USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘schoolyard games’
Game

Cops n’ Robbers School Yard Game

“M” is 21 year old male student at the University of Southern California, where he is a Junior studying Animation and minoring in Philosophy. M is originally from the outskirts of New York state where he describes himself as living in a rural area. He described himself as going to a high school of ~60 students, where cliche formation was rare as students could ‘jump from social group to social group’. He describes his parents as ‘hippies’ that were very relaxed in their parenting style as well as their personal approach towards life. He is of Irish descent on both sides and describes this aspect of his life as very active in his life.

 

Transcript:

“Me: So what game did you play again?

M: Oh! Cops n’ Robbers!

Me: When did you play that game?

M: Elementary school!

Me: How do you play that game?

M: Well you’re basically you got some cops, and you got some robbers, so there’s like people on teams and stuff. So you’ve got the cops chasing the robbers, they could get feisty with it and the robbers could beat up the cops. There were bases too, if the robbers got to the bases they were okay, it was a hideout.

Me: Were you usually a cop or a robber?

M: Man, I don’t remember, that was a long time ago. I don’t think there was one that I was more of, we all sorta did both all the time. It was like, hey! Let’s play Cops n’ Robbers, I’ll be on this team you be on that.

Me: Did the cops always win?

M: No. It’s not like real life, it’s more realistic than that.

(I laugh)”

 

Analysis:

The game seems to be “M”s version of the popular schoolyard game, Cops n’ Robbers, a fairly well known game in North America. In the April 1973 publication of The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, in an article titled Children’s Folklore in the Archive of Folk Song, the article suggests the splitting of children’s Folklore in their very large Folklore collection (at the time, the collection was near 150,000 entries) into categories. One of these categories, battle games uses Cops and Robbers as a classic example as to what sorts of entries would fit this sort, assuming knowledge in the reader about the popularity of the game (Emrich, 1973).

The game itself, as a school yard game, likely allowed “M” and his friends to try out ‘adult roles’ while also reinforcing basic moral ideas like ‘good guys’, ‘bad guys’ and ‘the good guys have to stop the bad guys’, while also allowing them to simulate more adult situations (apprehending a criminal). The lack of preference could indicate that the players had no moral or occupational preference and preferred the role playing aspect instead, this could be contrasted to a child who wants to play as the cop because his father is a police officer (or any other reason he/she may admire the profession). ”M”s version of the game also included a base that the criminals could get to to defeat the cops and get away. As the cops did not always win (or the robbers didn’t) the aspect of good triumphing over evil or any other sort of overarching narrative did not appear to be part of “M”s approach to the game.

 

Emrich, D. (1973, April). Children’s Folklore in the Archive of Folk Song. In The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress (pp. 140-151). Library of Congress.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

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