Tag Archives: children’s games

How To Play The Game Bull Shark

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Glendale, California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 18, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: This game rewards players who can lie convincingly. The object of the game is kind of the opposite of Slapjack, cuz you have to get rid of your hand as quickly as you can. The game is played comfortably with 6 players but I think it’s better with less. You don’t want more players cuz then it becomes too easy for people to lie their whole hand away. Someone splits a standard 52 deck equally for the number of players present. The players look at their hand and the person with the ace of spades plays first, the ace card face up.
All cards are played face down after the ace. The play then goes clockwise as each player has to play the next number up, so after the ace the next player plays a 2, the next a 3, and on and on and on. This is where the lying element of the game comes in, if a player doesn’t have the next card up for their turn they can lie and play an entirely different card and just say it’s the right one. After every play people can decide whether or not they believe the player, if someone does not believe them they can call ‘BS’ and flip over the played card. If the card is what the player said it was, the caller has to take the deck of used cards, making it harder for them to lose all their cards first. If no one calls the player and they WERE lying they say ‘popcorn’ to say that they were lying. If no one calls the player and they were NOT lying the game continues with no incident.
The game becomes more complex when multiple cards are played at once, if a person has more than one of a kind in their hand they can play up to how many they have OR play up to as many they are willing to lie about. The game ends when a person gets rid of all the cards in their hand.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered this game back from middle school and searched out for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: While definitely a fun game I remember a mutual friend started abusing the lying rules to stack more cards than they said they played. There was a great deal of dispute as to whether lying was allowed when talking about the number of cards one played or only what number the card was. Everyone agreed that lying only applied to the number the card was but we were not always able to stop the kid when he continued to play more than he said for we never knew when he did it. We eventually stopped playing with him because he wouldn’t stop cheating.
The game also goes by:
‘Bullshit’ or ‘BS’

The Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Boston, MA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

  • Context: The informant (A) is a 19 year old college student. He describes to me a game he played, and still plays, with his friends entitled “The Game.” In the transcription, he explains the very simple rules of “The Game” and the wide variety of people who play “The Game.” This game was brought about in a conversation about schoolyard games, in which the informant told me of one on-going game, seemingly life-long, known as “The Game”
  • Text:

A: “The Game is a game in which you lose when you think about The Game… and so…”

Me: “Who plays the game?”

A: “A lot of people started it in like 2010-2012 range… at least that’s when my friends started… and uh…”

Me: “How old were you?”

A: “I was 9 I think.”

Me: “And you play it where?”

A: “You play it all the time.”

Me: “But is it in person? Is it online?”

A: “It’s all of the above. It’s not… it’s not like one particular thing… it’s just The Game and you lose when you think about The Game.”

Me: “Just thinking about it? Or do you have to say it?”

A: “You lose and when you lose you have to say it and then…”

Me: “You have to say what?”

A: “You have to say ‘oh I lost The Game’ to whoever you’re with or whoever you’re talking to or whatever. But, the catch is when you say it like they think about it… so they lost too…”

Me: “So how do you know who’s playing The Game?”

A: “Um everyone… any… anyone who thinks they are playing or wants to play is playing. And people just sort of lose and then start over. And forget about it… ‘cus you have to forget about it. It’s sort of a thing that like continues. The other week… like I’m talking like last week… my friend and I we’re talking… I sent him an Instagram post like ‘I want you to win’ and he was like ‘damn… I just lost’ and I was like ‘what are you talking about?’ and he was like ‘I lost The Game’ and I was like ‘that wasn’t even about The Game’ and he was like ‘yeah, I know. But it made me think of it.'”

Me: “And then it made you think of it?”

A: “Yeah.”

Me: “So you also lost The Game.”

A: “Yeah, but I don’t really care to play so like, I don’t… I don’t really keep track… but yeah, people who play The Game swear by it.”

  • Analysis: I believe “The Game” is used as a short of practical joke to test who knows of the game and who does not. The game relies on another person losing the game themself and bringing the game up to another player. Once the player remembers the game, they then also lose. It is unclear who created the game, but it seems to be played in a wide range of communities, and I have seen it multiple places on my social media feeds. The game also relies on people restarting the game at unknown times, but in order to start the game you must think of the game, and thinking of the game is what makes you lose the game. It seems to be an endless cycle.

P.S. This post just made you lose The Game.

