What is the Play! Project?


Play! is a research project and public engagement programme which aims to inject fun into the museum and local community by exploring the games, toys and musical instruments in the collection. Over the course of the project, the Play! Team has been delving into the museum’s collection to conduct in-depth collaborative research with originating community members, resulting in enhanced object documentation and a future book on the history of play. Working cross-departmentally, this object research is being carried out in tandem with a playful public engagement programme that enables museum visitors and local communities to get hands on with history and play both inside and outside the museum space. 

Through the "Play!" theme we are exploring and testing how the museum can be decolonised through family and community activities that centre around playfulness and fun. Through our co-productive, equitable work with international researchers, Community Connectors and local community organisations, the Play! project is platforming stories of play from across the world.  In the exchange of these stories, we are deepening the knowledge held by the museum databases, ensuring the collections share a wider set of perspectives. 


The collections and public engagement team have collaborated to bring this object research to life in the form of social media campaigns, trails and activities that enable museum visitors and the local gaming community to get hands on with history and encourage play both inside and outside the museum space. You can follow #PlayPitt on social media for upcoming events and monthly puzzles and crafts highlighting objects from the project!





The Play! Project Team 

Megan - Collections & Public Engagement Officer

As the Collections & Public Engagement Officer for the Play! Project, I’m collaborating with international partners from Zimbabwe to Chile to research the objects related to “play” in the museum's collection. As an avid player of board games, I’m excited to be forging global connections to discover what the museum’s games collection can tell us about the concept of “play” across time and across cultures. Surprisingly my favourite play-related object at the museum isn’t a board game, but a tiny teapot from a set of toy utensils from Japan. Having held lots of tea parties with Sylvanian family characters as a child (and being someone who enjoys tea with my friends today) I love the way this tiny teapot represents the ideas of coming together and shared experiences as a form of Play.

One of Megan's favourite objects in the Museum...

Metal teapot toy about the size of a walnut

A tiny toy metal teapot held in a hand, wearing bright green museum gloves used when handling collections. PRM1892.38.53












Scarlett - Family Learning & Public Engagement Officer

I’m Scarlett, and I am the Family Learning & Public Engagement Officer for the Play! Project. That means that I’m the person (alongside our amazing team!) organising fun events and trails for you all to do when you visit the Museum. In my childhood, if I wasn’t sitting with my Grandma watching quiz shows on TV, I was in my room playing video games - which in spite of what my parents said, has landed me a job. I think many people underestimate how much you can learn from video games, so many of them are set in different periods of history and it definitely sparked my interest in learning about various cultures and eras. My personal favourite Play! object in the Pitt Rivers is the wonderfully whimsical Noah’s Ark set up on the 1st Floor. What’s interesting is that children still play with toy animal sets today, showing that children’s innate love of animals is something that transcends time and location.

One of Scarlett's favourite objects in the Museum...

Noahs ark toy

A Noah's ark and set of wooden animals that can be found on display on the first floor of the Museum. PRM1956.9.70.1












Examples of Play! activities 

So far the Play! Team have organised the “squeaktacular” half terms, a collaboration event at local board game cafe and a late night play event with giant games, a scavenger hunt, and pass the parcel!

Watch the video below showing an egg-cellent crafting activity in collaboration with members from the Oxford Polish Association inspired by some of the decorated eggs on display in a case on the first floor. Scroll through our image gallery below to view a selection of Play! event photos and look out for some of the many mice decorated by visitors, in an activity inspired by the Museum's longstanding playful mouse-spotting trail. 



Play! Project Object Highlights

Here are some of the objects being photographed and researched for the Play! Project.


Small box next to a tiny figure

PRM 1996.17.144.1. This object's information has been translated from Japanese to English by local volunteer Fusa Mclynn.


" "

Knuckle bones astragalus from Algeria, used historically as gaming pieces object. PRM1913.17.68. This object has been researched by the Collections & Public Engagement Officer for a future book on the history of 'play' written by the project sponsor.



" "

Tosenkoyo fan throwing game from Japan. PRM.1919.56.3. Re-photographed by the Collections & Public Engagement Officer to demonstrate how the game is played. Volunteer Fusa Mclynn has conducted research on the game Tosenkyo enhancing museum records.



prm 2008 83 18 shadow puppet

Shadow puppet from China. 2008.83.18. This object is one of many shadow puppets that is being investigated through participatory research with members of the local Chinese community.

" "

Cowhide playing cards from Chile. PRM1884.100.19. Francisca Santana Sagredo, Archaeological Researcher at The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile has been interviewed about this object as part of collections research and decolonising the collection.



" "

Fuba game stone from Zimbabwe. PRM1907.38.82. Robert.T Nyamushosho, Archaeologist at University of Cape Town, has been interviewed about this object as part of collections research and decolonising the collection.


Playful encounters with the Museum collections

Enjoy some of the resources prepared by the Play! team, from a range of online puzzles to paper trails that you can print out at home and bring along to a visit to the Museum. 


You can play online jigsaws featuring objects from the Museum.



Download our Play! at the Pitt trail.



Download our What's in Our Drawers trail made by the Play! team.