Grab-bag of Tag Part One: You’re It

Nobody likes to being referred to as “it”. Maybe that’s the real impetus behind the frenzied chase of every game of tag – reversing the dehumanizing brand of “it”. Of course, the fun of pursuit and being pursued is its own reward.

Or for any kids unfortunate enough to have seen Stephen King's IT, horrible memories might be the motive for their flight.

Or for any kids unfortunate enough to have seen Stephen King’s IT, horrible memories might be the motive for their flight.

But why is it fun? Surely, there are more engaging childhood past-times than screaming and running back and forth endlessly on a field. The answer may be in animalistic nature of tag. It is inherently ‘fun’ because it is a mock version of predator-and-prey relationships. Tag induces all the excitement, skill, and drama of the hunt. Humans, being natural hunters, are drawn to games like tag. Or if you prefer 5-dollar words, they evoke atavism in our psyches.

There are also social aspects of tag. First, there is motivation to avoid being ‘it’ simply because it implies you are losing, that you were slow or foolish to be tagged in the first place. But beyond this, there is a desire to ‘fit in’. When you are being chased you are part of the majority, one belonging to a group.

If you’re not it, you’re still human. You sprint and dodge to preserve your hide the way any human would. But when you are the one chasing, you are not part of the group, you are not human, you have no name or gender. You become a fiendish monster, an unknown evil; you are IT.

“You’re it!”

But tag by itself is not a great game. Typically it ends up with the slowest person playing becoming it, and everyone easily outpacing them. This provide a natural point for teasing and mockery, something less than ideal in games for kids.

Teasing may take the form of pointing at one these signs and saying "Look, they're talking about you!"

Teasing may take the form of pointing at one these signs and saying “Look, they’re talking about you!”

You could endeavor to play with groups of evenly matched runners. Or you could shrink the playing field to the point that keeping a safe distance for whoever’s it is impossible. But neither of these fixes are satisfying. They require limitations to be invoked, when instead the rules of tag could be modified. Or if you’d like those 5-dollar words back, structural change tends to supersede parametric alterations.

Tomorrow’s Post will be Part Two of Grab-bag of Tag: Variations on a Field

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