Those Insensitive Children’s Games We Played

3 Oct

Play time is different for kid’s nowadays. Gone are the times when your parents would kick you out of the house armed with only a ball and your bike, and you wouldn’t see each other until dinner.

Friday was meatloaf night, I was always late on Friday night.

Imagination and pick-up games ruled the neighborhood. Everyone would meet at the “spot.” And the “spot” was different per social class child gang.  Our “spot” was a cleared out field that was going to be developed into houses as soon as the plots of land were bought. In the background stood the forest which was only  a few hundred feet of uncleared woods, but at 10 years old, perfect for building a tree fort or going hiking without any fear of getting lost forever like Hansel and Gretel…the Brothers Grimm version, not the weird movie remake.

Two other important differences from the way children play today.


There was a clear cut winner, whether it was an individual or team sport. Not everyone had an equal chance of winning. It did depend on your skill. If you swung and missed the ball three times with your bat, you sat down, you were out. You didn’t keep swinging until you eventually hit the ball. Often if you were the kid that sucked at baseball, you were the kid that was King of dangerous homemade bike ramp jumping.


For better or for worse the names of the games were not always politically correct. No one seemed to notice or care. Two prime examples from my childhood was: Smear the Queer and Black Man’s Tag.

If you are unfamiliar with the game Smear The Queer, the rules are simple. Throw the ball in the air and whoever catches has to run without being tackled. This could be played with any number of kids from 2 to 200. There is no designated place to run to, you just keep going until A) you’re tired or B) you’re tackled. If you get tackled then you throw the ball in the air and it starts all over again.

The great thing about this game: no thinking required. A helmet should have been required, it wasn’t, but definitely thinking went out the door. Your caveman instinct of survival kicked in and you just ran and ran until your friends piled on top of you like fat kids on the last Klondike bar.

For most, the offensive word in this game is Queer.  But I think the scarier word is actually; Smear. Think about how you would Smear something. Now think about violently Smearing something…or someone. Queer could be derogatory or empowering depending on how you say it. (Think Queer Eye For The Straight Guy) However, Smearing is Smearing, and there is no coming back from a proper Smearing whether your finger painting or recreating a Slasher movie.

In Black Man’s Tag the basic concept was that one person was “It”, and would tag the other players who were running back and forth between two safe zones. If you got tagged, you would join the “It” person and help them tag people until their was only one left, which was usually my friend Gilbert. He was damn fast. He was German. I don’t know if that is what made him so fast, but I think Germans played around with genetic enhancing during Word War II.

He may have been a by product of that.

We played this in the school’s parking lot with each end of it being the safe zones. You could not be tagged in the safe zone. If only big cities worked this way too.


A Simple graph for visualization.

I don’t know why it was called Black Man’s tag. Never really thought about the name until I became an adult. I had Black friends who played it. They never said anything about the name either.

“Hey, why does it have to be Black Man’s tag, why can’t it be Island Pacificer Tag? Or Spanish-American-Croatian Tag? Huh? Racist!”

The names of both of these games could admittedly have been chosen better. Maybe Black Man’s Tag could have been renamed Zombie Tag and Smear The Queer could have been renamed Rugby.

But as a kid it didn’t matter what the name of the game was, we just wanted to play.

Good job Gilbert, you genetically enhanced bastard. Good job.

34 Responses to “Those Insensitive Children’s Games We Played”

  1. David Stewart October 3, 2013 at 8:49 AM #

    We made up a lot of games like that, which rely very heavily on kid logic. I think most kid games are just an excuse to run, which is a good thing.
    I used to play what you call Black Man’s Tag when I was teaching kindergarten gym class a few years ago. The only difference was that we called it Octopus, since the people in the middle had to hold hand and act like a big chain.

  2. omawarisan October 3, 2013 at 8:55 AM #

    I played a lot of smear the queer without a clue to the implication of the name. It was one of those gems where if someone didn’t go home hurt it wasn’t a good game.

