Sharks and Minnows (Game)


“Sharks and Minnows – there would be a shark and they would tag people (the minnows) who were running across a defined space and the sharks could touch anyone anywhere that wasn’t in the ‘safe zone’ at the beginning and end of the defined space. Once the shark touches a minnow then they become another shark and the game goes in that manner with people running back and forth across the defined space until everyone has been tagged except one final minnow who becomes the shark in the next round. ‘Run minnows Run’ is the chant that goes along with it.”


OA is a 21-year-old American student at USC. She grew up in Washington. I asked her about any games she remembers playing while growing up and she told me about “Sharks and Minnows”. 


This game is similar to one I played growing up called “Ships Across the Ocean”. The rules are pretty much the same, but the chant is different, and the name is different. I assume because of how similar the rules are that this is an example of monogenesis (one origin) and diffusion, instead of polygenesis (multiple origins). It’s likely that this game developed somewhere and spread across the country (and perhaps to other countries as well), but the name got changed as different people played it. It isn’t uncommon for kids to change the rules of games to fit their likings or to fit a certain context the game is being played in. Kids are creative and play games to spend time with each other, and they can get incredibly competitive. A game like this is fun because you had to be fast, but you also had to be agile and play smart when trying to evade the sharks, so it made it so that boys and girls alike could excel in it and different people were winning each time.