Aliens and Monsters: Playing with Creatures from the Deep

What can science-fiction books, toys, and video games tell people about faraway galaxies, alternate realities, or life on Mars? And how has this genre’s fascination with mythical creatures and the unknown shaped the way they play?

Storytellers have long dreamed up miraculous and dreadful creatures that guided audiences on an exciting yet terrifying journey. In literature, film, comic books, television, and video games, these peculiar beings offered both bright promise and dark menace—conflicting visions that cataloged the viewer’s aspirations and simultaneously captured their fears. Throughout history, these stories have invaded children’s toy boxes and, within the last few decades, propelled video game culture, where gamers defend themselves against alien assaults or become their avatars.

By exploring artifacts of play related to aliens, monsters, and other science-fiction creatures, audiences can interpret the ways play inspires imagination and shapes social consciousness about reality and the fear of the unknown. Aliens and Monsters: Playing with Creatures from the Deep online exhibit draws on rare artifacts in the Strong’s world class collection of comic books, video games, pinball machines, toys, and other related historical playthings and demonstrates how toy designers and game creators used play to tame “the other,” or society’s fear of becoming the other.