5 Old-School Childhood Games That Did Not Involve Electronics, Internet Access or an Expense Account


1. Hide and Seek

Very simple, really. Somebody was “it”, and that person had to close their eyes and count backwards from a designated number. Everybody else ran like hell to find a hiding place, preferably within the same county, but some people took this game very seriously and you never knew. Once the countdown was done, Phase Two of the operation would kick in, with “It” trying to find all of the escapees. In turn, the escapees would try to sneak past “It” and touch home base without the humiliation of being tagged or tripping over something stupid that some fool had left in the yard.

I never really cared for being “It”. That was too much work, unless all of your little friends were uncontrollable gigglers and you could easily track them down with sonar. I preferred the Anne Frank role, because I loved discovering the perfect hiding place and driving everybody else crazy with bafflement, with fools wandering right past me and having no idea that I could bite their ankles if I felt inspired to do so.

Of course, your hidey hole couldn’t be too perfect or people would never find you, especially if “It” was one of the younger kids you were forced to play with because their parents were drunk and needed an impromptu baby-sitter. Those little urchins just didn’t have any gumption, half-heartedly looking behind one tree and then giving up completely, crying and sniffling as they sat their lazy asses down right on home base so that you couldn’t sneak past them without their grubby little fingers touching you.

An additional downside to a premium hiding spot was the potential discomfort. Almost invariably, the best hiding places were cramped and stuffy. It was a hoot of a good time for the first few minutes you were in there, but it didn’t take long before you were sweating to death and unable to get a decent amount of oxygen. You didn’t want to just give up, of course, but sooner or later you would start to get a cramp or lose consciousness, and you wouldn’t have any choice but to suck it up, pop out of your hole, and signal for a medic.

2. King of the Hill

This one required at least a minimal amount of preparation, in that you had to have a mound of something that would support the weight of several youngsters essentially trying to kill each other. A volcano-shaped hill was optimum, but nature didn’t always cooperate so you often had to resort to man-made structures, such as a large pile of sand or a stack of abandoned tractor tires. (This second option was readily and abundantly available in rural Oklahoma in 1975, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who has been in rural Oklahoma.)

In any case, someone was anointed the initial “king”, and as part of his coronation procession he had to clamor to the top of whatever had been designated as the hill. Once there, he would review the peasants gathered below him, place his dominant hands on his hips, and loudly proclaim that he was now the absolute Ruler of All, forever and ever. (Or at least until everybody had to go home for lunch.) Providing your own dialogue such as this was something that children often did back in the day, because we didn’t have video games that did all the playing, thinking and imagining for us.

Then the more exuberant aspect of the game would commence. This entailed all of the dissatisfied peasants at the foot of the hill suddenly forming some type of labor union, taking a vote that a new and vicious change of leadership was in order, and then storming the hill with cries of determination and battle. End game? Knock that fool off the top of the hill and make the crown your own.

Now, that may sound very festive and such, but in reality, this could be a brutal and bloody experience. Ever take somebody’s bony head to the gut and then find yourself flying 20 feet through the air and landing on your back? Had somebody hurl themselves into the backs of your knees so that you fell on them while they fell on your lower legs, putting enough pressure on your shins that you screamed in an octave range that hadn’t been invented until that very moment? Slid on your face down the side of a pile of gravel while somebody stomps on your head as they rushed to take the place of your sorry, felled ass?

If I had a brochure entitled “Fun Things That I Really Love About Life”, none of the above options would be in it. I felt impelled to make that clear.

But the true dynamic of the game is that the “king” was really in a position of power, based on the laws of physics and the overwhelming disadvantage of the eternally-suffering peasants. It was very hard to topple the bastard at the top. Many a time the insurgency would wear itself out and the kingdom would remain in the hands of a single monarchist until Mom would holler from the back porch that it was time to wash up for supper.

3. Red Rover

This was another essentially pain-based form of entertainment, although it required a rather sizeable contingent of rowdy hooligans for there to be any type of success. This high-population requirement probably explains why it was popular on community playgrounds. In my own case, however, it was also a requirement that we play this sadistic mess as part of our Phys Ed classes in elementary school. (It also didn’t help that our P.E. “coach” was a twisted sociopath with authority issues and a love for inflicting pain on youngsters wearing Garanimals.)

You split into two teams, with each team holding hands in a straight line and facing the other team. One of the teams would go first (I don’t recall how this was decided, but it was probably drug-based, since it was the 70’s), and that team would target someone on the other team by bellowing “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Billy Joe come over!”. Billie Joe, gulping, would then haul ass toward the other team and try to break through one of the little hand-holding segments. If he bounced off like a rag doll, he had to join the other team. If he broke the chain, he got to pick one of the probably-injured breakees to join his own team. Play continued until there was only one person left on a team or somebody was killed.

