When my friend was a kid she played a game at recess on circular four square court. The game was essentially a variant of tag. One person would be it and they would chase the other players around the court. The rules were that the players must stay on the outside of the court and not enter any of the squares. The court had cracks in it which could be entered from the outside but if a player was on the inside the cracks became a dead end and they had to turn around. When players were tagged they went into the prison area (the squares in the court) and they could be tagged out.
My friend invented this game and played it with her friends at recess so the game was very close to her. I think she felt pride that her friends all partook in a piece of folklore that she invented.
The game seems to be at its heart very close to tag but the moderations allow tag to be played in an area that would ordinarily be much too small for tag. This shows the evolution of a folkloric game into a form that is adapted for the environment it was confined to. The addition of the cracks as a rule also shows the complexity in the game practice and an incorporation of the environment into the gameplay.
Information about the Informant
My informant grew up in Hacienda Heights where he went to high school, and received his bachelor’s degree from USC. He is a game designer and is currently working for a social mobile gaming company based in Westwood.
“This might be from TV, but, um, if you cut off the tag on your bed, that brings you like seven years bad luck. Have you heard that?”
Collector: “I’ve heard breaking a mirror.”
“Oh yeah, breaking a mirror. [laughs]”
Collector: “I haven’t heard take…”
“Cutting the tag. The mattress–”
Collector: “The price tag?”
“Yeah. Or, or like the…I guess it’s the carer tag. Like how to take care of it.”
I did a bit of research and found no real research conducted on this piece of folklore. There were some poorly worded comments on Yahoo! Answers and various similar sites where individual people indicated that they also thought it was bad luck to cut the tag off a mattress. But mostly what I found were sites that addressed the false belief that cutting the tag off a mattress would result in legal prosecution should the owner be found out. These sites addressed the fact that care tags used to be required on mattresses so that the customer could read the tag and know exactly what materials were used to make and stuff the mattresses. For the store owner to cut the tag off then in order to deceive his customers then was an illegal move. The warning that the government placed on the tag warning store owners not to remove the tag was worded poorly however, and left consumers consumed as to whether or not they could remove the tags after purchase. How this translated from possible legal prosecution though to bad luck, I’m not exactly sure, although it’s undeniable that being arrested could certainly be interpreted as bad luck, and the origins of this “bad luck” lost somewhere along the line for some people.
Amari Broadnax was born in Fontana, CA in 2006. He has lived in Rialto, CA all of his life. He is a six year old first grader at Lena M. Preston Elementary School. Amari practices Tae Kwon Do at the Tiger Lee Karate Schools in Rialto. He is the eldest of two boys to his mother, Keesha Cuthbert, who is a full time student at the University of Southern California and Assistant Branch Manager at JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Me: Amari, what games do you play at recess?
Informant: (looks at me nervously, fidgets with clothes) Why? Did Mrs. Dietz call you?
M: What? Why would she call me?
I: … I don’t know …
M: Okay, Amari, I don’t know what is going on. I just want to know what you play at recess.
I: Am I going to get in trouble?
M: What? No. Why would you get in trouble? Amari, I promise you won’t get in trouble.
I: (hesitates) Mom, we are not supposed to play it though. It’s called Call of Duty. Like the video game. You know?
M: Yes, I know. Continue …
I: Okay, so, Mom, the boys umm are the zombies and umm we like try to get the girls. So the girls umm run away from us so that they don’t umm become like us …like the zombies. … and then, we like turn the girls into umm the zombies and then the last human wins! (smiles) Mom, what’s wrong?
M: I don’t get it. So, if you touch the girl she becomes a zombie? How are there and humans left to win?
I: Mom, when I umm touch the girl I turn into a human and she is a zombie. Do you get it now?
M: I think so … It sounds like Freeze Tag.
I: What’s that?
M: Nothing. Nevermind.
I: Mom …
I: I’m not in trouble, right. Cause that’s what you said …
M: No, you are not in trouble.
This sounds like a variation of Freeze Tag, that I used to play as a kid. Basically, you transfer the “freezing” from one person to another until there is one person that remains unfrozen. The thing that I remember about this game is that the more people that were playing, the longer the game lasted. So, with a playground full of elementary school kids, it seems the perfect game for recess because it would never end.
