When children’s games get serious: adults compete in tag, conkers and hide and seek | Quizzes

Steve Max has no memory of playing Simon Says as a child. He probably did – the centuries-old command game is loved by adults who need children to stay quiet (and put their hands on their heads) for a little while – but Max only remembers playing Duck, Duck Goose and kickball at summer camp. No matter. At 59, Max now plays Simon Says at least two or three times a week.

Max is one of a handful of professional Simon Says callers around the world. He runs the game after First Communion ceremonies, in the midst of full staff meetings, and even during America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) games. “If you think about it, there’s really only one rule: only do it if my order is preceded by ‘Simon says’,” Max says over the phone from New York, “And yet people are everything. just horrible. “

Earlier this year, as summer was drawing to a close and the leaves were starting to turn brown, a South Korean drama dominated TVs and became Netflix’s most-watched series to date. Over 142 million households have sat down to watch Squid game in just a month, following characters as they took part in killer kid games for a chance to win £ 28million. From tug of war to marbles, the show shed light on games that many of us hadn’t thought about in decades. But while the dystopian life and death competition was purely fictional, in reality a small number of dedicated individuals are playing children’s games for real money.

“People are really envious of what I do for a living,” says Max, who has played Simon Says professionally since the 1990s. Often times he has to show people pictures on his phone to prove it’s really his job. – at first most people think he teases them when they ask. It all started in 1982, when he was a waiter at the Grossinger Hotel in the Catskills Mountains and watched Activities Director Lou Goldstein lead the guests in the game.

“It was just remarkable,” said Max, “There was so much laughter.” Max had been experimenting with entertainment since he was a teenager – performing magic and balancing acts for boy scouts and church groups. “I started incorporating Simon Says into my show – and what I found was that my audience loved him a lot more than my magic and juggling.”

In 2003, Max contacted the New York Knicks after seeing a pitiful halftime performance during a basketball game. He masters a series of “sneaky moves” to catch players – the faster you go the easier it is to fool people, and you can also touch one part of the body while having people touch another.

“There were laughs when I said I wanted to mark my career.” Illustration: Nate Kitch / The Observer

A switch to Zoom during the pandemic made some of Max’s tricks more difficult to perform – he can’t really give instructions below the waist, and the video lag slowed the game down. But that’s when he did. visits summer camps and plays with teen counselors who watch him since they were kids themselves that he has to get the sneakiest. “I say something like ‘Simon says not to smile’, and they’ll laugh out loud. They just can’t control themselves, you know?

Of course, real money is where real money always resides – in the corporate world. Max has lectured for a number of companies, “waking everyone up before they start their four hour session in a ballroom somewhere watching a slide show.” It’s not all fun and games: many bosses love the game’s surprisingly serious message.

“With the advent of cell phones and all the electronic distractions that we have in the world, you have to stay focused,” says Max, “And another of the points I’m saying is how important it is to be a good guy. listener and let people finish before you answer.If you anticipate and advance early, you are going to make a mistake.

Not all professionals Kids game players can apply such serious messages to their work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take their work seriously. “Winning this third competition was probably the best feeling I’ve had in my life,” said Greg Ball, 25, captain of the Marrero Gang, a seven-person British team that won the Chase Tag World Championship. in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Whether you call it tig, tag or that, you undoubtedly played the game as a kid. Yet Hertfordshire-based Ball now plays at least twice a week in order to train for the annual competition broadcast on Channel 4 since 2019. Competitors chase each other around a quad full of obstacles and must score with their hands (feet don’t count).

Ball grew up in South Africa, where everyone played rugby – meaning that as a “very skinny little kid” he was constantly injured. “I prefer the idea of ​​running away from people than trying to confront them,” he laughs. In addition to participating in World Chase Tag, he also works as a sales representative for the competition, securing referrals.

“I think there was a huge doubt when I said I really wanted to do tagging for the rest of my life and make a career out of it. There was obviously laughter here and there,” Ball says. three wins and a strong online audience (the contest’s official YouTube channel has racked up 115 million views) mean Ball’s work is being taken more and more seriously, and like Max, Ball has honed his tactics.

