The Punching Games of Ohio

Recently, at the “Playful” conference, someone gave a talk about clapping games. While the whimsy and good natured delight of clapping games was quite evident in a very feel good presentation, it somehow just wasn’t cutting it for me. Especially when it made me think of something vaguely similar and a hell of a lot more painful that we played as kids growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.
You see Cleveland is in the heart, the armpit really, of somewhere called the Rustbelt. To you in the UK, its a bit like the Midlands, a post-industrial swath of seething hatred and kids with generations of pent up aggression. This expressed itself in the games we played as kids. Clapping was for girls, punching was for boys.

There were a couple of variants, but mainly there were two. The first, Punch Bug, was the tamer of the two. Mainly because you had to be driving while playing, which of course limited the amount of punching range. Whoever saw a VW Beetle first would call “Punch Bug!” and then get to punch the person of their choice, usually next to them, on the upper arm. There weren’t really points and there wasn’t really a winner. Just punching, and of course, hours of fun.

The second, which I don’t know if ever had a name, was loads more insidious, and thus, way more fun. You had to get someone to look at a number of hand configurations held below the waist. If they did, you punched them the appropriate amount of times. Making an ‘O’ with your index finger and thumb (upside down for some reason) let you punch the person once. Holding the fingers of both hands interlaced, showing the back of the hands, got the unwitting looker ten punches. There was one that got you five punches, but I don’t remember what it was.

The thing that is great about these games and what makes them way more interesting than any clapping game is the notion of consequences. With a clapping game, if you lose, well its not that big of a deal. A bit of frustration, a bit of “oh wasn’t that a jolly bit of fun” and that’s it. With the punching games of Ohio though, there was real consequences involved. Losing hurt. Losing meant pain, and usually continued pain as you usually got punched in the same place over and over again. There wasn’t anything at all quaint or even virtual about it. It hurt. And it was fun making the hurt.

This is one of the things I think is missing not just in games today, but in design as well, consequences. Real consequences. Life is full of them, and in our rush to virtualise and sanitise everything out of the real life of pain and kids bullshit we’re losing this. Nothing has any consequences when you can restart, reboot and undo your way through things. And when nothing has consequences, nothing usually has meaning.

So get real and get punching.