Now, as I’m sure you can imagine, there was a lot of cheating in this warped exercise that basically taught you that you have to hurt people to succeed in life. You had the hefty farm boys targeting the linked hands of dainty little girls, knowing they wouldn’t survive any better than bugs hitting the windshield. You had those dainty girls who would often scream hours before the rutting bull got anywhere near them, voluntarily breaking the chain and allowing themselves to be carted away as captured flesh and having visions of being turned into slave labor or harem personnel, depending on which books they had checked out of the school library.

And you had the survivors of attempted chain-breaks. Whether you won or lost the round, you were basically out of commission. If you were the defending chain, your arm was probably torn out of its socket and hanging limply. If you were a runner, you took a serious blow somewhere on your body, with possible outcomes ranging from gastrointestinal damage to sterility.

And if the runner was subjected to “clothes-lining”, the supposedly-banned but still-practiced ploy of raising your linked arms to the neck-level of the runner? That runner was no longer breathing. He had just enough time to crawl off to the side and scratch out his last will and testament in the playground dirt.

4. Crack the Whip

You know, I’m starting to wonder if we ever played anything that wasn’t dangerous. Was this just an Oklahoma thing? Or did kids around the world gleefully participate in activities that could maim or cripple them? Do kids still do that these days? Well, probably not at public schools. You know, those places where there’s so much restrictive legislation now that a teacher can’t even say “good morning” without a consent form signed by God, yet so many modern “parents” fully expect that teacher to completely raise their own children without the parents having to lift a finger.

Anyway. With this festive game, everybody joined hands in a single line, assuming you were still physically capable of doing such after playing Red Rover earlier in the afternoon. Then the “head” of the snake would start running all over the place, all crazy-eyed and preferably zig-zagging. End result? The increasing pressure on the people at the end of the line would soon become so great that they would go flying through the air and slam to the ground in a far field. Good times.

Now, one of the rules was that, even if you had been flung, if you could somehow manage to rejoin the chain and hang on, you were officially back in the game. But seriously, once you’ve crashed through the front window of the Five & Dime two blocks over, why would you go back? Why?

5. The Quiet Game

Okay, maybe not all of our youthful entertainment pursuits were dripping with blood and intense peer pressure. But even though this game was relatively tame, from a physical-damage perspective, it’s still tainted by the fact that it isn’t actually a game, but rather a coping mechanism invented by parents who were waiting for their Valium prescriptions to be refilled.

The object? Sit your ass down and shut up. For a very long time. Don’t talk about anything, don’t file oral reports about what your sibling may or may not be doing, and don’t provide commentary about who was whisked away in an ambulance from the playground at school. If you speak, you lose, and Mommy has to start drinking again.  But what do you win, if you don’t engage the vocal chords until you’ve graduated from high school? You get to continue being raised by your parents and not Child Protective Services…


Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 07/13/12 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 02/05/14. Minimally revised and updated with extra flair for this post.

Story behind the photo: Image by Arthur Leipzig, 1943.


46 replies »

  1. Hide-and-seek, Red Rover, and Crack the Whip were my favourites. People were amazed at my intensity and brutality during those games. I dislocated another girl’s shoulder during a game of Red Rover. People tend to get hurt when they underestimate me.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I’ve known for quite some time that if I ever get in a rumble in West Side Story, I totally hope you’re by my side. We could do some seriously kick-ass singing and martial arts. Then we could run around afterwards and collect all the bonus parts we need for our next build in Elder Scrolls: The We Will Rock You Edition… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think that I’m cut out for musicals…perhaps your horse-riding friend is, or the one who you went to Spain with, would fit the bill better than I!

        My skills were learned by rasslin’ grizzlies, as I’m sure you’re aware…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You didn’t play the same games I did growing up.
    I grew up in a sometimes nasty place, La Jolla California.
    The most popular game was called, “Smear the……”
    I will not complete the title, or compete in creepy games, because of this.
    The title rhymes with, and is a derogatory term, assholes use for gay men.
    It says everything.
    Kids created this?
    Why? How?
    Kids games tell us a lot about parents.
    Maybe the internet games are an improvement, considering.
    Maybe internet game creators are better parents and this is why kids become so addicted. They offer a better world then their parents do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, you got a little deep here, but that’s not to imply that I don’t strongly support what you are saying. As you state, children reflect their parents from a very early age. I’m sure there were a lot of racist and disrespectful games going on around me in my childhood (it was Oklahoma, after all) but on my particular street, we really didn’t play those games. (Or if we did, I don’t remember it.) It might have been that our little gang was composed of some serious social misfits, with all of us already aware of the effects of exclusion, so we didn’t go there. (Throwing each other off the top of a mound of gravel because it was funny? Yep, we went THERE. But everybody got tossed, so nobody was singled out.) Of course, things might have played out differently if I’d come out to them as gay whilst we were on break, dusting ourselves off and sipping from our juice boxes. Maybe not. I really don’t know, not with that group of kids… 😉


