Children’s Game: Spanking Machine Tag

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Medical Writer
Residence: Staunton, VA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 18, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: 

Informant: “Here’s a neighborhood game that I just remembered we used to play. It was very popular in our neighborhood. And I don’t know where it was picked up. You know, I was one of five kids, so we played a lot of games together and so we played a lot of games together, and the neighborhood would play a lot of games together, and we played a lot of tag. So we’d play some pretty typical tags like freeze tag, or just tag, or… I can’t remember the other names.”

Collector: “Like zombie tag. Or the version of it, yeah.”

Informant: “Zombie tag, yeah. So, one that we played pretty frequently- maybe it was pretty common, I’ve never seen anyone else do it -it was spanking machine tag. So, when someone gets frozen by tag, if they can stand with their legs apart like a teepee or like an A-frame and someone else can crawl through their legs before the person who’s it catches them, the person gets free.”

Collector: “Oh, yeah. I’ve played that.”

Informant: “Okay, so maybe it’s—”

Collector: “The word spanking in the title threw me off.”

Informant: “Maybe… Oh, I think we would spank them as they went through, too.”

Background:

This is a game that, as above, my informant would play as a child in Virginia as one of a number of tag variants. From the tone of voice, it was clear that she enjoyed the game. She called it as a neighborhood game, rather than a school game or kid’s game. Playing this game, she said, was localized to a smaller group than children or Virginian children. She had the opinion that this was a weird thing her neighborhood specifically did.

Thoughts:

Having played a version of this myself when I was a child in Utah, I can attest that this game is widely proliferated. The idea behind crawling through the legs rather than simply touching the frozen body is to provide a further challenge for everyone that’s not “it.” Games where there is an “it” figure are characterized by a balance of power. Power is temporarily granted to the “it” figure and it is the title that transfers from child to child, allowing them to try their hand at power. This modification allows more power for the “it” figure in freeze tag, where it’s normally very easy for the larger group to win and the “it” figure doesn’t change as frequently. This specific version is also a good example of children’s counter-authoritative tendency to introduce things like spanking that they’re not supposed to do into their games in order to push the game outside the boundary of approved play.