Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 1.5: Childhood Games #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

In the four previous exercises, I pretended to be a tester for the indie hit FTL and documented everything I experienced and did in the game, I critically analyzed a game that was “dead on arrival”, I listed and described areas of my life that could be games, and I kept a game journal.

This week, the exercise is to list 10 games you played as a child and briefly describe what made each game compelling.

Your childhood memories might provide inspiration for new game designs today. Children imagine and create games all the time.

Game lines

Freeze Tag

Tag is a very common game for children to play, but my favorite variation was freeze tag.

In regular tag, the player who is “It” tries to touch another player, transferring “It” to that player. Sometimes the “no tag-backs” rule was applied, giving the original “It” immunity until the next player is tagged. The game never ended, as there was always a new “It” and people to chase.

In freeze tag, however, the goal is for “It” to freeze all of the other players. A tagged player was frozen and had to stand in place until unfrozen by another player, usually just by touching the frozen player’s hand.

While regular tag is “every man for himself”, freeze tag encouraged everyone who wasn’t “It” to work together. The more unfrozen players running around, the less likely “It” will win. Of course, the more frozen players around, the easier it is for a player to unfreeze them. “It” had a lot of work to do, but I enjoyed the tactics that freezing and unfreezing players allowed for.

Pirate Ship

In a box of Cap’n Crunch, I once found a map.

A treasure map.

I brought it to school, and during recess, I recall holding the map out in front of me while a train of children followed behind, all of us teetering and rolling as if on a ship in search of wealth beyond our wildest dreams.

I don’t remember much to the game. We made it up as we went. We pointed out hazards on the horizon, and we searched for land. We pretended to dig on islands based on where X was on the map.

At one point we excitedly found gold. When we presented our amazing find to the teacher, she looked unamused and said flatly, “That’s not gold. That’s broken glass.”

Well, she was no fun.

Red Light Green Light

Apparently this game is called “Statues” in some places, but the idea is that one person stands across the room or field. When he or she turns around and yells “Green light!”, everyone else tries to move all the way to the other side. Every so often, the one person turns back and yells, “Red light!” and everyone must stop moving. Anyone caught moving during this time is out. Play continues until either someone makes it across or everyone is out.

I liked how it simultaneously encouraged caution and haste. If you sprinted, it’s harder to stop moving when “Red light!” is called out. If you inched forward, you’d likely never get to the other side before the other players.

And if you were “It” and calling out the light colors, it’s hard not to call red immediately after green when the nearest player is mere feet away from you. The game gets very intense, very quickly.

Kickball

Kickball is like baseball, only you get a giant rubber ball. Pitching it was like bowling, and batting was like soccer.

You didn’t need to be able to throw a small baseball well or swing a bat with accuracy. It was easy for almost everyone to play.

Plus, we had the added rule that allowed you to throw the ball at someone to tag them out, so we also incorporated dodgeball into it. Of course, missing the player meant that the ball needed to be collected and thrown, allowing the runner to advance to another base more easily, so there were some exciting plays involving good dodges.

Dodgeball

Speaking of dodgeball, I never understood why this game had such a bad rap in popular culture. I loved it.

We played a number of variations during gym class. One was similar to freeze tag in that players who were hit by the ball would have to sit down, and in order to reenter play, the player designated as “Doctor” would need to come out from the safe area known as the “Hospital” and bring the sitting player back.

However, no one can heal the doctor, who can be hit by the ball as any other player once out of the hospital area. Losing the doctor was a huge blow to the team, and it wasn’t unheard of for players to sacrifice themselves to protect such a critical resource.

Another variation had a different resource to protect: a tennis ball sitting on top of a cone. Normal dodgeball rules applied, but if your team’s tennis ball fell off the cone, your team automatically lost. Sometimes during an intense game it wouldn’t be noticed that a ball was rolled slowly towards your cone. You had to keep your eyes open.

What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?

This game was very similar to Red Light, Green Light. One person was the Fox at the front of the room, and the rest of the players were the Hens, or something like that. The hens would ask, “Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox, what time is it?” and the fox would respond with an hour, such as, “It’s 5 o’clock” or “It’s 3 o’clock.”

The hens would then take that many steps towards the fox. If it was 3 o’clock, you could take 3 steps forward.

The goal was…you know what? I don’t think we ever found out. Looking online, the goal was to cross past the fox’s location, but no self-respecting fox ever let that happen.

Because one of the responses was “It’s midnight!” and at that time, the fox could chase the hens back to their starting area. If someone is caught, then that person becomes the fox.

We had a variation we would play occasionally in which the fox converted hens to his/her side. That is, if a hen was caught, now you had two foxes to contend with at midnight, and the goal of the foxes was to convert all of the hens to foxes.