  3. We played hide and seek under local rules where you hid until found. The alternative of getting back to base was called ‘Tig 1,2,3’ where you had to get back to base and shout out the code.. Tig something or other before ‘it’ did. Happy times, thanks for rekindling them so entertainingly, Brian 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. so funny. we play the quiet game in my kindergarten. i tell them they are mermaids/men or pirates or whatever, and they lay on the floor, not moving or making noise to see who can ‘win.’ they often ask to play )

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Quiet Game is always more pleasurable when you have participants who fully respect the zen-like benefits that can be gained from following the playbook correctly… 😉


  5. I remember playing Red Rover in grade school, at a very young age – such a dangerous game. We also played Dodge Ball, another game where someone always got hurt. Those were the days, I don’t know how I survived.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t really experience much Dodge Ball until middle school, where we had a very lazy Phys Ed coach who would make us play it when he hand’t bothered to plan anything else. (Which was essentially every other day.) I never left any of those sessions without at least one circular bruise, as I was chubby and slow and therefore an easy target….

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Never heard of Crack the Whip, but the others yes. And I was a master of Hide and Seek. Well, at least the hiding part. They soon learned not to let me Seek, as I’d go inside and read a book instead. Side note: I always won the Quiet Game.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Violent, send the ball to the groin or the chin four square. Any form of tether ball, solo or against someone. I always got outsmarted and a bloody nose from a damn soccer ball on a rope. Red Rover? Aim for the object of your young heart, get their arms wrapped around you for an instant as you slam into the grass stain bitch fest you’ll get at home. And get again when their mom calls yours. But who cared? A moment of bliss for an ass chewing you would have gotten for something anyway? Ahhhh…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I forgot all about the Madness That Was Tether Ball, and I really should have included it. It was the rage at our elementary school, and people would line up just to get a chance at playing. And the astounding velocity of that ball on the whirling Death Wire? I’m surprised any of us lived long enough to make it to junior high. (And yes, sometimes the Red Rover run-ins could lead to a delicious, quick tumble in the grass, brief physicality with someone you fancied. Of course, I had a slightly different target than you…)

      Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! Yes, there was a lot of potentially-deadly violence in our childhood games. And my mama didn’t care WHAT I played, as long as it was outside, she couldn’t hear us, and it didn’t cost anything to play… 😉


      • My daddy was one of three boys. They were dirt poor and I asked him once what they did for fun. The first thing he said was that they would go to the top of the hill (they lived in the mountains), take off their shoes and run all the way to the bottom. Whoever made it down without stepping in a cow pattie…won! Then…there was the hatchet contest. They threw hatchets at each other. My daddy had an two inch long scar over his right eyebrow. He smiled when he said “I only lost once.” LOLOL

        Liked by 1 person

    • I can just picture a mini-You whacking the hell out of a tetherball, and this makes me smile. (Oh, by the way, I can’t get to either of your blogs, and it appears that they have been marked as private. You may have done this intentionally, taking a hiatus and whatnot, but I thought I should mention it in case they aren’t supposed to be blocked…)


      • I did set Nitwit Corner to private… SORRY! It was either that or hit the delete button. I can’t handle too many blogs. Not sure about the other one? I’ll check.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, “Kick the Can” is another that I forgot about, although in our case it was more accurately called “kick whatever we found lying around that we didn’t really want anymore”. We could go for miles with that mess, and I actually made a few friends this way. (And kudos to your grand, as this is an excellent skill to have.) 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. BWAHAHHAHAHHAHA!! Oh I remember them ALL (‘cept Crack the Whip..that one didn’t hit Utah I guess). And your remark/question “You know, I’m starting to wonder if we ever played anything that wasn’t dangerous. Was this just an Oklahoma thing? Or did kids around the world gleefully participate in activities that could maim or cripple them?” My answer “No it wasn’t just in Oklahoma, children of the same era all over the country participated in variations of these games. It’s a wonder we did survive. C’mon over to my blog and read of “The Year I Flew Without Wings nor Aircraft”. Yes, it’s a wonder we survived.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I’m glad you posted this comment, which I really enjoyed, by the way, glad to hear that children of a certain age universally risked their lives and all. Now, back to me, for the last three or four days, I’ve been unable to comment or even click “like” on any of your newer posts. It’s entirely possible that the issue is on my end, because I fiddled with a few settings, but while I go back and study my possibly anarchic changes, I thought I would mention it just in case there is an issue on your end as well. I’ll give you a holler on this same comment if I’m still hitting snags in the next day or so. Because you know I’m all anal about not getting to share my thoughts on your posts. It’s what I live for! 😉


      • Actually it seems it’s ME…Spearfruit mentioned the same issue…about the likes anyway. I never watch the stats, so I didn’t know. I’ll have to report it and/or fudge around with it and see if I can fix it. Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.