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Elliott Avedon Museum and Archive of Games - Interview

The University of Waterloo is home to an incredible collection of games

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Authors - Card Game

Authors - a card game from the Elliott Avedon Museum.

Photo used with permission of The Elliott Avedon Museum & Archive of Games, University of Waterloo.
The Elliott Avedon Museum and Archive of Games at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, is the only museum in North America exclusively dedicated to board games and card games.

(There are at least three game museums in Europe, the Deutsches Spiele Museum and the Deutches Spiele Archiv, both in Germany, and the Swiss Museum of Games in Switzerland.)

Founded in 1971 and housing a collection of more than 5,000 items, the Elliott Avedon Museum is a great place for game enthusiasts to visit and a wonderful resource for researchers. Among other impressive items, the museum boasts one of the world's largest collections of Crokinole boards. In addition to its physical presence, the museum maintains several online exhibits.

Museum director Ron Johnson answered some questions for us about the museum, its role, and its future.

Why is it important to have a museum dedicated to games?

Games form an important part of any culture. They represent the ideas and values of groups in a unique way. All cultures play games and they serve a variety of purposes -- teaching, socialization, history, values, etc.

Although many people view games as peripheral and an activity to "fill the void of leisure time," they play an important role in showing the world who we are. Games therefore are another window into understanding a society.

What are some of your favorite pieces in the museum's collection?

That is a tough question. It is a bit like asking who is your favourite child. But I guess I would say that the ones that come to mind immediately would be the Crokinole collection (because that was a game I grew up with), our collection of early card games (fascinating illustrations), and some of our Inuit pieces. I also could not overlook the hand-carved Chess sets.

How many of the museum's more than 5,000 pieces are on display at any given time?

We always have one museum exhibit in the main gallery based on a particular theme. At present (late summer 2006), the exhibit is focusing on games that are associated with animals. The total number of artifacts on display at any one time depends on the theme being presented, but we will have typically between 20 to 30 distinct games available in the gallery at any one time.

How do you decide which to display?

Each time we set up a new display, museum employees spend time researching the area, examining social history, and in turn seeing what we have in the collection that would best interpret the theme that has been chosen.

There is an attempt to provide a wide range of the subject and we always try to provide some opportunity for interactive games so that visitors can actually experience playing games that fit the theme.

How often does the on-campus exhibit change?

We change the exhibit 2 to 3 times a year. The next exhibit will be "Games of 1957." The university started in 1957 and as part of the 50-year celebration the museum will dedicate its exhibit in honor of the anniversary. Because the year 1957 will be the focus for the 50th anniversary, this exhibit will run a bit longer than normally would be the case.

How often is the museum visited by researchers?

Researchers visit either in person or via email and the web. We get research requests online almost every day. These are answered either by Dr. Avedon or -- if it requires some "digging" -- the museum staff will find the information.

Because much of what we have is on the web, many researchers use this facility without actually physically visiting the museum. We do have people who come to the museum and they vary from students doing projects to outside researchers. We have visitors -- the curious, the game players, students, classes -- every day.

What do you think the future holds for the museum?

The online collection will continue to grow. The goal is to make as much of the museum's collection as possible available online. This is an ongoing project and one that is heavily used by researchers and those who are just interested in games.

How many people are involved in running the museum?

The museum has two directors (Ron Johnson and Rhonda Ryman) who are responsible for the administration of the museum, a graduate student (Jinhee Chung) and an undergraduate student (Kate Meredith) who work in the museum on a daily basis doing tours, computer work, answering requests and general research.

Elliott Avedon (retired) devotes many hours per week to the museum. He answers most of the emails, supervises the online activities and generally acts as a consultant.

Can people donate games to the museum?

Yes. That is how we receive most of our games. They would contact the museum explaining what they have available. Our only limitation is storage space; therefore, we may be unable to take a collection that is excessively demanding of space.

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