The Way We Play

The Way We Play
Dawn of Games

Corvus Elrod | 1 Jan 2008 18:59
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Next on the list of necessary skills would have been strength. A single person's strength would often have not been enough for every occasion, so these games would have also taught skills of cooperation and teamwork. It is easy to imagine tug of war, crack the whip, red rover and king of the hill as the descendants of these early strength-based cooperative games. The Inuits played a great number of strength-based games, from wrestling games like "Qaklupinguaq," where a player kneels on a large rock and tries to keep his opponent from touching the soles of his feet, to "Hiutimigaaq," an ear pulling game.

As cultures progressed and conflict between tribes became more common, the games would have become focused on more specific survival and combat skills. Many of these games must have resembled some of the traditional indigenous games played by Australian Aboriginal societies. One such game, "Wana," was played by the young girls. A short stick representing a baby would be placed on the ground, and one girl would protect it while the rest of the girls pretended to try and murder it with their wanas (digging sticks). Another game played by young boys, "Kalq," involved using throwing sticks to throw and deflect a spear toward the player's opponents.

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The latter two games' brutality is potentially shocking to a modern audience. In a world where bright orange light guns raise concerns about exposing our children to violence, a game played with an actual spear seems a bit much, not to mention a game where the players pretend to kill a baby. But these games were designed to teach children about the harsh realities of the world and provide them with the skills to survive. Among the tribe who played "Wana," women would stand by the men during fights and deflect the incoming enemy spears. Boys who learned to play "Kalq" learned important lessons that surely prolonged their lives.

Clearly, we no longer live in a world where the daily dangers are so pervasive that we need to train our children to avoid animal predators, fend off invading tribes and use brute strength to overcome environmental obstacles. But somewhere, deep within our consciousness, lays a memory of this primal struggle. The next time you see children playing tag, stop and watch them for a while. It's not that hard to see the menacing grimace of a wild predator in their gleeful faces of the child who's "it," as she hunts her prey.

Corvus Elrod is a storyteller and game designer who is working on bringing his 16 years experience into the digital realm. He has a habit of taking serious things lightly and frivolous things seriously, a personal quirk which can be witnessed on his blog, Man Bytes Blog.

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