Flashlight tag is a form of hide and seek played at night. Depending on the age of the players it can be played either during a full moon or a new moon for varying levels of difficulty or spookiness. One team is designated “it” and given a flashlights. The others go and hide while the “it” players wait some predetermined amount of time usually measured by counting. Once the game begins the “it” players must turn on their flashlight and leave them on. They must then use their flashlights to find players and get close enough to determine their identity and yell their name, at which point they must go to jail. Other players may tag players who are in jail to “break them out.” The game is over once everyone is in jail.
My informant first played this game in Boy Scouts when his troop was going on a camping trip at a local state park. The boys organized this game to pass the time during an otherwise uneventful evening. Boy Scouts teach children survival and tracking skills so it makes sense that they would be interested in playing games that emphasize those skills. Its also worth noting that originally Boy Scouts was developed as a program for preparing boys for the military. This game is strongly reminiscent of guerrilla warfare, and the skills needed to succeed in surprise attacks are the same skills needed to succeed in this game. Teamwork also plays a big role in the game as players who work together well have a greater chance of winning.
Flashlight Tag by Daniel Christian
“Skunk in the graveyard” is a running game you would play with friends outside, and it is like the daytime version of “ghost in the graveyard.” Essentially, one person is the “skunk” and they go and hide while everyone else counts at the “base” and closes their eyes. When it’s time to go seek out the skunk, everyone goes out from the base and once the skunk is spotted, the spotter yells, “skunk in the graveyard!” and that signals everyone to run back to the base before the skunk can tag you. If tagged, you become another skunk and thus another round begins. The rounds continue until there’s but one person left untagged, and that remaining person then becomes the one skunk to start the next game.
Additional informant data: My informant is a 2nd-grader in South Los Angeles. He has lived in LA his entire life. He is Latino and speaks both Spanish and English. My informant attends a public, coeducational elementary school, which has students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Several times during the day, the children at his school have a recess period, when they’re given access to balls, jump ropes, etc., and are allowed to play outside.
Contextual data: My informant and I sat down outside his classroom after two months of my teaching his class the fundamentals of folklore through USC’s Joint Educational Program. After I began asking him about games he knows and plays often, he came up with freeze tag–a popular children’s game–and began explaining it to me. The following is an exact record of our conversation:
Jackson (me): Can you tell me about freeze tag?
I (my informant): Freeze tag is a game where you have to tag a person and they . . . they stay there for . . . uhh . . . as long as they . . . uhh . . . forever, or if somebody stays, or if somebody tags them, somebody else, they . . . they . . . they’re unfroze, umm . . . if they’re all froze at the same time, the person who . . . the person who tagged them wins freeze tag and . . . if they don’t get all tagged . . . if they don’t get all tagged, then the person loses and the other people win, and that’s it.
J: And it ends when recess ends? Do you just keep playing until the bell?
J: Who do you usually play it with?
I: My bro— uhh . . . my friends, and my sister, and my brother, and my other sister, and my other brother.
J: Ok. How many people play, usually?
I: Five or six.
J: Ok. Do you remember who taught it to you, or did you kind of just learn it from people at school?
I: Umm . . . my . . . my . . . the one who taught it to me was my grandpa.
J: All right. Do you have anything else you want to say about freeze tag?
I suppose few students in the United States–and probably in many other parts of the world–haven’t played tag at some point in their lives, and freeze tag is one of the most common versions. Whoever is “it” has the goal of “tagging” all the other players by chasing them down and touching them. When someone is tagged, they must freeze in place, and they can’t move until another player touches them.
While my informant didn’t have any ideas about the underlying significance of freeze tag, I have a few. The notion of one person being “it” and tagging others–rendering them physically immobile–seems to me like a sick person infecting others. If this is the case, it makes sense that someone else must “un-tag” them; that’s like being healed by somebody else. I discussed this with my roommate and he told me at his school they used to play this same exact game, but there they called it “germ tag,” and whoever was “it” had the germ. This reinforced my idea of freeze tag being modeled after some kind of fear of viruses or infection, as everyone is trying to run away from someone who has suddenly become dangerous, in a sense. In addition, this person is (or was) one of their close friends, which makes the chasing and tagging process a lot more disturbing. The person who is “it” is singled out and has the task of subduing all their friends, and the intentional quality of their behavior might reflect on the pervasive feelings against people who infect others with diseases.