Ms. Lucy Nursery Rhyme

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19 and 15
Occupation: Students
Residence: Boston, MA and Salt Lake City, UT
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

  • Context: The informants are brothers A, 19, and B, 15. This transcription was taken from an argument between the brothers over the “correct” words to the nursery rhyme about “Ms. Lucy.” The nursery rhyme is used mostly as a schoolyard game, sometimes accompanied by a hand-game the brothers tell me, but in their argument they were only debating the words of the rhyme itself. 
  • Text:

B: It starts off ‘Ms. Lucy has a baby, his name was tiny Tim…’

A: No it doesn’t, it goes ‘Ms. Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a…”

B: No that’s not what I’m talking about!

A: Well, what are you talking about? 

B: I’m talking about the one mom taught us.

A: Okay, fine, what one?

B: ‘Ms. Lucy had a baby, his name was Tiny Tim

She put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim

He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap

He tried to eat the bath tub, but it wouldn’t go down his throat

Ms. Lucy called the doctor, Ms. Lucy called the nurse,

Ms. Lucy called the baby with the alligator purse 

Mumps said the doctor, Measles said the nurse, 

Nonsense said the lady with the alligator purse 

Penicillin said the doctor, castor oil said the nurse,

Pizza said the lady with the alligator purse

Out went the doctor, out went the nurse, out went the lady with the allegator purse’

A: Okay. Yeah, but I was talking about the other version.

B: What’s your version?

A (B starts singing along): 

‘Ms. Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell (ding ding)

Ms. Lucy went to heaven and the steamboat went to 

Hello operator, give me number 9, if you disconnect me I’ll chop off your 

Behind the ‘fridgerator, there was a piece of glass 

Ms. Lucy sat upon it and cut her big fat 

Ask me no more questions, tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom zipping up their 

Flies are in the meadow, bees are in the park

Ms. Lucy and her boyfriend kissing in the D-A-R-K D-A-R-K 

Dark dark dark’

B: I know that one.

A: Is that where you stop?

B: What do you mean?

A: Mine keeps going. It goes… 

‘Darker than the ocean, darker than the sea 

Darker than the underwear my Mommy puts on me’ 

  • Analysis: I had also learned the Ms. Lucy version that informant B was singing from my mother and many of my friends would play it with me as a hand game on the play ground in elementary school. Once I entered middle-school, the version that informant A sang became popular at school. But at my school, we continued the rhyme even further. We would sing… 

‘Me is very special, Me is very great’ 

And then we would have different variations after those lyrics. Usually ending with… 

‘I kicked him over London, I kicked him over France

I kicked him over the USA and saw his underpants’

I think the reason the versions change is because of the intended audience. The first version, presented by informant B, is much more suitable for children. It is funny because of the motif of the alligator purse and the fact that she wants the baby to eat pizza, which is a food often enjoyed by children. The version presented by informant A is much more rich with “inappropriate” lingo. At the end of each verse, it leads into the next by using near rhyme with a swear word. For example “hell” goes to “hello” and “ass” goes to “ask.” In addition, there are sexual references, both to male genitalia and to Ms. Lucy and her boyfriend kissing in the dark. I asked the meaning of the “dark underwear that mommy puts on me,” and there was a consensus that it was referring to underwear stained by period blood. This version of the nursery rhyme often occurs when children are in middle school, which makes sense because that’s often when you start using swear words, have your first kiss, and begin menstruating.

For other versions, visit https://www.bussongs.com/songs/miss-lucy-had-a-steam-boat

“Miss Lucy Had a Steam Boat: Nursery Rhymes & Kids’ Songs.” Nursery Rhymes & Kids’ Songs | BusSongs.com, 9 July 2008, www.bussongs.com/songs/miss-lucy-had-a-steam-boat.

Four Square

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 15
Occupation: Student
Residence: Salt Lake City Utah
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

  • Context: The informant (A) is a 15 year old high school student in Utah. He explains the rules of the game Four Square to me and the various rules that can be added to the game. He notes that the game can be played with any ball as long as it bounces (though the ball typically must be the size of a basketball or soccer ball). The game is usually played on a designated court, though you can play it anywhere the ground is divided into 4 equal squares serving as the court. The game is also typically played at school, usually in elementary or middle school during recess. This conversation took place as the informant and I were trying to remember all of the rules of four square together, although he remembered them all, while I did not. 
  • Text:

A: “There’s so many types of four square”

Me: “What types?”

A: “Black magic… um… pac man, double-touch, single-touch, um… cherry bomb… um”

Me: “Are those different types of…”

A: “They’re different rules… those are different rules”

Me: “What is four square?”

