Tag Archives: neighborhood

Children’s Game: Spanking Machine Tag

Main Piece: 

Informant: “Here’s a neighborhood game that I just remembered we used to play. It was very popular in our neighborhood. And I don’t know where it was picked up. You know, I was one of five kids, so we played a lot of games together and so we played a lot of games together, and the neighborhood would play a lot of games together, and we played a lot of tag. So we’d play some pretty typical tags like freeze tag, or just tag, or… I can’t remember the other names.”

Collector: “Like zombie tag. Or the version of it, yeah.”

Informant: “Zombie tag, yeah. So, one that we played pretty frequently- maybe it was pretty common, I’ve never seen anyone else do it -it was spanking machine tag. So, when someone gets frozen by tag, if they can stand with their legs apart like a teepee or like an A-frame and someone else can crawl through their legs before the person who’s it catches them, the person gets free.”

Collector: “Oh, yeah. I’ve played that.”

Informant: “Okay, so maybe it’s—”

Collector: “The word spanking in the title threw me off.”

Informant: “Maybe… Oh, I think we would spank them as they went through, too.”


This is a game that, as above, my informant would play as a child in Virginia as one of a number of tag variants. From the tone of voice, it was clear that she enjoyed the game. She called it as a neighborhood game, rather than a school game or kid’s game. Playing this game, she said, was localized to a smaller group than children or Virginian children. She had the opinion that this was a weird thing her neighborhood specifically did.


Having played a version of this myself when I was a child in Utah, I can attest that this game is widely proliferated. The idea behind crawling through the legs rather than simply touching the frozen body is to provide a further challenge for everyone that’s not “it.” Games where there is an “it” figure are characterized by a balance of power. Power is temporarily granted to the “it” figure and it is the title that transfers from child to child, allowing them to try their hand at power. This modification allows more power for the “it” figure in freeze tag, where it’s normally very easy for the larger group to win and the “it” figure doesn’t change as frequently. This specific version is also a good example of children’s counter-authoritative tendency to introduce things like spanking that they’re not supposed to do into their games in order to push the game outside the boundary of approved play.

Hunter’s Point sisters

My cousin Joe, a San Francisco native who is currently directing a feature film that is deeply rooted in the city’s history, told me the following story, which takes place in a San Francisco neighborhood called Hunter’s Point:

“So this happened in Hunter’s Point, the very furthest edge of the city. Before it was a black neighborhood it had been like, Italians and some Chinese like fisheries and there were uh, Italian fishermen out there.
And apparently, right across from uh, where we’re gonna film our movie, there were two victorians and uh, two sisters who lived in each of them. And, they would apparently- the story, it was told to me by one guy who said they had these huge shouting matches that they would come out once a month and they would have these- this huge fight in front of the whole neighborhood and he claimed it was because their periods were timed…and they would have this huge fight and they’d go back into their homes and everything would be fine. But one day they had a fight that was so big, one said ‘I’m gonna burn your house down! I hate you!’ And then she lit her sister’s house on fire, and then her house caught fire ‘cause they were right next to each other and their houses burned to the ground. So it was kind of biblical or something.
But that was told to me because there’s like all these mysterious fires in Hunter’s Point that people have kind of tried to understand why they happen, and the guy that told me this–one of them, two guys told me–one who told me was like a former um, fireman and he said that uh, there were all these mysterious fires in Hunter’s Point and he thinks they’re arson. He thinks they’re uh, landlords trying to burn out their tenants. So anyways that’s somehow linked to this weird story of sisters–Italian sisters. But yeah, I like imagining that ‘cause now it’s a- it’s a burned out lot.”

This story can be classified as a legend, because it may or may not be true, and is supposed to have occurred in a real place. It is also a sort of origin story, because it explains the presence of an otherwise mysterious landmark– in this case a burned out lot–that neighborhood residents are familiar with. Hunter’s Point is, as Joe says, at “the very furthest edge” of San Francisco, and as such is one of the last neighborhoods in the city to begin fall victim to gentrification. The tensions over shifting neighborhood dynamics are such that some residents theorize that corrupt landlords are committing arson to keep up real estate prices, and these tensions may contribute to the popularity of legends describing former neighborhood conflicts.