Home > Childhood, Games, Human Nature > The games we play as children.

The games we play as children.

As I was trying to fall asleep tonight, my thoughts wandered towards the games I played as a kid. Not board games or the supervised games you play during gym class at school, but the games the kids in my neighborhood played and the ones we played at recess when adult supervision was slightly lax. In retrospect, all of these games are unified by a disturbing element of violence and punishment.

When we lived in Southwest Philly, the beginning of summer denoted the commencement of nightly games of “Manhunt”. My memory is a bit fuzzy on the particulars, but basically all the kids on my block divided into two teams. The first team usually consisted of older kids, say 13 and up and any younger kid deemed bad-ass enough to join their ranks. Let’s call this team the Jailers. The second team was made up of all the younger kids and anyone older who was a whiny crybaby. Let’s call this team the Prisoners. More or less, “Manhunt” was team hide and seek. But it was freaking terrifying. The prisoners had about a two block radius to hide. You could hide in groups or pairs, but that was risky. Hiding places could be in some stranger’s storm cellar, underneath a porch, underneath a car, in a fortress of trash cans–whatever the physical environment allowed. Basically, you sat tight in your hiding spot until you heard a gang of Jailers roll up (they always traveled in packs) and held your breath and prayed they wouldn’t see you. And if they did see you and called you out, you had to run your ass off so they couldn’t catch you. If you are, say, six years old, getting chased by a group of 13 year-olds is monstrously petrifying. They are going to catch you. Then they will throw you in “jail”. And they will be vicious about it. The game would go on for hours because it was officially over when everyone was caught, but since you could escape from jail, this could take forever. I remember sometimes being called to come home because it was my bedtime, and I had to try to be sneaky and run like hell to make it back to my house without getting caught. Occasionally, I made it the front steps with a bunch of Jailers at my heels, and I’d run up to door and clutch the knob, out of breath and practically plead, “My mom said I have to come in. So I’m not playing anymore!” This was frowned upon.

At school, we like to play Wall Ball, which we also called Suicide. This game is very simple. Throw a racquet or tennis ball against the side of the building. Everyone tries to catch the ball as it bounces of the wall. If someone catches the ball after it bounces on the ground, it’s that person’s turn to throw it against the wall. If someone catches your ball without letting it hit the ground, you have to book it to the wall before the person that caught you throw pegs you as hard as they can. Then you’re out. Now, getting hit with a tennis ball hurts. Getting hit with a racquet ball? Oh my god. That stings.

In a similar vein, I have a friend who said the kids on her block used to play a game where one group ran back and forth across someone’s yard while another group pelted them with acorns. This was one of their favorite games. When my brother and I were really little, say four and six, one of our favorite past times (aside from getting into arguments over inanities in order to have an excuse to beat the shit out of each other, which went on for years) was also quite simple. We’d takes turn sitting in a cardboard box while the other person ran at full speed across the carpeted floor and rammed the person sitting in the box smack into the wall. We loved this.

So why, as children, when left to our own devices do we create these “games”? What are we absorbing, and subsequently acting out? What is it in human nature that makes children incorporate dominating and being dominated, seeking out and cultivating terror, ignoring common sense and risking physical harm, all in the guise of game? And why do they only do this when they think no adults are looking?

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Categories: Childhood, Games, Human Nature
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