In Scotland, there’s a men’s red-rover league. Opposing teams of twelve men link arms. One side calls out, “Red rover, red rover, send Dugal right over!” Then Dugal charges across the heather shouting his war cry, and slams into the line. As he tries to batter his way through, broken bones are common and death not unheard of.
Of course, that’s all a lie. Grown men don’t play red rover. Although if they did play, Scotland’s where they’d do it; And they’d play with trees; And the trees would loose, often as not.
Red rover is a children’s game. I last played it in second grade, when I was seven or eight. We played on recess, as an organized activity. Our teacher told us how to play, then we put on our coats, trooped out to the grass playground, and lined up. As I remember, it was great fun.
One of the first games I remember playing is ‘jumping off of stuff.’ I expect no description is necessary. This probably developed as a variation on the earlier game that I’d call ‘climbing up on stuff,’ if it weren’t pre-verbal.
As I got older, my friends in the neighborhood played tag a lot, with the usual variations: freeze tag, the subtly different statue tag, multiplication tag, and all the rest. We also played ‘Army’ a lot, which was for us kind of a free-form fantasy role-playing game. No points, but we did have experience levels. Somebody’s older brother had been promoted to Sergeant, so we were really into that for a while. This would have been around 1968. We had tried to play cowboys-and-indians a couple of times, but nobody was very enthusiastic about it. Mostly we played Army, and we were always fighting the Germans.
At some point, we heard of a game called ‘kick the can,’ but we didn’t know how to play. We tried to integrate it into our other games with limited success. We would play hide-and-go-seek, but you had to go kick the can after you counted; Or we would play tag, and if you were It you had to kick the can. We were remarkably persistent, but it didn’t work out for us. We finally went back to regular tag. If we’d only known, we were probably on the verge of inventing Calvinball.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, we played tree-to-tree tackle. One guy would stand in the middle of a field, and everyone else would run back and forth across the field. The guy in the middle would tackle whoever he could, and they would then join him in the middle.
If we had a ball, this became maul-ball. There were no teams, and the rules were simple: Take the ball from whoever has it; keep the ball if you have it. This was only a game because we were mostly friends, the ball had no intrinsic value, and nobody used weapons. Once when we didn’t have a ball we used a stick, but this degenerated into a fist fight. Partly, it was too easy to dispute possession of the stick, so two guys ended up holding the stick and whaling on each other. It took both hands to hold the ball. Also, I think using a ball provided some psychological reinforcement that it was just a game.
Maul-ball is about the last kid’s game I played. Beyond fourteen or fifteen the games became organized, and I stopped playing. There was baseball, basketball, and football. Around 1975 soccer was becoming popular. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but to me they’re too much like work. In fairness, I was never any good at any of the team sports, so maybe that’s colored my perceptions. I’ve known guys who said playing high school football was a lot of fun, and of course lots of adults play softball, volley-ball, and basketball.
UPDATE, 13 Dec 04
I meant to include a link to Tim Boucher’s journal entry about Red Rover.