USC Digital Folklore Archives / Game

Underground Church



Underground Church by Lee Thibodeau


There’s a group of 15 people, or ten people, you have to pick one priest and two guards. The guards will outnumber the priests in a one to two ratio. So basically, the priest is chosen and the two guards are chosen and everybody in the group will know who is guards and who is the priests and they’re selected randomly. Everyone starts in a set location. You need a big field. You could actually play in an area with a lot of objects like trees or cars or somewhere where there’s actually like structures. The priest and the guards will leave and the priests will be able to choose what their jail will be, the object or the area will be the Underground Church. And the two guards will leave and they’ll pick their own area that will be the jail. And then the rest of the people who are not chosen will be some civilians, or townsfolk and they have to wait in the area where the game started, which is preferably in the middle of the field or area where the game is taking place.

After about a minute, when the priest and the guards have picked their Underground Church, the game will start. How the game works is – the priest wins if he gets, or the priest and townsfolk because they are kind of on the same team, the priest wins if he gets all of the civilians into the Underground Church. The guards win if they capture the priest. So the guards will constantly be on patrol trying to capture the townsfolk and if they can tag them fast enough, they are dragged off to the jail and they are stuck into the jail until another townsfolk sneaks in or the priest comes and everyone gets out of jail at the same time. So- if you’re in the Underground Church, you’re safe. The guards cannot capture you there and that also includes the priest. If the priest is in the Underground Church, the guards cannot take you out. So it’s this kind of battle between people getting stuck in jail and you having to send townsfolk out to the point where the priest has to go out himself, because there is too many people. So- the game can go on for quite a while and if it takes too long, to where the priest or a lot of townsfolk is in the jail, eventually the guards will win. So, basically the priest does not want to get caught.


A lot of times when I would play the game, we’d play at this park and there would be a forest. Typically someone would choose a tree and when you’re near the tree, that would be the church or you are touching the tree. And then the jail would be like this. There’s like this gravel structure and it was kind of like a square, on the park and that would be the jail. We often change things around because we don’t want to let the guards to actually know where the Underground Church is ‘cause some of them may hide out and try to catch people trying to get to the church. To save someone basically, someone has to run into the jail, grab someone else who’s in the jail already and then they get 10 seconds of immunity. Just basically run away. As soon as the priest gets caught, the guards win. As soon as all the citizens go into the Underground Church, the priest wins.


1. What is being performed?

A field game: Underground Church


2. Can you give us some background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

This is a game we would play with groups of friends back in Washington. I learned it first from a friend who lives in my neighborhood.


3. What country and what region of that country are you from?

Informant: Washington State, the United States.


4.  Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

It is of Christian relations, relating back to Roman times, when Christianity was not an accepted religion. I belong to Christianity.


5. Where did you first hear the story?

From a friend.


6. What do you think the origins of this story might be?

Roman times.


7. What does it mean to you?

It relates back to those Roman times. To me, it reminds me of the ties I have with the friends who taught me.


Context of the performance- Late night in the dorm, from a friend


Thoughts about the piece- You have to be there in the moment to play this complicated game and understand the strategy. It sounds like a mix between tag, hide and seek and a religious story, a way to collaborate and compete.

Other indoor versions, vocabulary (“centurians” for guards) and team building at\


Spiderweb Game

Background: Kayla Saikaly is a 21-year-old student living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a student at UCSD. She was born and raised in Southern California.

Original script: “So there was a game that I used to play all the time when I was kid. So, I was kind of a bully in elementary school. No, seriously. I would always boss all the boys around and I was like the ringleader of the girls, because back then it was always boys versus girls. So, I invented this game – or I thought I did, honestly I probably read or watched it somewhere and forgot about it – called the Spider web game. In the playground, we had this huge spider web playground structure that we called the jail. We would put all the boys in there through physical force – kicking, scratching, punching, slapping was all fair game. They would try to get out and we would give them 10 seconds to run and then we would chase after them to put them back in the cage. There was no real ‘victory’ honestly it was just a bunch of kids fighting each other… but playfully!! I swear, I didn’t make anybody cry or anything. But I did punch a bunch of guys and I kicked a guy in the balls for the first and hopefully only time of my life ”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: My informant went to an elementary school in Cerritos, CA. It was a magnet school. She said she looks back on elementary school fondly and even though she was a bully, everybody did respect her and she keeps in contact with some of her friends back then

Thoughts about the piece: This game honestly sounds so violent to me, but I’m sure that as kids, it isn’t bad at all. I look back at elementary school and am in constant awe of how much energy I had, so I can see how this game would be entertaining to children – running, kicking, screaming.  



OK Game

Background: Anna Lim is a 21-year-old student living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a student at USC. She is currently studying electrical engineering.

