Tag Archives: korean game

Playing ”balances.”

B is a 21-year-old Korean male originally from Busan, South Korea. B is currently a college student in Los Angeles, California.

B taught me to how to play the following Korean game while we were taking a break from studying in a college dorm.

B: The game is called “balances” and you have to pick one of the two options I say. And you can’t say “neither,” even if they are both bad.. you still have to pick one laughs. It’s a really popular game in Korea.

Interviewer: Ahh so it’s like “would you rather?”

B: Yeah! It’s similar to that. Like…. “Would you rather eat a tomato that tastes like vomit or vomit that tastes like tomato?

Reflection: After playing and recording my brief game of ”balances” with B, he told me that the game is actually called 균형 게임 (gyunhyeong geim) or ”balance game” in Korea. The game is practically identical to “would you rather,” especially regarding how much of game derives from the idea that both options are a form of opposites and yet equally terrible choices. Despite the sameness, I found it interesting that B insisted that the games are different. In relation to polygenesis and folklore, people understandably want to stake claim in folklore they perceive as theirs, even if the same or highly similar folklore developed on its own elsewhere.

Daeden-Zzi: the Game

Original script: 데덴찌 in Korean, 手天地 in Japanese

Phonetic (Roman) Script: Daeden Zzi

Transliteration: The back of the hand and the palm

Full Translation: Back of the hand or palm, choose one

Main Piece:

Daeden zzi is a game played very commonly by kids in Korea. Daeden zzi isn’t the game tho, it’s simply a process to begin any given game. Basically, daeden zzi is a team dividing method. Let’s say a group of kids are trying to play basketball, and they have to divide up into two teams. Everyone would gather around in a circle, and they say “Daeden zzi” out loud. Kinda like rock paper scissors, at the end of the phrase you reveal your hand- whether it’s facing up or down, either the back of your hand or the palm – and you become teammates with everyone with the same hand as you. If it’s a game that requires an even number of people in each sides, you would repeat the process until everyone’s evenly split. If it’s a game that doesn’t require the same number of people, then you just roll it once.

What’s interesting is that Daeden zzi comes from a Japanese word that translates to “the back of the hand and the palm”, the name isn’t translated into Korean, it’s still a Japanese word that Koreans use. So unless you speak Japanese, a given Korean kid playing this game wouldn’t even know the name’s meaning, but they kinda do, they know that the game Daeden zzi refers to choosing between the back of the hand and the palm. Daeden zzi is one of many children’s games that come from Japan, a lot of these folk traditions came to Korea during the forced occupation under Japan in the early 1900s. Koreans don’t like Japan but a catchy game is a catchy game (laughs).


The informant is a college student residing in Seoul, Korea. She was born and raised there, and describes that she played the game daeden zzi quite often growing up, mostly from age 7 till middle school. She doesn’t remember when or how she specifically learned this game. She also has a study abroad experience in Irvine, California when she was in 4th grade, she went to an elementary school in America for a semester. During her time, she introduced the game to her non-Korean friends, effectively spreading the game. Though she’s not sure if the students at her school continued to practice the game after she had left, but it isn’t uncommon to find Korean American children play this game.


The conversation took place over the phone, while the informant was in her college dorm by herself, in her comfortable environment.

My thoughts:

I remember being a kid trying to divide up teams for whatever game I was playing. If the method of dividing was by having two team leaders pick a member at a time, it instantly creates a problem; there’s a power imbalance amongst the players, and it might hurt the feelings of those who aren’t chosen until the very end. In that sense, I think deaden zzi is the fairest method to divide everyone up- it’s purely random.


Interview Extract:

Informant: “Have you heard of gonggi? It’s a game we played as children, with these sort of like marble-ly things. They’re like round, and colorful, and they’re just like, made out of plastic and have little things inside to give it weight or something. But anyway, to play the game, you’d throw one in the air, and then try to catch it before it dropped to the ground. Then you throw two in the air and try to catch both the little ‘balls,’ I guess you can call them. Then you throw three, and catch them and so on.”

Me: “Did you play this game often?”

Informant: “Yeah, I remember our parents used to buy them for us, me and my brothers and my friends, like all the time. It was a really fun game to play.”


This was the first thing my informant thought of when she tried to remember something from her childhood. Evidently, she would play them all the time with either her brothers, friends, or even by herself, since it’s an easy game to learn and participate in. The gonggi pieces are sold in many cities here, probably in Koreatown shops, so my informant was able to play this traditional game while growing up in the Southern California area. Her parents didn’t seem to mind buying her multiple sets, either because she lost them or broke the pieces, because they still tied her to Korean culture. Since it appears that this was one of my informant’s favorite games to play growing up, if they continue to sell them here in the years to come, I’d imagine she would buy gonggi sets for her children as well.

The simplicity of the game is attractive, as well as the colorful balls, or pebbles, children use to play with. This makes it popular worldwide and a game that can no doubt make a lasting impression upon a young child. While gonggi is still only known to Korean children, there have been variations of this game that are known by other names, and there’s a possibility that this will allow gonggi to become more popular within other cultures and ethnicities as well.