virtual children by Scott Warnock

Games people (or stupid kids) play

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Like any good parent in 2014, I have encouraged my kids to make up their own games. I want them to devise their own stories. I want them to escape the prescriptive screen narratives that increasingly make up the bulk of their play reality. However, I ruined it all when I unfortunately disclosed some of the games my friends and I once played. Let’s just say times may not have changed, but something’s certainly different about how my kids are proceeding along.

Some games I described were common enough when I was young, but I just don’t see kids playing them as much anymore, like Kill the man. Aside from a name that wouldn’t pass muster in today’s schools, perhaps the takeover of football by soccer has left us largely Kill the man-less. It was easy, though: A bunch of kids. One football. One kid gets the ball. The others try to tackle him. Simple. Clean. Impossible to win. Painful.

Or Jarts, which disappeared from the backyard landscape long ago. I want to rant here about our hypersecure culture, but, c’mon, these things were crazy dangerous. You tossed these metal missiles into the air, supposedly aiming for a small plastic ring. How could you not aim for each other? Or try to throw them as high as you could to see, well, what would happen? Here’s what would happen: My friend Pete tossed one up and it came down right through our brand-new gutters, directly in front of a window. Yes, it coulda been worse, but we became good at getting out of the way.

Looking back, for some reason, many (most? all?) of these games involved some flirting with pain. Beaterball was another one. One Nerf net. One Nerf ball. One rule: Score. Again: you could do anything to score or prevent scoring. One highlight: My friend Blair, who was super tall even then, going for an atomic dunk and dragging his knuckles for a looonggg time on our stuccoed ceiling, leaving a bloody trail. If memory serves, he scored.

Or Wiffleball bat toss. Pete and I (good old Pete!), after having been ourselves tossed out of the house yet again by his mom, would stand about 60 feet apart from each other, standing between two trees that served as goals. We each had two wiffleball bats. You scored a goal by throwing a bat through the other guy’s goal. You could, of course, use the bats to block as well. It got rough if you ended up with no bats at one point. Then you only had your arms, legs, and… head.

I’m not falsely packaging here, telling my children these were healthy pursuits, especially our constant conversion of all things into contests of fortitude and, again, suffering. Trivial beating, for instance. It was Trivial Pursuit, but there was a kind of switch/stick involved (once it was a hollow plastic tube). You didn’t want to get an answer wrong.

These games were often pointless, like Dart blanket. You wrapped yourself up in a bunch of blankets. The other guy would throw darts at you. Usually, no aiming for the head — what were we, savages?

The hopeless, lovely randomness of it all. Find the hole. This was a Warnock backyard classic. If memory serves, for several summers we’d dig a big hole in our backyard. Why? Because it had to be done. It normally ended up being about 24 cubic feet: 4x3x3. Eventually, Find the hole was born. You’d put on a blindfold. Then the other players would guide you around the yard by voice until you found the hole – the hard way.

Then there was Hide the belt: I may not have actually played this game, but it’s too good to leave out: You hide a belt. Everyone looks for it. When someone finds it, he gets to whip everyone else until they get back to base. Simple. Clean. Pure.

My kids have been overt in their opinions of these games. They think we were stupid. They may be right, but they wouldn’t have made it in old Berlin, NJ.

They still need their own games. I recently thought of one for them, a new game: Lollipop loosener. You each have a lollipop in your mouth. You take turns smacking each other until one of you knocks the lollipop out.

They have yet to play it.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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9 Responses to “Games people (or stupid kids) play”

  1. How ’bout…..Hide the wooden spoon?????????

  2. Your timing couldn’t have been better with this one. Just last night, we were sitting around a fire while our kids and some of their friends were playing keep away. I criticized their “safe places” until they eliminated them. Then, with one ball, 8 kids, and nowhere to hide, it became a good, old-fashioned kids game with blood, crying, everything. There were no rules; I couldn’t stop watching. Sorry, one rule: when a kid was crying or perceived to be hurt, they couldn’t go in the house or talk to an adult about it. It wasn’t spontaneous or unsupervised like when we were young, but it was the closest thing I’ve seen to what you describe. Baby steps.

    Also, about that kill-the-man game. In most of the world, kids still play the soccer version of that. Very brutal. It’s why the US is not close to winning a world cup.

  3. Your writing is so good I think you should go back and rewrite some of the instruction manuals for these games especially jarts. Really made me laugh. Good piece.

  4. There’s something to be said for inventing games with real consequences for failure. I think my arms are permanently lumped from Trivial Beatings. And nothing will hone your reflexes better than stopping a flying bat with your bare hands from scoring a goal. I loved every minute playing those games, although the rational part of me should look back on them and wince. Thankfully that part of me was forced out during our last game of Kill The Man.

  5. What about A-S-S ball? And in my neighborhood we had “dirt bomb” fights, which consisted of throwing chunks of rock hard, dry, high clay content soil at one another. No joke, kids frequently wound up in the ER with corneal injuries.

  6. Kill-the-man was the best, the id of sport… all the fun with none of the rules, play calling, procedures, down-time. (Although when I was little it had a really terrible name.)

    Ander Monson has a great elegy for Jarts:

  7. A-S-S Ball was my favorite!

  8. Great Article!

    I used to play a game in college, see how long I can convince Pete to only eat lettuce. He only lasted a day but gave me a lifetime of memories.

  9. Anyone ever hear of the game BB King? Any time you said a word that began with the letter B, you had to make yourself safe by saying “BB King” as soon as you realized you had used the dreaded consonant as a word-starter.

    The penalty? Until you blurted the safety name of the legendary blues guitarist, anyone else who was playing could wail on your shoulder (and only the shoulder. Previous versions included the entire upper body and was, predictably, disastrous.)

    When I was 12, I was in a game of BB King with another kid during the end of the school year. He went on vacation for a few weeks during the Summer break. When he came back, I asked him where he had gone. “Virginia Beach” he replied. I got in about three good punches while he looked at me as though I had gone mad and then screamed “Ow OW! SON OF A $%&*@! I forgot! BB King BB KING!”

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