Beyond this, freeze tag (or any kind of tag) could just be another schoolyard attempt at labeling “the Other,” or maybe it’s just a simple, fun game. It’s extremely common, but rather than discard it as commonplace because of it, I think we ought to pay special attention to the game precisely because it’s so widespread.
Annotation: Seen in the title and plot of Caroline B. Cooney’s 2004 novel Freeze Tag. Here is the Amazon.com synopsis of the book:
From best-selling author Caroline Cooney comes this suspenseful story of Meghan, whose relationship with her perfect boyfriend is destroyed by a girl who can freeze people with a touch of her finger.
When Meghan and West first played Freeze Tag with Lannie, it was no ordinary game. Because when Lannie tagged someone, they really froze. Icy blue and cold. Like death.
Now Meghan, West, and Lannie are in high school, and Meghan and West are in love. They’re the perfect couple. But Lannie is determined to have West for her very own… and if she doesn’t get her way, she’ll freeze Meghan… to death.
Ring Alivio (pronounced by informant as both Ring Uh-Leevy-oh and Ring Leevy-oh) is an Italian version of tag where one person is It and everyone else is at base, which is a safe area. Running out of the safe area means you can get caught by the person who’s It, but you leave the safe area to show you can run out and back to base without getting captured. Once captured, you go to jail, which you cannot leave. Once everyone is captured and taken to jail a new person becomes It.
Ring Alivio described verbatim by informant:
“Ring Alivio: a game of tag. One guy was It and uh anytime a person left the base which was a safe area he had to capture that person in the jail and once he captured everybody uh a new person became It so we used to play it all the time on the playground um because we didn’t have any other games we could really play we didn’t have balls. It was really interesting because most of my friends were Irish American but we still called it Ring Alivio. We learned it from some of the older Italian kids.
We played it from kindergarten through the sixth grade, because, again you know it was the only game we could play on the playground because it was just a big concrete parking lot… at Catholic school. (disruptive dog howl) We had a lot of fun. I remember uh [my mother] was very upset with me because in my first year of Catholic School I tore my I tore five pair of pants because the uh um you know I played, I played and sometimes the game got a little rough and playing on concrete all the time if ever you fell and scraped your knees you’d scrape the knees right off your pants so she was kind of upset with me after that first year. And, well, I had a uh I once got slammed into a bus. So.
The parked buses were, are base, and so you hold your hand against the bus um and then you run out and you run back to the bus and one day I ran back to the bus but the guy who was chasing me didn’t stop and he just ran up my back and slammed my head into the bus, the side of the bus, and I busted all my teeth.
Once you leave base you can get caught… you leave base because you’re tough you’re provocative. Who wants to stay in at home? You want to run (cooking wife interjects and he repeats what she says) You want to be free. (dog howls) You wanted to prove to the guy who was It that you were faster, that he couldn’t catch you.”
The first thing that comes to my mind is that “ali,” in Italian, means wings, which allow one to fly and be free, though the informant was not sure as to how Ring Alivio should be spelled. The theme of purposefully leaving a safe place to be wild and free, knowing the threat of getting caught and being thrown into jail, appears to be characteristic of the age group. From 6/7 to 12/13 when this game is played, kids lose their child-like “innocence” as they become aware of their choices and begin making deliberate actions. The person who’s It captures them and puts them in jail, where they are stripped of such freedoms, which perhaps holds a dramatic resemblance to punishments by parents, teachers, or other authority figures. That this game was wildly popular at a Catholic School in the 1960’s is no surprise, with the rigidity of the belief system and inherent strictness surrounding all behavior at such an institution. Running free in the game of Ring Alivio is a benign way of resisting this oppressive feeling, all the while leveling the natural competition between kids during that time when social hierarchy becomes more and more apparent.