    • Christopher De Voss October 3, 2013 at 9:04 AM #

      Exactly! And it was usually me that went home hurt!

  3. Blogdramedy October 3, 2013 at 9:07 AM #

    Kids today only run with a Gameboy in their hands. Probably because some other kid is trying to steal it. Kids. *head shake*

    • Christopher De Voss October 3, 2013 at 9:08 AM #

      I miss the days of being yelled out to get off some cranky old dudes lawn…

      • lifeissarcasm October 4, 2013 at 8:51 PM #

        That was half the fun of it – playing where you weren’t suppose to knowing the old crank would yell at you and you could run off laughing. Of course back then, we didn’t throw bottles at them or set them on fire. Being ‘bad’ was more mischievous. We knew we would catch hell if we back talked even the old crank.

      • Christopher De Voss October 4, 2013 at 9:15 PM #

        Damn that old man and his manicured lawn!

  4. messymarissa October 3, 2013 at 9:39 AM #

    One word: Liberals. That will probably offend somebody.

    • Christopher De Voss October 3, 2013 at 9:42 AM #

      Or Tea Party.

    • lifeissarcasm October 4, 2013 at 8:53 PM #

      Agreed. Stop ‘protecting’ everyone’s feelings. They are what keeps us knowing we are alive. Life isn’t fair – not everyone is a winner – and not everyone needs to be.

  5. pieterk515 October 3, 2013 at 9:50 AM #

    Hi Chris, I will take slight offence, Rugby is no game for queer’s unless you’re a Wallabe or an Allblack, but I’m not into stating the obvious here.

    • Christopher De Voss October 3, 2013 at 10:05 AM #

      Oh I know! For the record I didn’t say it was, I just said it was a better name. 🙂

  6. doctorfurious October 3, 2013 at 11:54 AM #

    Most of the games I played as a kid were some variation of punching each other and then running around screaming.

  7. Bumba October 3, 2013 at 11:55 AM #

    Another difference: adults were in absentia.

  8. Ervin Sholpnick October 3, 2013 at 1:22 PM #

    that truly took me back to my childhood.

  9. The Bumble Files October 3, 2013 at 1:35 PM #

    Times have definitely changed, Chris. I don’t know how to feel about everyone being a winner, but to think it will have negative repercussions someday, plus it made for longer games! I remember “Smear the Queer,” although I never took part in that one. Reading this, I can’t help feel we’ve lost something even if the names weren’t PC.

    • Christopher De Voss October 3, 2013 at 3:22 PM #

      I feel the same. Everyone can’t win at everything. You need to find your own strength.

    • lifeissarcasm October 4, 2013 at 8:56 PM #

      In ‘my day’ queer meant odd or different but not in a negative way in the least. And kids generally didn’t name stuff to be insensitive, it was more important to just rhyme.

  10. jayne October 3, 2013 at 3:12 PM #

    I loved those games – we played Kick the Can, pretended to be bike accidents on the side of the road to trick drivers and even stood on opposite sides of the street in a stance like we were holding rope across the street – in their way-. wtf were we thinking…it was hilarious thats what. AND no one stopped! It’s funny how the a lot of our games are pretty much about hiding or attacking someone. Hey – were these games the olden days version of that murderous, violent video game??? whaaaat?

  11. silkpurseproductions October 6, 2013 at 7:56 PM #

    There was lots of running and climbing and forts when I was a kid. I wasn’t good at any of them but I had fun. The names really didn’t mean anything and they weren’t chosen to be hurtful or bigoted. They were just made up by kids being kids.

  12. Rhonda October 7, 2013 at 4:38 AM #

    Our ‘spot’ was the back yard of one of the ‘gang’ where we’d all meet to play wiffle ball until dark (or dinner depending on whose mother yelled loudest), then back out to play Bloody Murder until the town curfew rang at 10 til 9. We NEVER saw our parents for more than an hour a day, and that was usually wolfing down dinner, and taking a bath after getting bloody murdered! Kids have NO clue what it’s like to go out and play…and have a blast doing it! Shame


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