Skip to Main Content

The Study of Play (April 2019): Toys, Games, and Sports

By Charles Kroncke and Ronald F. White

Toys, Games, and Sports

Human beings play games and play with toys. Some games are non-competitive and played for fun; others are competitive and produce winners and losers. Some games are between individuals; others are between groups or teams. In general, games have rules. Sports have rules that are monitored and enforced by nonpartisan judges such as umpires and referees. In Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games, Ian Bogost shows how games become more fun when the players accept the rules and limits. George Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, and K. Robert Guschera demonstrate how limits define a game in Characteristics of the Games.

The first toys were natural objects that were used in pursuit of fun. Now, toys are subject to sociocultural and technological evolution. Some toys have been marketed to boys, others to girls—in so doing reinforcing stereotypical male and female roles in society. In From Playground to PlayStation (discussed above), Pursell also provides a concise history of electronic video games for home use. The consumers of videogames are primarily male. Many of these games are violent, possibly serving to draw boys to the military or to causes espousing violence. Some games project negative female stereotypes and may promote violence toward women. Approximately 80 percent of video game programmers are white, a fact that suggests ethnic inequity in videogames. In sum, Pursell’s thought-provoking book reveals that game technology is both the result and influencer of US culture. Dorothy Singer and Jerome Singer also look at digital play In Imagination and Play in the Electronic Age, examining how electronic games influence the imaginations of children.

In The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids, Alexandra Lange discusses blocks, houses, schools, playgrounds, and cities and how these spatial entities affect the independence of children. Scott Eberle worked with the Strong National Museum of Play to create Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame, which documents inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame from 1998 to 2008. Inaugural inductees come as no surprise: Barbie, Crayola, Erector Set, Etch A Sketch, Frisbee, Lego, Monopoly, Play-Doh, the Teddy bear, and Tinkertoy. The most recent inductions include Magic 8 Ball, Uno, and the pinball machine. This book includes many illustrations accompanied by thoughtful historical analysis.