Initially the times called out allowed hens to walk nine, 10, or 11 steps, but once hens got closer to the fox, the game inched along with single steps, and everyone anticipated midnight to come at any moment.

Wall Ball

While I’m sure there were official rules to wall ball somewhere, I remember taking a small rubber ball and hitting it down into the ground towards a wall. When the ball bounced back from the wall, it was someone else’s turn to hit it. It had to bounce on the ground once before hitting the wall, and if you let it bounce before you hit it back or if your hit results in anything other than one bounce before it hits the wall, you were out. I recall getting punished by getting pelted with the ball, but I don’t remember how it was determined who did the pelting.

The rhythm of the game needed to remain unbroken: bounce, rebound, hit, repeat. You could hear it when someone messed up.

This game was a bit fuzzy in terms of who exactly was responsible for hitting the ball if you had more than two players. There were a number of times in which fingers were pointed and the debates about who was closest raged.

But the game was fast-paced, and every so often someone would make a hit that required players to scramble and dive to avoid going out.

Dark

My sister and cousins would play this made-up game of ours. In my parents’ basement in the evenings, there weren’t many windows, so if you turned off the lights, it could be very, very dark. So we basically played a game of hide-and-seek which started by turning off the lights.

Not only did people have to find a place to hide in the dark, but once the seeker finished counting, he or she had to navigate around all manner of things being stored in the basement, such as exercise equipment or laundry baskets, and try to find the other players.

What was amazing about this game was that it gave you a much larger useful play area in the same space. Why? You could hide in a place that would otherwise be incredibly obvious if the the lights were on and the seeker could see. Standing flat against the wall or even in the middle of the room were surprisingly effective.

My favorite hiding spot? Jumping up and grabbing onto the metal I-beam that crossed the ceiling, then pulling my legs up to it. So long as I didn’t breathe too loudly from the strain of hanging up there and the seeker didn’t raise his or her hands up when walking past, I couldn’t be found.

At least until the lights turned on and everyone saw me. Then the I-beam was checked regularly.

Kings vs Queens

I don’t know if this game had a different name anywhere else in the world, but we played it in gym class in elementary school.

Everyone sat on the floor in rows, which created corridors for the players to walk down. One boy and one girl each would get a bean bag to place on their heads, and they would stand at opposite corners. The gym teacher would periodically call out, “King chases Queen!” or “Queen chases King!”, and then it was like tag in which It was whoever was doing the chasing.

The trick was that if the bean bag fell off your head, you lost, and you couldn’t use your hands to keep it on. As a result, it wasn’t an incredibly fast-paced game, and as bean bags started to slip, kings and queens started walking with their heads tilted at bizarre angles.

Sometimes the gym teacher would switch who was doing the chasing right before someone was about to be caught. I noticed it seemed to happen more often whenever a girl was about to lose, or maybe I’m remembering it wrong. When a king was closing the gap, and then suddenly had to reverse course to run away from the queen, you can feel the energy in the room as everyone started cheering or jeering.

My favorite variation got the rest of the class involved. Everyone would sit in a grid with their arms out to their sides. Not only would the kings and queens change roles as chaser and chasee, but the grid would periodically switch corridors so that instead of only being able to walk through rows, you had to walk through columns instead. If queen was chasing king, and the king was safely in the next row, and the signal was given to switch from rows to columns, the king might find he is suddenly much closer to danger.

Between worrying about role changes, chasing and evading, and balancing bean bags, it was probably the most intricate game we played as children.

Heads Up Seven Up

In this game, seven players would be at the front of the classroom. Everyone else would put their heads down on their desks with a hand outstretched and a thumb sticking in the air. The seven standing players would each pick one sitting participant, pushing down the thumb to indicate that the choice has been made, and return to the front. Then “Heads up, seven up!” would be called out, and the people who had their thumbs pressed would stand. Each would then attempt to guess which of the players picked him or her. If you guessed wrong, you sat back down. If you guessed correctly, you replaced him or her at the front.

I think this was one of the first games that had us thinking about social dynamics. Was it the person you never talk to? Was it a girl or a boy? Did your best friend pick you? Did your best friend purposefully NOT pick you because you would expect that he did? Or, knowing you know that he knows that you know, he picked you?

Ostensibly, you had a one in seven chance of being right, but depending on who was up there, you had a sense that you being chosen wasn’t random, that there was some calculation involved, and so if you could reverse engineer the decision-making process, perhaps you easily identify the person who chose you and beat the odds.

Exercise Complete

Searching online, I learned that some of the games we played were unique variants, or at least not documented anywhere that I could easily find. I guess it shows how creative children can be, which is obvious to anyone who was ever given a child a giant box.

If you participated in exercise 1.5 on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’m moving on to Chapter 2 and will attempt to describe two games in detail as if you haven’t heard of them before.

(Photo: Game Lines by Boris Anthony | CC-BY-2.0)

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