Original script: “I remember I used to play this game in elementary school. There was no name for it. Basically, you put your index finger and thumb into an ‘O’ shape — basically the OK sign  Then you have to make your friend see it in a sneaky way. So, for example, your friend could say that they dropped something and you would look down and see the hand sign. Then, you’d have to get a flick on the forehead or a pinch on the arm as punishment. I remember that me and my friends used to take this game so seriously, we would come up with the most creative ways to trick the other person into seeing this hand sign. From lying, to tripping your friends, to plotting with other people, my friends and I came up with, honestly, probably hundreds of ways to trick each other. And I would fall for it every single time. I wasn’t a very bright kid. But yeah, this game was so fun and I don’t see anybody playing it anymore. I wonder what happened to it and what kids these days are playing.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: My informant went to an elementary school in Cerritos, CA. It was a magnet school. She would always hang out with the girls during recess and since they didn’t want to get sweaty, she suspects that this is how the game came to be – because it is not athletic and can be done with anybody.

Thoughts about the piece: It’s crazy how games can be so simple and easy to play – no intricate rules or props or cards, just your hands and crazy schemes. It reminds me of how simple elementary school was and how easily amused we are.


Korean rock paper scissors

Background: Kayla Saikaly is a 21-year-old student living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a student at UCSD. She was born and raised in Southern California.

Original script: “So I learned this game from my Korean friend. It’s basically another version of rock paper scissors. So two people do rock paper scissors and the person who has the winning hand will switch to another sign and the other person has the option of switching their hand or keeping the same sign. If the person who originally had the winning hand chooses the sign that is the same as the other person, then the person who originally had the winning hand wins. It’s kind of confusing but once you play it once with a friend, it makes perfect sense. It gets pretty competitive haha but it’s super convenient to play when you’re travelling with friends and don’t have any cards or something.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: My informant went to an elementary school in Cerritos, CA. It was a magnet school. Her best friend was Korean-American so she learned a lot of Korean games and words from her.

Thoughts about the piece: This game requires you to shout out Korean words while you’re playing rock paper scissors so it’s quite interesting that someone that is not Korean remembered the game so well and was able to understand the Korean words by playing the game with her friends.   



While trying to find interesting ways to get her students interested in math my mom consulted many different resources.  After searching for a while she remembered a game that one of her math professors taught her. The game is called Nim. She taught it to me when we were waiting for our food at a restaurant. I was becoming impatient, as most seven year olds do when waiting a long time for food. She said “okay, okay, okay…. I have something for you to do.” She grabbed her purse, pulled out her wallet, and began pulling out some coins. She began to explain, “I am going to teach you a game. You can play it with just about any small object. Since we have coins we are going to play the game with those.” She began placing the coins on the table into three rows. One row had three coins. The row right below it had four coins. The last row had eleven coins. She proceeded to explain how to play the game. “Each player takes turns removing coins from one row. You can remove as many coins as you want as long as they are all in the same row. For example, on your first turn you can remove all of the coins from the first row. Then I could remove all of the coins from the second row. The goal of the game is to be the person to take the last coin. Some versions of the game say that you don’t want to be the person to take the last coin, but we will play this way.” We then began to play a few games and I lost all of them. It is not enough to just know the rules of the game. You also need a strategy. My mom has played the game many times and has learned from other players. As a result she had developed a decent strategy while I had to develop my own as we played. My mom has a degree in biochemistry and a Master’s degree in educations. She teaches math to high schoolers. She enjoys doing math puzzles and learning to code. As a result, she has collected an enormous amount of folklore. Predominantly from her students. Some of this folklore is unique to each niche while other pieces span multiple groups. This provides a unique perspective on folklore from these rather similar groups. I found the game very interesting and continue to play it today. Similar games are brought up in my classes and we have to develop algorithms to play the game such that you can always win. Both my mom and I enjoy the strategy that goes into this game. Every now and then I challenge her to a match to see if I can beat her yet.

For another version of the game checkout this online edition at


Russian wood construction game

Alexander is a 20 year old student at USC. He is currently a freshman, and is old for his grade because he spent an extra year in Russia, where he grew up his entire life. He said life there was very different and while he is good at English, he still struggles slightly as he is very new to the country. When I asked him about any games that him and his friends would play he said:

“There is a game where you put several pieces of wood 30 feet away from you, and make small structure, another big wooden stick you have, and you are 30 feet away and you try to throw the stick so the wood construction breaks”

Alexander said he spent a lot of time outdoors with his friends, and that this was one of the most popular games he played. He described this game as a “Soviet” game and said that many people played it in their free time. He said he learned it from older boys whom he saw playing it. To me it sounds like a game that any child would just pick up and play naturally, but it sounds like more of a known game there, as he labeled it “Soviet” and said it was very popular.



