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Jeff Brown Interview about Alaska Game Show

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What was your first interest in games?

Like lots of other people, I grew up playing games. I have very visual memories of playing Tripoly with the relatives huddled around the table and the flight of poker chips across the board. And if I had just paid attention to the life lessons learned in the game of the same name, I’d be a wealthy man by now…not happier, just richer. More recently, as a parent, it’s games like Monopoly and Candyland that occupy the fabric of my memories.

How has your interest in games developed throughout your life? What is it about games that has stuck with you?

Games took a back seat for a number of years, but in the 1990s, I decided to develop a book of mazes and puzzles for my elementary-aged stepson. Mazes and puzzles are games in a way. These morphed into a series of books, and eventually to a show of ceramic tile mazes at the Alaska State Museum. I see games as tools for fun, knowledge and learning how to “play well with others.”

What is your background as an Alaskan?

I arrived in Juneau in September of 1975, and except for a run for higher education in Bellingham in the early ‘80s, Juneau has been my home.

How did you get the idea to tie together Alaska and game history for the exhibition?

A few years back, I attended a weekend workshop at the Alaska State Museum with our daughter. Some of the activities involved making your own toys and games. This sparked a thought to design an exhibit of games that might be considered “Alaskan.” As I am wont to do, I didn’t want to stop there. My goal was to produce a three-ring circus of the world of Alaska games, combining photographs, artifact and even kitsch for a truly interactive experience. The Museum thought so, too, and the hunt began.

Describe the research you completed for the exhibition. What did you find particularly surprising or noteworthy?

The Museum itself is full of resources, both in literature and in historical artifacts. I still remember the drawer being opened to reveal seal-skin balls, carved cribbage boards and detailed figurines of ivory. And being a magician, the deck of wooden playing cards was especially attractive. Trips to the Alaska State Historical Library, the Juneau Public Library, as well as the Loussac Library in Anchorage were additionally valuable. The Internet, of course, was a great tool. And besides the more culturally significant games, I dived into eBay, collecting every board game that had anything to do with our state.

What else have you learned in the process of putting together the exhibition?

People love to play games just as much as I do.

What other pursuits of “fun” have you created or pursued as an artist (books, shows or other programs)?

That’s a big question. Most of my creative activities include a certain amount of fun and humor. In the mid-‘80s, I produced a series of postcards that eventually turned into the “Real Alaskan Magazine.” I’ve produced several books of mazes and puzzles, including a joke book for each one of the 50 states. Daily life is pretty much fun, as it should be.

What is your favorite item in the exhibition, and why?

My favorite item in the show is the Eskimo Yo-Yo section. More than anything else, every time I see Chris Kiana’s smile while achieving Eskimo Orbit, it generates a smile on my face as well.

What do you most hope that audiences take away from the exhibit?

Games are not only fun, but they’re a way to bring people together. They also teach us about each other and ourselves, and sometimes a bit about the land in which we live.

Do you have any future gaming plans? What can we expect to see from Jeff Brown in the coming years?

My show of ceramic mazes continues to tour in the Lower 48, and it’d be fun to explore similar exhibits. Producing the magazine is fun too, and I’d relish the chance to do that on a more national level.

My job description in life is to make people happy. If I can keep doing that, I imagine I’ll be happy as well. I appreciate the ability to showcase Alaska games and am indebted to Paul Gardinier, Jackie Manning, Lisa Golisek, Yarrow Vaara and the entire staff and volunteer base of the Alaska State Museum for making it possible.