanwhile, in the interior, 24,000 square feet is dedicated to honoring electronic games through two major new exhibits: High Score and Level Up.

High Score features artifacts from the World Video Game Hall of Fame, whose 2023 inductees include Sony’s 2013 action-adventure game “The Last of Us” and Mattel Media’s 1996 “Barbie Fashion Designer.” Visitors can play the most influential games on massive overhead screens.

Gracing the back wall of High Score is a 90-foot digital timeline of video game history, celebrating trailblazers like Gerald Lawson, the African-American engineer who created the first video game cartridge, and Carol Shaw, one of the first female game designers and programmers. In showcasing these trailblazers of the video game industry, the museum brings hope to the next generation of innovators.

The interactive and immersive Level Up exhibit is a one-of-a-kind experience. Using RFID bracelets, museum visitors can create their own gaming avatars and earn achievements as they play. These games encourage mental and physical stimulation using non-traditional controls, such as “SisyFox” which involves rolling around a physiological ball to move the in-game boulder.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was a keynote speaker at a June 30 ribbon-cutting ceremony, speaking candidly about the positive effects of electronic games. Knowing that playing video games “used to make some parents angry or upset,” Hochul, a Catholic, reiterated that these games can also be invaluable for “stimulating the mind.”

Video games form an intersection where art meets play as an expression of human creativity and joy. Pope Francis told artists and creators in 2022 that “art is a pathway to go to the Lord.” In “Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words,” the Holy Father reminds Catholics to embrace a “culture of leisure” — a concept that includes play — in conjunction with a “culture of work.”

Playing video games has a wide array of benefits, including early development for children.

“The brain science is really clear. Developmental milestones early on come from play,” said David Egner, CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. “As you get older, play reinforces science … math … civics. It teaches us how to be civil. It teaches us how to have discourse. It teaches us how to solve problems.”

Egner added that “through play, we’ll continue to shape the next leaders.”

St. John Paul II said in his “Letter to Artists” that “through his ‘artistic creativity,’ man appears more than ever ‘in the image of God.'” While some people disagree, video games are a unique and playful art form that can change the world.

Former chairman and CEO of Hasbro Toys Alan Hassenfeld is the third generation of Hassenfelds to lead the company, and considers himself to be not a businessman but a simple “toy tester.”

He exhorted the adults in the audience, saying “ours is a culture to bring sunshine where there is darkness, to bring a smile where there is a tear.” He attributed the company’s success to children and their families, which he said reinforces their obligation to make a better world for children. The expansion of The Strong National Museum of Play, and its celebration of electronic gaming, he said, is a step in that direction.
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Adele Chapline Smith writes for OSV News from Rochester, N.Y.


Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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