My informant is a good friend that loves ghost stories.


My favorite ghost story is definitely about the Slenderman.

It is believed that Slenderman has been around for many centuries as an urban legend. The Slenderman usually is seen to be hanging around young children and is extremely tall, standing maybe around like 8 to 10 feet. He is supposed to have 2 dominant hands and many tentacles that act like more hands that can retract and grow to his bidding. He is like a creeper that hangs around little children and ‘disciplines’ the naughty and alone children. Although he is an urban legend, from the version I heard, he walks around in a black suit with no face and lures children in suburban areas into forests. He is not scared of being seen in broad daylight and there are even some pictures on the internet that show his existence.

I know about this urban legend and have actually played an authored literature of this urban legend as a video game. It was made about 5 years ago and stays somewhat true to the urban legend. You play as a man looking for his lost child that was taken away. Your only clues are these 8 pages around this area which you cannot leave because you are fenced in. At the same time, you will be chased down by the Slenderman.With only a flashlight you have to find the whereabouts of your lost kid, if you see the Slenderman you only have one option, and that is to run the hell away. It is interesting how the game takes a German urban legend and makes it into a game.

Folk speech

Hispanic Proverb-Game

Informant: Carlota Rodriguez-Benito. 20 years old. Spanish Heritage, born in Miami, lived in Mexico. USC student.

Informant:“El que se va de su villa pierde su silla”

Translation:“The one who leaves his or her villa looses his or her chair”

Informant: “If someone stood up from their seat, whether that be at school, at home, or anywhere, I would take that seat. When that person returned wanting that same seat, I would say the proverb to let them know that it’s their fault they left it and it’s mine now. I no longer use this proverb because I find it silly. When I was younger, however, I loved to say it because it was a funny game.

Thoughts: Carlota grew up in Miami but still used this proverb as a child. Miami has a very big Hispanic community so it makes sense that Carlota would say it. When I was younger,  just like Carlota, I would say this proverb. It is interesting that we both never say it anymore but still remember the experiences of it.

Folk medicine

Hispanic Proverb

Informant: Carlota Rodriguez-Benito. 20 years old. Spanish Heritage, born in Miami, lived in Mexico. USC student.

Original: “Sana que sana, colita de rana…si no sanara hoy! sanará mañanaaaa!”

Translation: Heals that heals frog’s little tail, if it does not heal today it will heal tomorrow!

Informant: “Ohh! I love this one. Whenever I used to hurt myself or feel sick, my mom would hold me in her arms. She would stroke the area in pain and say: “Sana que sana, colita de rana…si no sanara hoy! sanará mañanaaaa!” While saying the “mañana” (tomorrow) part she would kiss the affected area and tickle me. I love this proverb because it brings joy to a painful time. Although it would not heal my pain, it would alleviate my attitude. Thanks to my mother’s love, I was mentally ready for the pain to go away. No longer does this happen.. of course as this was only when I was a little kid! (Pause), oh!!! Excuse me, I just can’t stop thinking of this moment.

Thoughts: Surprisingly, I have not heard this proverb before. It is amazing that a proverb hold such a special place in Carlota’s heart and it makes sense. Certainly, she correlates the proverb to her childhood and her mother’s love. Not only does Carlota’s mother say the proverb but also employ specific gestures to accompany her words. It becomes almost an own tradition in her family until she is too old for the game.


Seven-Up Childhood Game

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was in elementary school, my music teacher taught me a game called seven-up. Basically, she would pick seven people to stand at the front of the room, and the rest of the class would sit at their desks with their heads down and their thumbs up. The seven chosen would then walk around the room, and each would tap one seated person’s thumb. They would put their thumbs down once they were tapped. Then, when the seven people were done, they would return to the front of the room, and the seven whose thumbs were tapped would stand at their desks. Each would then choose whomever they thought tapped them, and if they were right, they would switch places and roles with them. If they were wrong, they’d sit back down. At the end of the guessing, the people a the front would admit whose thumbs they tapped. Then the process would happen all over again.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s a childhood game. It’s important to me because of my memories tied to it. My friends and I got so excited to play this game, and it was always the biggest deal to figure out who tapped your thumb! Also, everyone from other schools played something similar to seven-up growing up, usually just with slightly different rules or a different name, but it’s something to reminisce on not only with my classmates but really anyone my age.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed hearing about this piece of folklore because I played the same game in elementary school and feel the same way about other people knowing a similar version. It’s very interesting to see how games in different schools compare and how they were a major part of our lives. We even go so far as to argue over which version is right.