Lastly in this 3-parter on Tag, I want to discuss TV Tag. The game is similar to freeze tag, in that being tagged causes a player stop moving and be ‘out’. The difference is in the method of thawing. In TV tag players, once frozen, may unfreeze themselves by shouting out the name of a TV show (Some people play that you can name a TV character instead).
However, each show/character may only be used once per game, so players must listen to what shows their compatriots are employing. Eventually, all players are frozen and every TV show ever aired has been named.
If this last variant sounds dumb to you, good. It is the strangest, most awful and arbitrary version of tag I’ve ever played. TV tag gives an advantage to players with knowledge of television, which could be considered an added factor of skill. Except, that what does knowing TV shows have to do with playing tag?
Why should knowing about TV matter? What does it add, other than singling out people who don’t watch TV much? And if you play more than one round (heaven forbid), this element of ‘skill’ is gone, because even the TV-illiterate can just repeat what they heard last round.
Having players be able to free themselves is also stupid, because it just induces them to be captured as many times as they know TV shows. There is no real sense of progress for whoever is it, because who knows how many shows people will be able to name.
The game also has problems with policing rules, since there’s no way of fact-checking what each player claims to be a TV show. And people usually end up cheating accidentally, because it’s hard to keep track of what was already said, or in the case of large playing fields, to hear each other at all.
I include this variant because when I was a kid we played it. Despite it being unsatisfying, arbitrary and heavily flawed, we played on. Fairly often too. And even then, I knew the game was stupid. I saw how it didn’t work. But instead of doing anything about it, I just thought “how strange, TV tag doesn’t work very well”. It never crossed my mind to stop playing, or to suggest another game. We played because it was something to do. Because it was TV tag. Because it existed. And strange as it may seem, I still do this. We all do.
We don’t literally huddle around for another rousing game of TV tag, but we play things or do things simply because they exist. Not like climbing a mountain because it’s there, but like drinking a coke because it’s in the fridge. Like staying up late because we can. Or getting the same haircut because we always have. And yes, like watching TV just because it’s on. It’s easier to live a life unexamined, but there’s a lot of ‘TV tag’ along this path of least resistance.
So let’s think about the sort of games we play, because they leak into the sort of life we live.