L is a junior at University of Southern California studying Communications. He is an international student from China who is telling us about a game he played as a child from his hometown in China, Anhui Province in the city Hefei. His first language was Chinese, so throughout the interview, he would sometimes slip into Chinese and struggle placing the exact words in English.
L: “It’s just another version of hide and seek in the place where I live. Like every hide and seek game. The one whose finding the others is gonna have to stay in place and counts for 30 seconds but that specific place is, in this game, a big pillar. He places his hand on the big pillar and counts for 30 seconds before he goes off and finds the others. I think that’s it.”
Why is it called Electric Shock?
L: “When we find another one, we say “Electric Shock” and he can’t move. He could move before, like if he tried to dodge he can move but he can’t be seen. But if he is seen, then ‘Electric Shock’ and he can’t move. He’s frozen in place.”
How do you win the game, to just not get found?
L: “Yeah, and by finding them all. And there is a time limit. Like for ten minutes. Like, you can’t be looking forever. So, ten minutes. If you can’t find everyone, then yeah.”
“For some reason, we don’t call Hide and Seek Hide and Seek. We call it Electric Shock in Chinese, like that’s just a traditional version native to the place, it’s name is called Electric Shock…very childish, like before sixth grade. I really have no idea how we came up [with it]. It’s something that we come up with, like our community. Like, there’s like 20-30 kids who live around our community. We come to same place every two days to play them. We play it so often. I have no idea why, but I guess it was very fun.”
This was a game specific to the community of the informant, a game shared among all the children of that area in the city they grew up in. The informant specified that they played this frequently during their early childhood, but stopped before sixth grade. They used it as a way to have fun with other children, and viewed as something childish: enjoyable as a kid to play, but socially unfitting for an adult.
In every culture and nation, there seems to be a childhood game or two with which any child can play. There are commonalities between Electric Shock and American hide and seek and freeze tag. But to call Electric Shock a fusion of hide and seek and freeze tag would be ignorant of the Chinese community that created the environment that fostered this specific game. The time limit, the hand on the pillar, even the title, Electric Shock; these distinct variations compared to other examples of hide and seek or freeze tag make it unique. Even though it seems to be only played in one city of one province of one country in the world, Electric Shock has become a piece of children’s lore, its own folk game. However, its specificity to one region in the world does not take away from its purpose, synonymous to all other universal children’s lore. These small, folk games children invent give them a chance to let loose society’s expectations and have fun. There’s freedom that comes with playing the same game with dozens of other people your age, laughing and playing together. No matter the game style, title, or variation, the special nostalgia, fond fun and freedom that’s associated with childhood are hardly taken away. That makes childhood lore unifying under whatever variation, but simultaneously unique to each child’s upbringing.