The games we played

Published On: April 5, 2019 08:32 AM NPT By: The Week Bureau

As a child, life was all about anticipating the next episode of Moomin, counting the number of toys we had and the smell of chicken curry wafting around the house. But among all these nostalgia-inducing moments, the games we played are particularly memorable. Looking back, it is rather admirable how we could make a game out of anything. You only needed a bottle cap to come up with the cleverest of games. 

Some games we made and some we simply played, simply played because some classics were beyond modifications and stood the test of time. Here, The Week takes a trip down the memory lane and explores some of these classic games. You might be surprised to find out that it wasn’t just you and your circle of friends that played these games but the rest of the world played it with you as well.

Spinning tops
Archaeological expeditions around the have discovered spinning tops (“bhurung” in Nepali) all over the world and conclude that it is one of world’s oldest toys played by children around the globe for over a century. Rather simple in design, its physics however is quite complicated and that is what makes it such a beloved toy. Japanese people have their variation of a spinning top, “koma” they are called. Komas are both cone-shaped and saucer-shaped. Japanese people love their komas so much that they have an entire museum dedicated to it with over 20,000 designs on display. Malaysia and Indonesia love their tops as much, “gasing” as they are called there, and they have national tournaments dedicated to gasing. Traditionally, farmers played these games right after the rice harvest season and it is a huge part of celebrations in these countries.

Remember sneaking chalks from your classroom and bringing them home just so you could scribble those hopscotch boxes on the pavement? Hopscotches are one of the most loved playground sports around the world. In India, it is called “stapu”, in Latin American countries it is “rayuela”, in Poland “klasy”, in Italy it is “campana” and so on. Thought it was only South Asians who played the game, didn’t you? You would be surprised to learn that hopscotch has traces of existence in Ancient Rome and the layout of these games were carved onto stone pavements in public spaces. What was once a child’s game (literally) became an integral part of the Roman architecture. The thing about hopscotch was that you could play it with as many friends as you wanted and on days when you didn’t particularly feel social, you could play it just by yourself too.

There are far too many poems about being nostalgic about childhood days and playing jacks along the banks of rivers. For most of our parents, the game jacks (otherwise “gatta”) is how they reminisce their younger days so they would often (in an attempt to pass on their expertise) tell us which stones to pick and how far to spread them. Historically called knucklebones, jacks are actually an archaic form of dices. They were how people gambled in the early times. And this game has been constantly referred to in Greek history and literature - in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Zeus’ episode of generosity for Ganymede (the mortal he fell in love with). Accounts, however, suggest that back then they used bones of sheep and domesticated animals. Turned a little freaky here, didn’t it?

Hacky sack
You knew this was coming: “Chungi”. The rubber band made ball we all kicked around. Daniel Haber wrote of Kathmandu, “When I first arrived in Kathmandu in the early 1980s, well before satellite TV and even televisions for most people, before FM radios, wide-screen movies and mobiles, before internet, before democracy, there was chungi.” Chungis also categorized under the umbrella term hacky sack, appears in all cultures although a little varied and with different names. In Korea chungis are called “jegichagi” and throughout the regions of Asia, they referred to as shuttlecocks and jianzi. Often a round bag filled with either rice or sand is also used. There’s a whole chungi tournament that takes place in the Darjeeling Carnival and players are tested on their technique and the number of times they manage to hit the chungi without dropping it on the ground.

Ring-a-ring o’ roses
...A pocket full of posies. Did you know that its ending is “A-tishoo, a-tishoo we all fall down?” When a rhyme passes down through word of mouth and not through written accounts, there are bound to be discrepancies. And it isn’t just these few words that have been altered but also the context of this particular line. What most of us used as a jingle for an innocent game of jumping and turning didn’t have a cheerful beginning. It was dead somber to say the least. The song in all its intents and purposes was about the Great Plague in Europe (also referred to as the Black Death) that claimed millions of lives in the 17th century. The “Ring-a-ring o’ roses” was the deadly rash that appeared on the bodies of the affected. Posies were herbs people carried in their pockets to counteract the bad smell that accompanied them as a result of their infection, thus the “pocketful of posies.” The ‘a-tishoo!’ is a symptom of plague, since victims supposedly sneezed when in the grip of the disease. Finally, of course, the falling down represents the death of the plague victim.

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