The Games Children Play...

I was browsing randomly at lunch today, and somehow ended up on the BBC Domesday Site.

So, I figured I'd have a look at what was happening in 1986 near where I live.

I soon found a link for "Adult Recreation", which turned out to be a lot less interesting than you'd think, so I've not linked to it.

Instead, I draw your attention to the marvel that is Children's Recreation.

It's drawn up from a local school, which I am now very glad I did not attend. But I would have been the right age to go to that school, if I wasn't already at one nearer to me. That's one of the reasons I'm sharing it with you.

I've reformatted and sorted the table for you, so that you can see it in a more elegant light.

Game / Activity # Children involved
Football 86
It 18
Skipping 17
Chain Hee 15
Stuck in the mud 9
4.40 5
kiss chase 5
Railings 5
Dodge ball 4
Foxes and hounds 4
Feet off ground 3
Marines 3
Netball 3
Rounders 3
Card games 2
Care bears 2
Hopscotch 2
Knight riders 2
Meetings 2
Piggy in the middle 2
Star wars 2
Adventure games 1
Air wolf 1
Bombs 1
Climbing on walls 1
Donkey 1
He-man 1
Muncher, muncher 1
Racing 1
Red rover 1
Sea ponies 1
Swaps 1
Talking 1
Talking 1
Tennis 1
Tunnels 1
Walking with teacher 1


I think it's worth going through those for a moment. (I've left a couple out games deliberately, because they hold little interest for me.)


No big surprise that Football is the major pre-occupation - in 1986 boys were still boys, and girls were supposed to be quiet meek things that knew their place. Based on these figures you could be forgiven for believing that it was an all-boys school, but in fact this is a State school - kiss-chase only happens at boys-only schools if they're expensive Public ones.

I'm unfamiliar with Chain Hee and 4.40, but a number of the top ones - Fox and Hounds, Railings, Stuck In The Mud - are the sort of games that were banned because the Daily Mail got outraged when a child shattered their spine playing it. There was probably a six month campaign with pictures of sad-looking children in hospital, and which resulted in a ban from playgrounds everywhere.

Incidentally, these games are now only kept alive in folklore because the Daily Mail mentions them every time it goes on a four page "Health and Safety Gone Mad" spree, reminding us how mollycoddled out children are compared with the rough and tumble that was enjoyed a mere few decades ago - with only minimal spine shattering being a very low price for such innocent fun!


As the numbers of children playing something get lower, we get some interesting results.

For instance, you can play Rounders and Netball with only three people. It makes for passable rounders, but very one-sided netball.
A personal favourite of mine is the two children playing Piggy In The Middle. I can only assume that there was a wall and a lot of imagination involved. Well done, innovative duo of 1986!

"It" was played in high numbers, and presumably it frequently interrupted the two children playing Hopscotch. I should have mentioned "It" earlier given the numbers, but I wanted to put it alongside another fine traditional game, as we're about to leave such territory for the marvels of franchised entertainment.


He-man, Knight Riders(?), "Air Wolf" (sic), Care Bears and Star Wars are fine examples of 1980's franchises which kept many a toy store or TV station afloat. The numbers are also, with hindsight, satisfyingly low.
Is Sea Ponies a 1980's franchise that I am hitherto unaware of? I wasn't familiar with it in 1986, and remain blissfully ignorant. If you know the answer, please don't leave a comment. Thanks.


But now we enter the real reason I'm mentioning this - the frighteningly lonely and surreal world of the games or activities only one child engaged in.

Climbing On Walls must get dull after the first year or so in a playground, unless you bring your own bricks and mortar. And maybe shoddy workmanship, to add a spicy element of danger?

One child played tennis. Someone should have told that child tennis and rota-slam are not the same thing.

One child played "Muncher, muncher" - and presumably broke the confidence of a priest in telling us.

One child is playing Racing. Presumably that child now works on the Top Gear Production Team figuring out ridiculous challenges that only one presenter is obviously going to win at.

One child is playing "Tunnels". The school is still there - if we go along tonight with a crowbar and inspect the drains, do we think we'll find this feral monster still there, surviving on discarded crisps and gossip from kiss-chase?

One child is playing "Bombs". Good for him or her. If you've not blown something up by the age of 11, you're just not trying hard enough. I hope you went far (and in one piece!).

Two children, separately, are "Talking". They're obviously enemies, or they wouldn't have insisted they be listed individually. I hope they've made peace with each other by now.

One child walks with their teacher. That teacher is probably a saint. (Especially if they got too near the child playing Bombs.)


And now we're at the saddest, loneliest child of all.


The one lone child playing Swaps.


Playing Swaps alone? That's just tragic.


He should get together with the kid playing Bombs.
Problem solved.