Games of the 1950s & 1960s

Written by amie martin | 13/05/2017
Games of the 1950s & 1960s
Hula hoop contests were popular mid-century and are gaining retro momentum today. (Bec Parsons/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Without modern pastimes such as video games and computers, games of the 1950s and 1960s focused on mental and physical skills. Mid-century games also often involved teamwork. Though a child's imagination could be nurtured by playing on her own, many of the popular games of these decades involved two or more players, whether it was a trivia or hula hoop contest, or a popular board game of the time.

Mental Games

Games in the 1950s and 1960s often tested the mental skills of participants. Trivia games, in general, were widely played by all ages. Television game shows were popular in the growing amount of households with televisions, and a home version of "What's My Line?" (1950-67) was played by many on car trips and at home. Known as "20 Questions," the game during the 1950s and 1960s was built on the show's premise of guessing someone's occupation in 20 questions and could include the broader objective of guessing just about anything the "it" person was thinking. Americans of a certain age will recognise the question: "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" which was made popular by classic American humorist Steve Allen on the game show and remained a staple of the "20 Questions" home variation.

Hula Hoop

Physical contests and races were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and the hula hoop was often front and centre. Using the Hawaiian hip-action dance as inspiration, the hula hoop was marketed as a lightweight plastic hoop in various vibrant colours of the time. The hula hoop was whirled around the body at the hip in a motion that kept it whirling as long as the player could keep it going. It was, in a sense, the "hip" version of the skipping rope. The hula hoop could be used as both a solo and team race game by seeing who could keep the hula hoop whirling the longest.

Board Games

The mid-century version of today's video game was the board game. Even with board games, players tested their mental and physical skills. A popular board game of the time was "Operation," released by toy company Hasbro in 1965. "Operation" required game players to retrieve internal parts of the body from a character named "Cavity Sam" without touching the outlines of each part and sounding a buzzer. It involved patience and a steady hand. Players learnt body parts while also exercising dexterity.


Today, retro is popular in everything from clothing to home design, and that includes games. While some 1950s and 1960s games, such as the hula hoop contest and trivia games, have remained in play through the decades, others are enjoying new life. Ironically, today's new technology has spurned this interest in many ways; retro games are now widely available as mobile apps, and social media encourages cross-play of retro games such as Scrabble.

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