Road Trip to Rochester

Day 1 – March 20, 2024 

(Marley) 

Today we head to the BIG CITY… Rochester, NY for The Association of the Study of Play (TASP) annual conference. As researchers of the Pop lab’s Aging Playfully team, we were very excited to dive headfirst into the world of play and see where our research can grow. Our team consists of Master and PhD students in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s University including myself, Marley Gryfe, as well as Nishant Dave, Janine Dodge, and Jennifer Rodriguez. As we are going to be on this journey for four days, each of the team members will write our blog for a day.  

To start it all off, around 6pm, we embarked on our road trip to Upstate New York. In our blue rental car with high spirits, we were excited to get the trip started. For me personally, it had that wonderfully nostalgic school field trip feeling. With background music and lots of interesting conversations about our research and our lives, everything was going smoothly. Even at the border, there was no line and our agent appeared both confused and curious about a conference on play. Although we were pretty sure she was just doing her job by asking us these questions, we responded in detail telling her all about our research and even invited her to our presentation.  

Once in the States, we drove a while longer and eventually stopped for dinner at the Cracker Barrel in Syracuse. For most of us, it was our first time at this chain restaurant and being as hungry as we were, it was awesome! Lots of food, lots of fun, and lots of laughs. Following this, heading back out in the weird weather of snow, blue sky, repeat, and we made our way to our Airbnb right next to the conference location of the Strong National Museum of Play. Excited by the playful exterior of the museum, we knew it was time for bed so we could maximize our conference experience for the coming days.  

Day 2 – March 21, 2024 

(Jennifer) 

As we made our way over the Museum of Play, we were captivated by the playful and colourful infrastructure – I was specifically amazed by the mini grocery store for kids with a check-out machine and the Sesame Street set-up. To my surprise, one of my favourite presentations occurred on the first day of the conference. The presenter was very engaging and used a mix of humour and personal stories to explain the relationship between his Illest Lab and academia. He discussed how play and design can be a gateway for marginalized youth to be introduced to STEM subjects. In the lab, a group of youth are designing running shoes to enhance their creativity, leadership skills and cognitive development. One of the participants now works for Nike! 

After a leisurely lunch, half of us decided to explore the second floor of the museum. The whole experience was very nostalgic as we learned about the history of video games and got to see various toys from the 19th century. I had so much fun playing Super Mario and Pacman. As we made our way to the end of the museum, we came across the best game ever invented (in my opinion). This was a dodgeball game with a virtual wall. The goal of the game is to burst digital squares with a dodgeball to prevent them from reaching the floor. Marley and I first played with complete strangers until Nishant joined us. The reason I found this game so entertaining is because it forces you to play collectively as a team and break a sweat while doing so. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time.  

Later in the evening, we went back to our Airbnb to recharge before attending the Gala dinner at the museum. After eating delicious food, I reflected on how I got to know my colleagues better and witnessed the positive impact that Play has on our lives. We wrapped up the night getting ready for our presentation the next day! 

Day 3 – March 22, 2024 

(Nishant) 

Today was D-Day. Three months of rigorous literature review and data collection in the lab, questioning whether we got carpal tunnel, all came down to this 15-minute presentation. However, we were courageous and took on this challenge (a fun challenge) head on. Waking up all fresh, we made our way toward the Museum of Play to attend the morning’s keynote.  

Being a last-minute clutch king, I made my way to the cafeteria to write up my script for the presentation. Soon after, Janine and Maxx joined me for final discussion about it.  

As we walked over to the conference room for our presentation, you could feel the nerves slowly creeping in. But when the first words were spoken by Maxx, all those nerves were released, and it was game time. The ball was in our court. As we went through the presentation everyone did a wonderful job. Janine gave a buzzer-beater performance in the end, extending our hands to the present scholars and researchers to collaborate with us and continue conversing about older adults and play.  

After our presentation, we were introduced to two other researchers Jonathan and Susan and had an opportunity to have lunch with them at a local Italian restaurant. It was a family-run business with slow service (a good attribute) that helped in extending our table conversations to leverage as much as play wisdom as possible as students. Most importantly, the food was impeccable; it was one of the finest, and most authentic margherita pizzas I’ve had. A must go place if I ever come back to Rochester. After lunch, everyone departed their own ways, with most of us going back to Airbnb to finish any outstanding school assignments.  

As six o’clock approached, the entire Pop place crew went to a nearby restaurant for dinner that served food with a side of video games console of your choice. It was a unique experience, with really, really cheap beers, in comparison to Canada. We enjoyed our food and drinks and played a round or two of Mario Karts on the Nintendo Switch. After this, we dispersed back into our temporary homes, where some individuals worked diligently on school assignments, while others did a mixture of schoolwork and a game of pool. This led to the conclusion of our day, as we prepared to pack our clothes to be efficiently out of the Airbnb before noon.  

Day 4 – March 23, 2024 

(Janine) 

On our last morning, we arose early to pack up the car and make it to the Museum for the last Keynote speaker. It was a group from Rochester sharing their experience about engaging local vulnerable communities to support play opportunities for children. The photovoice research they conducted about the initiative was particularly inspiring. After the presentation, we went to view their exhibit of photographs. It was artfully displayed along the wall beside the Sesame Street section of the Museum, a fitting location!  The wonderful thing about a relatively smaller conference like TASP is the opportunity to meet and talk at length with the presenters. We spent close to an hour exchanging ideas with this team of researchers, gaining invaluable insights for our own work. 

As the conference drew to a close, we immersed ourselves in the museum for a last time. We headed for the second floor, to the interactive games that all ages could enjoy. We battled each other at some and played together at others, losing ourselves in the emotions, the challenges and the discovery that is spontaneous play in a stimulating environment. Lots of groans of frustration, exclamations of joy and seemingly endless smiles and laughter. In other words, lots of play!   

Filled with inspiration, stories and full of play, we started the road trip home. The snow cleared and the conversation flowed. We stopped for lunch at a quintessential American diner fittingly called Good Golly, which had been closing when we popped in on the way to Rochester. It didn’t disappoint! Stomachs filled, we crossed over the border back into Canada just as the sun began to shine. As we pulled into Kingston, nostalgia already set in. Our warm hugs goodbye belied the bittersweet moment of a great adventure coming to an end. Play had brought us together on so many levels. I was filled with a deep gratitude for all who contributed to this great adventure. Thank you!