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 game is a modified version of tag she learned around third grade from her close friends of Indo-Pakistani descent.
The game starts by choosing someone to be the Dead Woman:
Me: And how do you choose who’s It?
Inf.: Well sometimes–like, i like to be It because I’d rather be the one chasing other people than getting chased myself.
Me: Ok, but what if no one wants to be It?
Inf.: Then you could…then everyone goes “Not it!” and whoever says it last–or actually what me and my friends do is we’ll do Nose Goes?
Me: Yeah, i know what that is, ok, and then?
Inf.: And then whoever’s It lays down on the floor, and everyone runs around them going,
“Dead woman, dead woman, come alive,
when i count to the number five
1,2,3,4,5, come alive!”
and then the Dead Woman gets up and starts chasing us, and she can’t open her eyes, so it’s like, she has to–or he, he or she has find us and catch someone without seeing, and whoever gets caught has to be the Dead Woman.
Analysis: Like many childhood games, ‘tag’ being the prime example, this game is basically a chasing game. The interesting variation in this version is that there seems to be a backstory to this particular game: the Dead Woman who comes alive with the enacting of a special incantation and comes after the ones who have revived her. Death holds a certain fascination for all humans, and children are no different. The added fear factor of having someone come back from the dead, when everybody supposedly “knows” that such a feat is impossible, is probably part of the appeal. In this game, then, kids are literally running from death, something that is very representative of Western society as a whole–its obsession with youth and how it refuses to deal with or accept the prospect of death in any form. The fact that the Dead Woman is brought to life via an incantation is also an interesting reflection on society’ s obsession with control and wanting to be able to recreate life of imitate it in the very least–how many incarnations of Frankenstein have there been? How hotly is the issue of cloning and genetic engineering debated?
In my childhood, we played a similar game, but it was called simply “Mummy”. The Mummy had to lie down on the floor, and the other kids would enact a “discovery” of the Mummy (“Oh, look! It’s an ancient Egyptian tomb! I wonder what’s inside!”), only to “realize” that all their poking and prodding had brought the Mummy to life. The Mummy would then get up with an eerie groan and chase after the kids, stiff-legged and blind, until s/he caught someone. Here we see similar themes of bringing someone back from the dead and having them be vengeful because of it, though this time there is no deliberate life-giving incantation. Is the change in the newer version a reflection on humanity’s intensifying urge to (re)create life?