Marble Game


This piece was collected in a casual interview setting in the informant’s back yard. My informant (JP) was born in Lynon, France, and moved to California in 2002 with his wife for their jobs at Caltech. He is a professor of Seismology, enjoys playing tennis and guitar, has two teenage daughters, and loves to sing old French camp songs he learned as a kid. 

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (JP) and interviewer.

Interviewer: So tell me about the marble game you used to play when you were little.

JP: *visibly excited* Yes, yes, yes, so it went like this *gets up from his chair, and sits on the ground, making a big v shape with his legs and waves for interviewer to sit down next to him* So we would each face each other like this, place a marble here *points to the middle of the V created by his legs* it would be a Agathe [name of glass marble], one of the good marbles, and with our billes de terres [mud marbles] we would take turns trying to touch each other’s Agathe marble. But it could only touch, if you moved the Agathe it didn’t count and each time you missed, the person you played against could keep your marble, that’s why we played the low level bille de terre not an Agathe, but if you touched the opponent’s Agathe, you won it. *motions rolling a marble, as if he were playing* So the aim of the game was to collect other kid’s marbles. 

Interviewer: Can you explain what the different marbles were?

JP: So there were billes de terres, which means, like, marbles of the earth, or more like mud marbles. Those were not of high level. Then there were Agathes, which is the ones you want to collect. They weren’t actually made of agate stones, but in the olden days they used to be. And then after, there were the big marbles, the prettiest and highest level ones, the Bigarrots. They were like Agathes, but bigger. Since they were bigger, they were easier to touch, but they would also attract more attention so more people would play with you and you could collect more billes de terres. So it was a tactful play.

Interviewer: How old were you when you played this game?

JP: Um, wait, let me think about it… Uh, I was around, let’s see, I want to say six years old, and we played until we were around ten. At that point, we played other marble games. 

Interviewer: What was the name of the game? And how did you learn it?

JP: We just played it in school. It was really popular. I think it was just called Le Jeux de Billes, the marble game. It’s a game that’s pretty close to my heart since it was such a big part of my childhood.


The Marble Game has transcended centuries and cultures and is truly one of the games that I think brings together a large global group of people who all played the same game as children. Since marbles can be acquired easily and cheaply, and the rules of the game are simple, it makes sense that so many children played it. However, I worry that with the advance of technology and children relying on electronics to have fun at younger and younger ages, this simple, fun game will gradually disappear.