A: “So four square you have this big square divided into four labeled A, B, C, D. A get’s to decide which rule is played with and starts out with the ball and you hit it to…”

Me: “What kind of ball?”

A: “It doesn’t matter you can play with a basketball, soccer ball, volleyball, um kickball… it just has to bounce. And then they hit it to the square and if it bounces twice in your square… um… then you’re out and then you’re sent back to the line… and then… then you’re sent back to the line. And then say you’re in C, the person who was in C goes to D and the person who was in the front of the line goes to… uh… D.”

Me: “Where do you play?”

A: “On the four square court.”

Me: “But where are the four square courts? Just in your neighborhood?”

A: “No… you play it at school.”

Me: “So what are the different rules?”

A: “So I’ll just go with the top 5. So, pac man is you got the person in A runs around the square and if you get tagged with the ball you’re it, but they can’t throw it at you… I mean you’re out… but they can’t throw the ball at you. Double touch is where you have to hit it up, like you have to hit it up so it bounces to you… so you hit it up then hit it into someone else’s square. Single touch you can hit it once. Cherry bomb is you go really far apart and you throw it at each other.”

  • Analysis: Four square is a school yard game played by both girls and boys in middle school. I was surprised to hear all of the rules the informant knew were the same I had played with in middle school even though I am 6 years older than the informant. The rules, such as black magic or cherry bomb, give the person with the ball a sense of power over the rules of the game. In addition, the rotation of players between the squares establishes a sense of hierarchy between those who stay in and those who get out. I believe this game is played at school because that’s where there is access to bouncing balls, a quart, and a large amount of players. I think the game is usually played in elementary school and middle school because those are the years recess is granted, so there is free time to play, where as in high school there is no designated play time.

Easter Egg Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Armenian American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/27/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

[The subject is SA. His words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: SA is a friend of mine, and a sophomore student in college. He has lived in Michigan for his entire life until coming to USC. His entire family is Armenian, though he is the first generation to be born in the United States and his only language is English. Here, he is explaining a game with dyed eggs that he and his siblings have played on Easter for as long as he can remember:

SA: So, on Easter we play this game, where, um, we dye a bunch of eggs, like, how you would normally dye Easter eggs, um, and, like, you basically play against each other, where you take turns, where one person will hold their egg while the other person, like, cracks, like, tries to crack it. And if both sides of your egg would be cracked, like, you’re out, um, and, like, whoever has the last egg wins… the big prize.

Thoughts: After asking SA more questions about the story, he told me that this is a game that exists outside of his family and he believes it is Armenian, although it could exist in other cultures. I found the game interesting because most Easter traditions we are familiar with in the United States involve eggs, and one of them is dying eggs, which he says is the first part of this game. I was not aware until now that it was popular for other cultures celebrating Easter outside of the United States to dye eggs. The part that I had never heard of until this interview was the cracking of the eggs against one another to see which egg was the strongest. I wonder if this game originated in Armenia, or if it came out of the blending of American and Armenian tradition.

Kagome – Japanese Children’s Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: college age freshman
Occupation: student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

NC: There’s a Japanese game that children play called kagome, um…so it’s-it’s really similar to ring around a rosey in that…um…it was based on…experiments that people were doing, so Ring around the rosie is about um the disease the bubonic plague but um uh kagome is about experiments that people were doing um on the Japanese and they- they basically took children and they mutilated them I think that’s what it is. And um they would haunt people in the building like they would haunt the doctors and they would say um “kagome, kagome” and some other uh words and they would basically play that game in a circle and um that’s just like the ghost story behind that game.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Japan

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and this is the second of two stories she presented. The first was about a monster who took the form of a beautiful, floating female head that had been decapitated and haunts a building. It was apparent that NC had just recently discovered this game because she was looking at her computer the whole time. 

 

Analysis: I think the comparison to “Ring Around the Rosey” is really effective here because it reinforces the idea that games or rhythm games are often counter-hegemonic and can critique a system under the guise of play. It is an indirect form of protest and also a way to be able to process the trauma of an experience such as this with humor and distance from the actual reality. On a different note, I really wished I would have NC where she discovered this game because I can understand stumbling upon a ghost story but not a traditional Japanese child’s game; I want to know where these are being documented online since she had her computer. 