“Herding, like a shepherd herds sheep, is when we round up our opponents in areas of the pitch where it’s easier to mark them,” says Ball. “Reverse regroup” means that when you gather the target somewhere, it is more difficult for them to catch you. “Duking” is when you bluff to go one way before moving on to the other. And as captain, Ball always makes sure his team is “physically and psychologically ready” to play.

“I think my life changed completely with this third victory,” said Ball, explaining that she “gave so much hope that I can actually do something with my life besides working an insignificant new job. at five”. Yet the winnings themselves, sadly, haven’t changed life – just a trophy the first year, £ 1,000 the next, then £ 1,500 split between the team in the third year.

“The hope is that over the next five years we’ll start to see a lot more money pouring into the sport, which means athletes can take it a little more seriously,” Ball said. “In the same way something like the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] has grown over the past 50 years, I honestly think in the next 50 years World Chase Tag will be on a similar playing field with some of the big, key sports. The same cannot be said of the Conker World Championships.

“I’m here to win, right? Most people are there for fun. But there’s no doubt about it – I’m coming to win, ”said Jasmine Tetley, 28, an environmental scientist from Nottingham and reigning World Championships champion from Conker for the past two consecutive years.

Surprisingly, Tetley never played conkers as a child – but since 2018 she has competed in the 56-year-old competition, in which hundreds of contestants swing to crush each other’s horse chestnut seeds. “About five years ago I said, ‘I want to be a world champion. It doesn’t matter what it is. So that’s what I decided to do, ”says Tetley. While the other players are wearing silly costumes and wigs, she is wearing sportswear. “It’s just about doing everything other athletes do: it’s about thinking about hydration, about food, about making sure you’re warm, that you have diapers, but that you are not limited. “

Tetley has devised a set of tactics using math, statistics and notes: “You have to play according to your wind conditions. But alas, there is no prize money, which means she may have chosen the wrong sport – in 2006 the USA champion Rock Paper Scissors League took home $ 50,000. Still, Tetley appreciates the trophy and crown she wore in the last competition, prompting the kids to ask her for her autograph. When asked what it feels like to have mastered a children’s game, she laughs, “I don’t think it’s a children’s game because I never played it when I was young.

The organizers of these kinds of events agree that they are more than just child’s play.

Giorgio Moratti is the founder of the World Hide and Seek Championship, which he launched in 2010 in his hometown of Bergamo, Italy. The game, he says, has a strong underlying philosophy, “It’s really important not to forget to live and have fun.”

Here’s how it basically works. On Fridays, the teams are greeted in the arena with concerts and food – there are no signs for the premieres, and people have to “look” for them by following the sound. Saturday, the games begin. There are normally around 400 players divided into 80 teams (Moratti says that in 2018 there were players from all continents of the world). There’s a bunch of little 10-minute games to help take down the losers, and then a final in which 20 teams go head to head on Sunday.

Many winning teams are mixed – Moratti says the men may be stronger and faster, but the women have “amazing ideas for hiding”. Take a year, for example, when a woman brought a camera with her to the event. “There’s a lot of TV and press, so she just took a camera and pretended to take pictures… It’s really smart,” says Moratti. She won this round.

“The prize is fame, of course,” Moratti said when asked what exactly the winners were getting. “You win a game that has been played around the world since the dawn of time, so it’s not really a small thing.” Winners also receive a medal engraved with a golden fig leaf, reminiscent of the ones Adam and Eve used to “hide” their naked bodies. There haven’t been any repeat winners, so theoretically everyone has a chance. “They also have to be a little crazy… that’s really one of the skills required to participate.

Whether it’s Simon Says, tag, conkers or hide and seek, the champions of children’s games all believe in the power of fun. Steve Max, professional Simon, remembers asking a veterans ward to raise his right hand in the air – a man got confused and raised his left hand. “So he put up his left hand by mistake. But he didn’t have a hand. He had lost it on serve, ”said Max – he decided to let the man stay in the game and everyone cheered. “I consider myself very lucky and very lucky to be able to do this for my career,” he says. “How does it feel to spend my life playing a children’s game?” Simon says: This is really excellent!

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About George H. McWhorter

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