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Monday, 10 April
Games Without Frontiers

Late last week, I found myself in a conversation with friends about the games we used to play when at school, whether in class--like, say, Seven Up, the game designed to make kids rest their heads on their desk--or out on the playground, such as another chestnut like Kick the Can, the game that welds together the innocent joys of Hide and Seek with the Depression Era angst of angrily booting the hell out of empty pork 'n beans containers.

There was a lot of intersecting areas in our gameplaying Venn diagrams, I found. Despite a varied age group in the discussion, we found a lot of commonality. Most of us had played the various "Let's Hurt People" games, such as Crack the Whip, a game which now appears to me to be the physical representation of trickle-down economics: if you were at the head of the line, you were not only safe, you were basically engineering the ruination of those at the end. And then there was the even more ruthlessly atavistic Smear the Queer, where the Queer (and I appreciate that Wikipedia tries to tell me that NO, NO, WE DIDN'T REALLY MEAN IT, but please) desperately tried to avoid being slaughtered by fellow players, usually to no avail.

What was it, really, about these awful games? I remembered as well the famous Camel Fights, which were--what? Weird, back-humping exercises where you kicked and clawed at other backhumpers? O--kay. And then of course the recently resurgent (thanks again for fucking nothing, Ben Stiller, you tool) Dodge Ball. This I really love, especially in the context of middle schoolers or whatnot. Here you spend your entire existence basically being scolded by adults: "Don't hit other kids! It's NOT COOL!" Then, during gym class or a rainy recess, what do you get? Adults handing you big red balls, saying, "All right, see those kids? Your job is to hit them really hard." Larkin didn't have the whole picture. It wasn't your just your mum and dad fucking you up.

Okay, not all the games were of the weird, disassociatively violent sort. There were things like Four Square, which is--let's face it--possibly the dumbest game ever invented. Four Square is basically Intro to Parliamentary Procedure. "Hey, no Bus Stops!" "That wasn't a Bus Stop! That was a Hang Glider!" "My eye. You bounced up and over." "It went out anyway, you guys." "It did not!" "Did too!" "TEACHER!" If we ever got through fifteen minutes of this game without some sort of deathless debate, it's a miracle. Four Square basically just prepares young minds for the relentless tedium of things like Model UN, or, worse, Actual UN.

Or Kickball, which was baseball with those fucking red rubber balls again. And, of course, once again also with the "HIT THAT KID!" aspect, where you were encouraged to peg baserunners. Nothing like nailing a kid running top speed in the kneecaps on asphalt. I wondered on occasion if the janitor's duties included walking out nightly to the playground to hose off the kidflesh. I also wondered why they would pave the playground. After a few years of this mayhem, I started to imagine schoolkids picking up lost teeth from the playground and fashioning them into necklaces. The next step was clearly Death Cards, which, though I grew up before its ascendance to popularity, I assume is how Magic: The Gathering started. "Dude! You totally smoked Tommy!" "I know. Check it out. I tucked an Icy Manipulator into his pocket."

Wait, didn't I start out by citing this game as NON-violent? Uh . . . well, moving on.

When I was in middle school, I did all of these things, of course. But there was also some very weird other stuff going on. At the time, there was a large-ish kind of LARP-ey thing happening amongst the cool kids, where they would sort of run around pretending to be characters from Battlestar: Galactica. And it wasn't just this half-assed thing; Starbuck was always Starbuck, and Cylons were Cylons, etc., and it was this sort of huge baffling thing, but rather regimented, so everyone always had to listen to Lorne Greene, or whatever. I couldn't ever quite figure it out, and anyway, I was far too uncool to get to participate anyway. The Battlestar kids ran around with great joy, firing "lasers" at each other and more or less having the time of their rarefied lives.

I eventually found my way into the outcast version of this peculiar phenomenon, anyway, and fell in with a few other complete dweebs, who had started their own sort of TV-inspired roleplay. My group instead pretended to be characters from . . . The Dukes of Hazzard. Needless to say, I was one of the last people to join up with this wanky bunch of chittering freaks, and so I did not get one of the "plum" roles like, say, Bo or Uncle Jesse or even Boss Hogg. (Can you believe this shit?) No, I was recruited to be Cooter, with the unconvincing argument that Cooter was the "only guy who can touch the General Lee!" It would be years, I hardly need to clarify, that I would actually touch a girl, much less a car.

And so I was Cooter. I wondered on occasion if things could be worse, and I realized that, I guess they could have been. They could have demanded I play Daisy, for example. Certainly no girls were clamoring to join our joyless little enclave--the Galactica kids had a few girl Cylons, the fuckers!--but nobody was wondering if I could steal my mom's L'Eggs, anyway. And I was a part of something, anyway, even if that something was anemic and dumb and just a little sad.

And of course we viewed the Battlestar kids with more than a little envy. Here we were, imaginary renegade rednecks, but these guys were starfighters! Fuck those, uh, popular kids! So occasionally we would stage incursions. "Let's go run us over some Cylons," someone would say. And, thrillingly, someone else--Chris, I think--would say, "Cooter! Fire up the General Lee!" Then I'd do some awful under-the-hood-type miming and give Bo and Luke the thumbs-up and watch my compatriots zoom over into the midst of battlin' Cylons. I'd pretend to wipe my not-oily hands on a garage rag that wasn't there as my friends broke up some space battle with purely idiotic "Southern" rebel yells, nothing else for me to do but watch. The Cylons screeched with indignation as the General Lee ran them all over ignominiously, swearing all the while that their lasers had utterly destroyed the insurgents, and besides, "Cars don't work in space!" Terrible arguments ensued, at least until the inevitable bell.

I wasn't long for the Dukes of Hazzard crew. I told myself that it was stupid and that I was being basically shortchanged. Which might have been true. What was truer was, I just missed Four Square.

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While teaching a summer Shakespeare class for kids with a few other actors, our students taught us a true ghetto game called "Butts Up". It's like dodge ball only played with tennis ball instead, requiring slightly better aim. The unlucky person hit has to face a wall, bend over and let everyone whip the tennis ball at their ass as hard as they can. Classy.

Comment number: 007076   Posted by: galetea on April 11, 2006 02:04 AM from IP:

I went to a tiny low-budget Catholic school where our "gym class" consisted entirely of some thin blue floor mats and those red rubber balls. Fucking red rubber balls.

Comment number: 007079   Posted by: Jeff on April 11, 2006 06:38 AM from IP:

We, too, played the Dukes of Hazzard. With two Daisies.

Comment number: 007083   Posted by: aldahlia on April 11, 2006 07:23 PM from IP:

Aw, you should have set up a game of Bulldogs Charge with the other group. The vision of Sheriff Rosco clothslining a female Cylon is just too damn irresistible.

Comment number: 007084   Posted by: Lung the Younger on April 12, 2006 12:20 AM from IP:

get a life u tub of gooooo!

Comment number: 007140   Posted by: ur a oser on April 20, 2006 09:34 AM from IP:

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