Remember the simpler times? When we would dash around schoolyards, slapping each other on the arm, screaming with joyful fear. Louise Barnes explores the echoes of those memories, looking at the games we would play in primary school courtyards and fields, encouraging us to play once again.
Picture any summer evening in the year of 2005. By this time, plenty of us born in the ’90s would have still been enrolled in primary school, fresh-faced, before the atrocities of life would hit us. Hard. (Yes, I’m looking at you 2020). Night has fallen, but the air is warm as remnants of the sunlight rise from the tar. Meanwhile, my sister and I are preparing for a long night ahead of us as we scavenge to fuel our torches, tearing out batteries from all remotes possible. Already, I’m sure you have an inkling of the game I’m talking about; torch tag, more commonly known as Spotlight. Nonetheless, we head outside to meet the others at the rendezvous point, no doubt looking like a gaggle of scrawny ninjas as we stand under a street light. Quickly, we go over the headcount and reclassify the boundaries on the edge of each neighbouring property. Soon the spotter has been selected, and the countdown begins.
3. 2. 1. Game on.
This was a time to me that defined what it meant to be young. Spotlight was essential to the way my sister and I grew up, consisting of tactics of strategy and stealth. Of course, it led to many arguments over mean tricks and foul play, but we didn’t care. That’s what made it interesting.
This is only one example of all the games we used to play. To launch into a game of Spotlight, we needed the cloak of darkness, which meant it was mostly played around the house or local fields and playgrounds (and, if you got lucky, school camps). It was an extension of what was already happening at school. 30-minute lunchtimes were the birthplace of playground games which welcomed anything from Tag, Cops and Robbers, 4Square, Kickball; you name it. It was the ultimate time to release steam, and at our primary, this took the form of Tag. It literally engulfed the entire school. If you wanted to play, all you had to do was meet under the shade before launching off in a desperate bid not to be it. No politics involved, just simple physical exertion. For the most part, people were team players. They would give a brief sigh of defeat once they were whacked on the arm and had “TAG! You’re it!” bellowed in their ear. Others, well, weren’t the best team players. Given the same situation, they cradled their bruises and claimed they weren’t playing. If that was you, I bet you’re still a sore loser.
Remembering these experiences, it’s a wonder to think why we still don’t play them now. Because they’re childish? I refuse to believe that. Instead, there are politics of expectations and societal changes that inhibit our freedom and just mediate our existence in general. Take the iPhone, for example. When this rolled out in 2007, it was a game-changer. From that point onwards, technology skyrocketed in all forms both outside and inside of the classroom (do we all remember smartboards?). Now, it’s not uncommon to see kids as young as 6 with a better smartphone than you do. Personally, I didn’t get my first phone until 12, which was a hard-set Nokia saved for emergencies and Snake.
Being the age we are, sliding into the world between the 90s and early 2000s, many of us remember what it’s like to live without the rest of the world at our fingertips. But now, these games are getting ousted as merely a way to pass lunchtimes to the satisfaction of teachers before using technology as the main source of entertainment. Days are now filled with social media, and constant exposure to screens in the form of work, study and entertainment. It’s normal. Life moves on from the waves of playground entertainment, but unfortunately, so do we. But if anyone is up for a game of Spotlight, count me in.
Much like the anecdotes I’ve shared from my time in primary school, other UoA students share which games they remember the most in their own form of nostalgic reflection.
At our school, we used to play Bull Rush every lunchtime. The idea was that you had to make it across to the other side of the field without getting tackled. In the end, it was banned because so many people got their arms broken. We didn’t fuck around.
In primary school, we used to have a ‘sports shed’ where kids could rent out gear for the whole lunch break. There were skipping ropes, hula hoops, handball backboards, hacky sacks, anything you would want. While getting that equipment out was an exciting enough prospect for the lunch break, we were always more excited about sports shed duty. Usually, kids would pair up to rent the gear out and, usually, people would try to partner with their crushes, because you could hide out of sight and talk and flirt. If you did sports shed duty, you were basically the school’s newest couple. And you could avoid violent ball games.
Very few games scared me growing up in primary school. I would play rugby on a muddy field with ease or join in on paintball trips without thinking twice (although, I should have thought twice before firing a paintball at the head of my teacher). But bizarrely, a game as simple as dodgeball would send me shaking. I blame my fear on the one time I got knocked out when playing a game of soccer at age seven. Anytime I was placed in an open court with a ball that slightly resembled a soccer ball, the fear and memory of being in that black void would keep me from trying my best. I had a tactic for every game; get placed in a large team, immediately head for the back, sidestep, pause, sidestep, pause. Should a ball come my way and find contact with my body, I would scuttle off the court without a word. It is safe to say that since leaving primary school, my worries have definitely evolved into more significant ones. But there are times I wish dodgeball was still the only worry I had to deal with!
One of the best memories I can think of from primary school lunchtimes was when my whole class would form a big circle in our quadrangle then sit on the ground to eat our lunch, trade and share meals. This was always followed by a Tag and Freeze game. Everyone would enjoy the 30 minutes of freedom, running around manically trying to unfreeze everyone, burning off all the pent up energy of being contained in a stuffy classroom.
Does anyone remember the Weetbix Trading Cards? I was cleaning out my wardrobe during lockdown and found my stash. Those bad boys were sick. You had every All Black on them and you had to collect them all. They had stats on them so you could battle your friends Top Trumps style. Weet-Bix may have started this, but Bluebird chips went to another level and released a whole Super Rugby set. They were shiny and metallic and you could also buy a plastic folder to store them in. My sister and I used to eat so many bluebird chips in the hopes of increasing our roster. It was such a score to get Richie McCaw or Dan Carter. But then, the market closed. My school banned Bluebird trading cards. More specifically, if you had them and you lost them, it was not the teacher’s job to sort that out for you. I wish this had opened up some sort of illegal black market for trading cards, but unfortunately, it didn’t.