E: MASH is- is a game, um, where it stands- it stands for mansion, apartment,
S: (simultaneously with ‘E’) shack, and house
E: and then there were different categories. And how I played it you could always customize your categories, but it was usually always something along the lines of the pet you’re gonna have, the car you’re gonna have, your job, your husband, or wife, blah blah blah blah
S: Who’s gonna be your husband, or wife.
E: How many kids you have, that was a popular one. And then you would, um…
E: You played with salary? That’s terrifying
Q: That’s a little too high stakes!
S: We were really hardcore middle schoolers man
E: And then you would write it all down. And then you would, um, you would say start and go and you would draw lines until you said stop and that would be the amount of times the person would just go down the list counting and crossing things out, and then whatever was left was, uh, your prediction for your future life.
This piece was collecting while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about the games from our childhoods or school days. Some of us even played them again now as college students, including but not limited to MASH as described above. After this exchange, we proceeded to play a few rounds of MASH choosing the following categories: husband/wife, occupation, husband’s/wife’s occupation, salary, husband’s/wife’s salary, car, number of children, place, and pet. The person whose future was being predicted chose three things to place in each category and the others in the room chose the last, usually an unfavorable choice, for a total of four items. We also restricted the husband/wife options to those who were in the room at the time. The counting number was determined by me drawing lines until the person said stop, then I counted through the categories back-to-back, crossing out the one I landed on each time. Once I finished the categories, I counted through MASH at the top and then we read out the person’s future to the room.
The two informants were both females, and a majority of those who chose to play were female as well, but the person whose future was predicted was male. The two informants grew up in different places and we have age differences of a few years between each of us. ‘S’ in the exchange above grew up in Michigan and primarily played this game during middle school. ‘E’ in the exchange above grew up in California, and mentioned how she would play the game with her friends at “every sleepover ever.” There was a general consensus that primarily it was girls that would play MASH.
I played MASH quite a bit as well while going to middle school in Virginia. It was mainly just a fun way to pass the time at that age. The fact that it was so widespread and so popular for a period of time may be because it is an easy pen and paper activity that is simple to learn, customize, and pass on, but I believe there is another reason why it was so popular, especially during middle school years. At its core, MASH is a game about predicting the future, and this practice existed long before the game existed. People have a desire to predict the future so that they have more control over it and can decrease their anxiety about what may come. Especially for middle schoolers, when most children are now going through puberty and beginning a transition into adolescence and eventually adulthood, there can be great uncertainty about the future. MASH, then, becomes an unconscious way to plan out and/or predict the future in a completely low risk, zero consequence, and even humorous environment. There may be even a hint of belief in its prediction power for some, indicated by how you would primarily put choices you wanted under each category. Furthermore, the particular anxieties can be extrapolated from the categories chosen. These categories may be completely trivial and entertaining (e.g. Type of Pet) or they can reveal desires regarding social class (e.g. Salary, MASH) and gender roles, particularly for females (e.g. Number of Children, Occupation). Even the common addition of an undesirable choice to each of the categories, when it is known that there is a possibility it may be picked, indicates an awareness that the future may not always be in their favor. On the surface, MASH may seem like just a funny way to pass the time and be entertained due to the improbable nature of the results, but all things considered, it seems to be a way for middle-school age children to overcome their anxieties about the future in a time where they are going through a number of changes, both physical and psychological.
Additional Informant Data:
The informant data for the interlocuter denoted by ‘E’ is included in the section above the item. The same data for the other informant is included below.
‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew