A FOND LOOK AT VIOLENT GAMES OF DAYS GONE BY
photo (c) 2004, 20th Century Fox
NOTE: I wrote this article about 4 years ago, and thought in
light of the great new
Dodgeball movie, it was worth digging out again.
You can't grow up in America
without basketball, football, or baseball playing a part of your life (or if you
live in Australia, rugby, dingo tag and kangaroo wrestling). In the earliest
years of elementary school, you can learn to strike out, drop a ball, and do
other humiliating things that define your athleticism for the rest of your
life. Clearly getting immature uncoordinated tots to play games of this nature
was such a challenge, so different games were invented to give them an even
As I was panting and wheezing my
way through a game of driveway basketball (I'm a great 3 point shooter, mainly
cause I can't dribble worth a shit), I began to fondly remember those games.
Dodge ball, kickball, Tag, 4-square, or tetherball . . . they were always some
of my favorites. But why did we stop playing them?
When I was a kid in Reston, VA
about 25 children would play a game while they were waiting at the bus stop
called "Crack the Whip". You'd simply all hold hands and run in a crazy snake
circling patterns at a high speed and try to make the poor kids at the end fly
through the air and go crashing into a tree.
Tag taught us a lot of basic
survival skills, basically how to run away from someone trying to get you. In
this day and age of increased kidnappings, school shootings, and angry parents
mad that you broke their favorite vase, learning to run away from someone is a
must. You had your classic tag where someone was "IT" and ran around trying to
pass the "IT" virus to someone else. Some variants of the game featured a
safety base area equivalent of the immunity idol.
My favorite version was Freeze Tag
where being touched by the "IT" kid would make you stop in your tracks, and you
couldn't move again unless one of the unfrozen kids came to your rescue and
tagged you. It was always sad to see the less popular kids stranded in the
field, frozen, waiting for someone to thaw them out to no avail.
Survival of the fittest was
introduced at an early age to kids who played King of Mountain. This was always
the showcase for the big fat kid who otherwise got picked on a lot, to send kids
tumbling down a hill to their doom.
I remember playing this when I was
only about 6 with some much bigger kids in a construction yard. We saw this 25
year old woman walking towards us from far away. One of the crafty kids told
me, "Hey, when that lady walks by us, ask her if you can lick her vagina". I
asked what a "vagina" was, and he replied, "Oh, it's a piece of candy, like a
lollipop." I waited for her to get right by the hill, and eager to get a taste
of her sweet candy (and unaware it was a different sort of sweet candy
altogether), I screamed, "Hey...CAN I LICK YOUR VAGINA?" She looked up, shook
her head, and walked on. The other guys were doubled over in laughter, when I
told them, "I guess she didn't have one."
One of the more beautifully
Darwinesque games ever designed however was dodgeball. A few kids would stand
around a huddled mass of scared kids in the middle, and throw a ball at them.
Each time someone is hit, they have to join the others on the perimeter, until
there's one left, jumping and ducking about like some biblical stoning victim.
Dodgeball was fun on the surface,
but deep down it was a secret way to smack your fellow students really hard with
no retribution. Usually we'd use one of those red soft playground balls, but
every now then we'd get to use a volleyball or something harder. Though there
were strict "no headhunting" rules, it was awful hard to get in trouble for
having bad aim. I mean, we were only 8 years old.
I remember one poor girl named
Krista who got pegged in the crotch so hard, she curled up on the ground in a
fetal position for a few minutes. Instead of receiving sympathy, someone just
shouted out, "POW! Right in the catcher's mitt!" If you hit someone in the
face, you'd get high fives from everyone around. Matt told me a about a guy who
hit a girl in the face so hard that it broke her glasses AND knocked her out
cold. Instead of being ostracized, he was "Hero of The School." (Of course,
the girl likely came back and shot 15 kids the next day).
Perhaps the most brutal game we
played was "Smear The Queer". With a name like that, it's just a notch above
"Kill The Fag", but the homophobic undertones went unnoticed by us. The rules
were suicidal. Someone would throw the ball in the air, and whoever caught it
would have to run around until they were caught, gang-tackled, and usually
punched a few times. Why anyone chose to catch the ball is still a mystery to
me, but it certainly whetted our appetite for masochism for years to come.
Understandably, this game, at least in name, has all but disappeared from most
So why did we stop playing these
things? No teacher ever sat us down and said, "You're growing up, let's put a
stop to this and focus on varsity sports." It's as if there's some mystical
rule in high school that forbids you from even speaking of them again.
Sometimes I think a good game of tag or dodge ball would be incredibly fun.
Perhaps the ever strengthening bodies of teenagers growing up are too powerful
to unleash with sports like that.
For the most part, these games
taught kids how to play together. There weren't clearly defined jocks and geeks
yet cause most anyone can run or evade a ball with equal proficiency. But come
time for high school, it's off to the Chess Club for the kids that can't cut
it. And if it gets too bad, you can start studying those Columbine kids more
We're too afraid to just let our
kids be savage beasts anymore. No dangerous toys or games are allowed. Some
dumb kid chucks lawn darts into the air and impale their sister in the head, so
they're banned. All the toy guns are bright orange so they don't look too real
(might get accidentally shot by those cops that are always sneaking into our
backyard). Even playing Cowboys and Indians is looked upon as politically
Without an adequate outlet to
express the animal side, it gets bottled up and expressed in other ways. Left
untapped, often tragic consequences (and some suggest an increase in boy band CD
We do too much to prevent kids
from playing dangerous games, while doing little or nothing to eliminate the
real life dangers they emulate. Toy guns are bad and real guns are good, in
this twisted society we live in. Violent videogames where you shoot up
electronic zombies are bad, while nothing is done about the actual zombie
problem in the world.
So go ahead and gather up your
pals for a game of drunken dodge ball. You'll have the time of your life, and
the world will be a better place for it.