Tag Archives: childhood games

Children’s Folk Game: Bloody Murder

Context: The informant recalls playing the game in his early childhood in the open fields of the west. The game would have to be played in a very rural area, with few to zero houses around. Two teams would form in order to play the game, one would have a “base” while the other would go out and hide in the field. The team at the base would stay within the base for a twenty-four-second count without looking to give the other team time to hide. The main purpose of the game was to hide as deep in the field as you could if you were on the other team. This way the base team would be forced to go deep into the fields to find you, and if they spotted you they would yell “bloody murder”, which would cause the hiding team to chase the entire base team back to their camp. If someone on the base team got tagged by the hiding team then that individual would switch teams. This process would go on until one team had all members and there was no one left on one of the teams. The informant noted that the hiding team did not have to wait until a base member yelled bloody murder in order to run after them.

Analysis: Looking at this game from all accounts, one gets the sense that this folk developed around groups of children whose fathers went to war during the twentieth century. The tactics of the game mimic a lot of war tactics used during guerrilla warfare, and thus one can conclude that the children put together “bloody murder” from the circumstances their fathers were undergoing during wars. In a strange way, perhaps even an adult incorporated this among children in order for them to learn or be introduced to war tactics, this way the children would grow up familiar with the basics of guerrilla warfare. This ensures that the upcoming generations of the American military would have strong, knowledgeable soldiers and leaders. When looking from another lens, this game could have also been a bonding activity amongst children who had absent fathers on account of the war, and thus bonded with one another through “bloody murder.” Children’s folklore tends to be anti-constitutional and is spurred by their inner creativity and the hardships they faced from being institutionally controlled.



The informant is my friend’s mother who grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s. Ringolevio is a game that they’d play in the streets outside their houses, or in the abandoned lots throughout the neighborhood. The informant told me that Ringolevio was her favorite game growing up as a kid.


My friend’s mother told me about Ringolevio over a phone call. We were discussing much of her early life growing up in mid 20th century New York City, and she spoke with particular fondness as she reminisced about Ringolevio.

Main Piece:

KB: Ringolevio was my favorite game. We’d play for hours with all the kids on my street. One house was torn down and there was a big, abandoned lot that we would play it in.

Me: So what were the rules?

KB: Well, there was a chasing team and a running team, like cops and robbers. One area would be marked off up against the fence and that would be the jail. The runners would run around the lot while the chasers would chase after them, trying to catch them. If you caught a runner – you had to try and grab them, usually their arm – you would hold on and yell “Ringolevio, coca-cola, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.” If you could say that while holding on to the runner – the runner would try and break free from your grasp – the runner would have to go to the jail area and be locked up. When someone was in jail, one of their teammates could free them by running into the jail area and tagging their jailed teammate without getting caught.

Me: And the girls played with the boys?

KB: Oh of course, everyone played everything together. We all played for hours, and it was quite rough a lot of the time. The boys were really quite rough with the girls and especially each other. A loooot of bruises and scrapes.

Me: How many kids were on one team?

KB: However many we had as long as there was even numbers.

Me: Were there ever any fights?

KB: No, not a lot of fist fights. The boys would get into arguments and things could get out of hand, but really never any fist fights that I can remember. We mostly played ringolevio at the age before boys started getting into scraps and things like that.


Although we were speaking on the phone, I could deduce that the informant was thoroughly enjoying the flood of memories that was rushing back to her as she described her favorite childhood game. What stands out to me is the lack of tools or objects needed to play Ringolevio. All that is needed is the kids and some open space – no bats, balls, or nets. The prospect of boredom spurs immense creativity in kids looking to avoid it at all costs. Games like Ringolevio are customs that unify the bonds and relationships between kids. Ringolevio also appeared to offer a chance to young kids to win the praise and admiration of their friends, as whoever was the fastest and the best at the game was sure to gain the respect of the other children.

Down by the banks

The informant explained that this is a hand game or clapping game she used to play at summer camp in between activities with the other girls who were in her cabin. Her estimate for when people play it is ages 6-12. You learn it by playing and other children explain it to you. She also said that this game” slaps” and would totally play it today.

SD: The song is:

Down by the banks of the hanky panky

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky 

With an eeps opps soda pops

Hey mister lilypad went kerplops

So, you sit in a circle with a group of three or more typically and each person has their right hand on top of the person to their right’s left hang. So your left hand is under someone’s right hand and your right is on top of someone’s left. Then while you’re singing the song, every word, there’s a beat on every word, where you slap your right hand onto the person to your left’s left hand and you go in a circle until the song runs out and on the last beat kerplop, the person who is hitting is trying to slap the person to their left’s right hand and that person is trying to avoid getting slapped. If you get your hand slapped, you’re out, or if you try to hit the person’s hand but you miss because they’ve moved their hand out of the way, you’re out. And that keeps going until there are two people left. Then the last two people lock right hands and pull back and forth on the beat of the lyrics and at the end whoever pulls the other person toward them wins.

Context: This piece was collected during an in person conversation.

