I was in my informant’s dorm room chatting to her roommate after class, and when I turned around, I found that my informant had flipped my backpack inside out, so that the straps and front pocket were now on the inside.
My informant learned this practical joke in middle school. She first observed the joke when it was done to her, and she subsequently performed it on others. She told me that this joke is typically played as a game of tag, so that when someone flips your backpack, you are now “it” and have to flip someone else’s backpack. The person who is “it” turns the victim’s backpack inside out, puts the contents of the backpack back inside, and zips it up. In another variation—the more annoying one, according to my informant—the entire backpack is flipped inside out and stuffed into the front pocket of the backpack. In this version, all of the contents of the backpack and the front pocket have to be removed since they won’t fit inside, and are left in a pile by the zipped-up backpack packet.
The flipping often occurred in class or at lunchtime, said my informant. Students played the game because it was a way to entertain themselves during the school day using the materials available to them. Everyone carries backpacks in middle school, so everyone is a potential victim. The goal, presumably, is to flip someone’s backpack without them catching you in the act. It probably takes skill to flip someone’s backpack quickly enough that they don’t notice, so this could be a way of impressing friends. Also, it could be a team effort to flip someone’s backpack, with someone distracting the victim while someone else flipped the backpack, turning the game into a “bonding against the outsider” scenario, with the victim being the only one who isn’t in on the joke. Because the flipping sometimes occurred during class, the flipper also had to be careful not to attract the teacher’s attention. The game is therefore a way of defying authority. The flipper also gets to go through the contents of the victim’s backpack, so part of the appeal of flip tag could be that it is a way to satisfy curiosity or invade someone else’s privacy under the pretext of a game.