 

Annotation: Upon further research, I discovered that the folk song element to this performance is actually much more essential to the folk game in other collected versions. For example, there is a documentation of this game in Highlights magazine for kids will additional information about how to perform the song. This version documents the chant as, “Can you guess? Can you guess? Who is right behind you? Could it be, possibly…” and then the participants would recite their names until “it says stop.” I could not identify what the “it” of this game is, but what is interesting to note here is that the word kogome is missing from this particular chant. This may very well because it is a translation, but for me, it demonstrates a lack of that historical context. The meaning is even more deeply hidden in the practice of the game. Additionally, Highlights includes the physical rules of the game, which involve being in a circle and blindfolded. See citation below for a PDF of the Highlights article.

 

Citation: Yasuda, Anita. “Kagome Kagome.” Highlights for Children, vol. 65, no. 10, 10, 2010, pp. 12. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy1.usc.edu/docview/756206958?accountid=14749.

MASH – A Game to Predict Your Future

--Informant Info--
Nationality: USA
Age: 22
Occupation: Non-Profit Arts Administrator
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: March 22, 2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Italian

Item:

E: MASH is- is a game, um, where it stands- it stands for mansion, apartment,

S: (simultaneously with ‘E’) shack, and house

E: and then there were different categories.  And how I played it you could always customize your categories, but it was usually always something along the lines of the pet you’re gonna have, the car you’re gonna have, your job, your husband, or wife, blah blah blah blah

S: Who’s gonna be your husband, or wife.

E: How many kids you have, that was a popular one. And then you would, um…

S: Salary!

E: You played with salary? That’s terrifying

Q: That’s a little too high stakes!

S: We were really hardcore middle schoolers man

E: And then you would write it all down.  And then you would, um, you would say start and go and you would draw lines until you said stop and that would be the amount of times the person would just go down the list counting and crossing things out, and then whatever was left was, uh, your prediction for your future life.

 

Context:

This piece was collecting while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about the games from our childhoods or school days.  Some of us even played them again now as college students, including but not limited to MASH as described above.  After this exchange, we proceeded to play a few rounds of MASH choosing the following categories: husband/wife, occupation, husband’s/wife’s occupation, salary, husband’s/wife’s salary, car, number of children, place, and pet.  The person whose future was being predicted chose three things to place in each category and the others in the room chose the last, usually an unfavorable choice, for a total of four items.  We also restricted the husband/wife options to those who were in the room at the time.  The counting number was determined by me drawing lines until the person said stop, then I counted through the categories back-to-back, crossing out the one I landed on each time.  Once I finished the categories, I counted through MASH at the top and then we read out the person’s future to the room.

The two informants were both females, and a majority of those who chose to play were female as well, but the person whose future was predicted was male.  The two informants grew up in different places and we have age differences of a few years between each of us.  ‘S’ in the exchange above grew up in Michigan and primarily played this game during middle school.  ‘E’ in the exchange above grew up in California, and mentioned how she would play the game with her friends at “every sleepover ever.”  There was a general consensus that primarily it was girls that would play MASH.

 

Analysis:

I played MASH quite a bit as well while going to middle school in Virginia.  It was mainly just a fun way to pass the time at that age.  The fact that it was so widespread and so popular for a period of time may be because it is an easy pen and paper activity that is simple to learn, customize, and pass on, but I believe there is another reason why it was so popular, especially during middle school years.  At its core, MASH is a game about predicting the future, and this practice existed long before the game existed.  People have a desire to predict the future so that they have more control over it and can decrease their anxiety about what may come.  Especially for middle schoolers, when most children are now going through puberty and beginning a transition into adolescence and eventually adulthood, there can be great uncertainty about the future.   MASH, then, becomes an unconscious way to plan out and/or predict the future in a completely low risk, zero consequence, and even humorous environment.  There may be even a hint of belief in its prediction power for some, indicated by how you would primarily put choices you wanted under each category.  Furthermore, the particular anxieties can be extrapolated from the categories chosen.  These categories may be completely trivial and entertaining (e.g. Type of Pet) or they can reveal desires regarding social class (e.g. Salary, MASH) and gender roles, particularly for females (e.g. Number of Children, Occupation).  Even the common addition of an undesirable choice to each of the categories, when it is known that there is a possibility it may be picked, indicates an awareness that the future may not always be in their favor.  On the surface, MASH may seem like just a funny way to pass the time and be entertained due to the improbable nature of the results, but all things considered, it seems to be a way for middle-school age children to overcome their anxieties about the future in a time where they are going through a number of changes, both physical and psychological.

 

Additional Informant Data:

The informant data for the interlocuter denoted by ‘E’ is included in the section above the item.  The same data for the other informant is included below.

