Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Welcome Return to RIT

Rochester, NY

Logo of RITI first met Andy Phelps at one of the early conferences at Algoma University College in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was a young professor at RIT in Rochester, New York, and later he was one of the first people to hire me to give a game design workshop -- to the faculty! Andy wanted to try to convey to the non-gamer professors at in the RIT Department of Information Technology just what this "interactive entertainment" thing was all about.

Our paths have crossed several times since then, and about a year ago he asked me to sit on the advisory board for RIT's game program. This spring I was supposed to go to a meeting of the advisory board, had the tickets all booked and everything, when it was suddenly canceled. It turned out not enough people could make it. Since the air tickets were non-refundable, I persuaded Andy to have me come along anyway and deliver a lecture to his students; that way they wouldn't throw the money away. That was good fun, and Andy and his colleague Erick Vick treated me royally -- a nice hotel and several good meals.

It turns out that Rochester has a lot more to it than Eastman Kodak. Andy told me it was one of last American stops on the Underground Railroad; from here, escaped slaves were smuggled on to Canada. Frederick Douglass is buried here, as is Susan B. Anthony, and the next time I get there, I want to visit their graves. I also plan to visit the Eastman House, which is Kodak's own museum.

Strong National Museum of Play exteriorI had some time before my flight on Tuesday, so Andy suggested I have a look at the Strong National Museum of Play. Margaret Strong was an avid collector, amassing thousands and thousands of dolls, toys, and games. Her collection was the basis for the museum, which also houses the National Toy Hall of Fame. I thought I would only want to spend an hour or so there, but once I got inside I realized just how much there was to see. A lot of it really took me back to my childhood. There was also a lot of interesting social and historical commentary; the collection of toys on the theme of atomic power and nuclear war, reflecting the concerns of the Cold War, really caught my attention. It's one thing to see one or two of these objects, but to have them all together in one place is something else again. We were really fascinated by nuclear war; as a cultural trope it resonates much more strongly than anything I can identify today. Even global warming, which potentially represents a greater disaster than nuclear war, doesn't get turned into toys.

Electrical static toy