Thoughts: I was surprised when hearing the informant’s version of this clapping game because I played the same game with different lyrics. This is a common game I played in PE and at recess, taught by other children. So it is passed on from child to child through their community. It’s also clear that it exists in multiplicity and variation given that I grew up on the other side of the country and played it the same way, albeit with different lyrics. There also seems to be an oppositional issue that comes to play in children’s folklore as there is a male vs. female aspect of this game that changes; she said she played it with only girls, while I played with both genders.

Pen Fight – School Game


My informant, AS, is a 19-year-old Indian male who grew up in Mumbai, though he has lived in Southern California for the past three years. He went to a private school in Mumbai, and this game was played at his school, as well as other schools. This piece was collected during a facetime call, when I asked him to share some traditions from home. I refer to myself as SW in the text.


Main Piece:

AS: “I was gonna tell you about a game we used to play in class… it’s called pen fight – where we would take pens that we use to write with and put them on the desk, and you’re supposed to flick your pen so that it hits the other person’s pen, and you’re supposed to like, get them off the desk, just from flicking your pen towards the other one. 

SW: “That sounds nearly impossible.”

AS: “No! It was, it was so much fun. Not in one go you get like multiple goes. You go once, then the other person goes, and so on and so forth.”

SW: “That still sounds nearly impossible.”

AS: “How? I think you’re imagining it wrong. Like, take a pen, flick one end of it so that it like, flings towards the other pen and it hits it.”

SW: “Right. You’re forgetting that I have absolutely zero hand eye coordination.”

AS: “Hahaha yeah. But, it basically came down to who had a heavier pen. But sometimes you’d just play like, with random pens. That was a big part of like, seventh, eighth grade. Everyone played that.”


Informant Analysis:

SW: “Why?”

AS: “Cause we had nothing better to do. And then eventually it got so bad that like, while we were playing that pens would leak, get onto our shirts, and… teachers had to step and be like ‘yeah this is not allowed anymore. You can’t play this.’”

SW: “But did you keep playing it even after it was technically banned?”

AS: “Of course. It was addicting. It was so addicting that we would like, beg our teachers for free periods just so we could play that. Cause breaks weren’t enough… And then people would buy like, expensive pens just so they could play pen fight with them. They wouldn’t even care like, about whether they damaged the pen or not. They just cared about the win.”

SW: “So was there like, this whole hierarchy of who was better at and stuff?”

AS: “Yes there was. It was actually one of the… it was actually a thing like, even though there was like a hierarchy of ya know, cool people and uncool people, it was actually the one thing that actually brought us together, in a way. Just, nobody cared about class, in that context.”


Pen fight is a good example of Children’s folklore and folk games. The rules are very easy and anyone can play, as the only materials required are a pen and a table of some sort. The game served to bring the students together as everyone played and enjoyed it. Since Indian culture can often be sharply divided by class, it’s important to have practices that bring people together that may not otherwise interact, and games are a good way to accomplish this. The fact that my informant would buy pens specifically for use in pen fight shows how invested the students were in this game. Additionally, the game seems to have served as a way to test boundaries by doing something that was “banned” but ultimately not dangerous, which can be an important part of children developing identity and learning to think for themselves away from authority figures.

Bo Bo Ski Rotten


The informant, Katie, is a childhood friend of the interviewer. They grew up next door to each other and have been friends for sixteen years.


Katie discusses a childhood game that her and the interviewer used to play with their friends on the playground in Elementary and Middle School. 


“We would all sit in a circle at recess, usually a huge group of us. Each person would put their left hand under the person sitting next to them’s right hand, so if we were sitting next to each other I’d put my left hand under your right hand. Then with the right hand, you put your right hand over the other person’s left hand. We all sing a song and on each beat you take your right hand and swing it around to hit, or more so clap, the person next to you’s hand left hand. For example, when person A’s hand is hit by person Z, then person A must hit the person B’s hand, then person B must hit person C, and so on and so forth, going on in a continuous circle. It’s basically hot potato, but you are passing a hit, instead of a potato. 

The song goes like this [verse one]: Bo bo ski rotten totten / I- I say boys are rotten / Itty bitty rotten totten / Bo bo ski rotten totten / Bo bo ski rotten totten

Then the tempo speeds up and you go really fast.

 Verse two goes: Mickey mouse had a house / Donald Duck messed it up / Who will pay the consequences.

Then it speeds up even more.

Verse three goes: Y O U spells you and you are out.

You do not want to get your hand hit on the word ‘out’, otherwise you will be out of the game. So you can try and move your hand really fast to not get out. If the person who was supposed to hit you, hits their own hand instead, because you moved yours off of there’s fast enough, than that person is out instead of you. It’s a really fun, competitive game. We played it a lot at girl scouts too. In middle school, if boys ever played with us we would change the line “boys are rotten” to “fish are rotten” so that the boys would think we were cool and didn’t hate them.”


This game was really fun, I remember playing it a lot. It is interesting how much folklore happens on the school playground. This is just one example of many hand / song game combos we would play. I’m not sure how we originally learned about it. I assume, we learned it from some girl on the playground, who learned it from someone else, who learned it from someone else, ect. When I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles for college I found myself one night talking with my LA friends about this game. They knew the general premise, but had different words for the song that I can no longer remember. This was fascinating to me as it shows how folklore is so malleable and can adapt and change with every person who tells it.