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew

Cinderella Jumping Rope Rhyme

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/27/15
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): french

The informant is 20-years old and finishing her sophomore year at USC. She is a Business and Music Industry Major, is involved in several on-campus organizations such as Concerts Committees. When she’s not doing her school work or work for clubs, she enjoys running, taking hikes, and going to concerts. She grew up in Washington with her mom, dad, and two younger sisters.

 

Informant: “I guess something I learned from other people would be jump roping rhymes. I was super into jump roping with my friends when I was in elementary school. Even into middle school we would play Double Dutch. It’s just an easy thing to play—jump-roping. Like all we needed to have with us was the rope.”

 

Interviewer: “Do you have a favorite rhyme you want to share?”

 

Informant: “I wouldn’t say I have a favorite…But one I think is really weird. Haha. Probably the most bizarre rhyme that circulated around is one about Cinderella. We would sing:

‘Cinderella dressed in yellow

Went downstairs to kiss her fellow

On the way her girdle busted,

How many people were disgusted?’

And then you’d count off 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Until whoever was jumping rope tripped. And then the song would start all over again.

 

Thoughts: It’s funny that my informant learned this Cinderella rhyme for jumping rope in Washington because I learned the same one in the suburb of Chicago where I grew up. I remember seeing some kids recite it while jump roping, but where I heard it the most was in the figure skating community. I figure skated for ten years and when we had shows, all of the younger kids would convene in a sort of backstage/holding area when we weren’t on the ice. We used to play all sorts of games to pass the time and one game was a one where everyone sat in a circle with their hands touching and we would go around the circle as we sang this song slapping the person’s hand next to us, and when we got to 10, the person whose hand was slapped got out. This seems like a good example of how folklore travels, or of polygenesis, and how it attains different uses and practices as it is spread.

Wallball variant – Butts Up

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: USC
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/13
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

My informant used to play a variant of Wallball at his Bay Area elementary school called “Butts Up.”  Like with regular Wallball, the game was played against the wall of a building or room, with one ball and many participants.  Players had to throw the ball against the wall without the ball first bouncing off the ground.  If the ball touches a player and then touches the floor, that player must run to the wall before the next time someone performs a successful wall bounce (player -> wall without touching floor).  If a player makes it to the wall in time, he or she is safe and may resume play.  If the ball makes it there first, that player receives a point.  Additionally, a player may attempt to perform a fast catch, whereby the player catchs the ball immediately after it has bounced off the wall, before it touches the floor again.  If the player successfully performs a fast catch, then the player who threw the ball gets a point.

My informant’s version of the game uses letters instead of points.  Each point spells out the word B-U-T-T-S and when a player has gotten all 5 letters, they must stand against the wall with their butt in the air while every other player gets a chance to peg them in the ass with balls.  Additionally, instead of a rubber playground ball, Butts Up was played exclusively with a tennis ball, and players were allowed to catch the ball in between throws, instead of just fast catches.  Also after a player has been ass-pegged for spelling BUTTS, instead of being out, the player simply returns to the game with a clean slate, albeit a sore ass.  Another one of my informants also said that some kids from his elementary school, back in New York, played this version of Wallball, and even called it by the same name of “Butts Up.”  According to him, this version of the game was reserved for the hardest of hardcore children.

Wallball

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Yale
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/5/13
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

One of the games my informant used to play back in elementary school was a game called Wallball.  According to him, Wallball is played against the wall of a building or structure with a playground ball or tennis ball.  The object of the game was to hit the ball with your hand and have it hit the wall without first touching the ground.  If the ball hits the ground first instead, you must run to the wall before someone else is able to successfully hit the ball at the wall, or else you are “out.”  However, my informant says that usually a player could receive 3 or 5 outs before actually being forced out of the game.  Games were played with a large number of students.  There were a few additional rules in his version of Wallball.  Players were not allowed to bobble the ball, any player bobbling the ball was forced to drop it and run for the wall just as if they had failed to make a proper hit.  If a player was able to catch another player’s ball after it had hit the wall but before touching the ground, the player who hit the ball received an out.  A player was also allowed to peg another player with the ball, thus forcing both players to run for the wall.  This was only to be performed if teachers were not watching because teachers would usually stop the game if they saw this.  Players were also forbidden from having “Tea parties” which is where a player hits the ball back to his or herself 3 or more times in a row.  Also at any time, one player could challenge another player by throwing over his or her shoulder.  Both players then had to run to the wall before someone else hit it there.  Perhaps this challenge rule was instigated to replace pegging in the presence of teachers, but never left the game even when teachers weren’t present.  This version of Wallball is very similar to the version of Wallball that I played in elementary school, except without the challenge rule.