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Rules of the Roadgames

I was driving Evan and Jake in to their basketball camp several mornings this past week, and they played some interesting games during the rides.  What struck me most about these games was the elasticity of the rules, and the fact that negotiating the rules consumed at least as much time as playing the games themselves ... and perhaps that was a good part of the fun, as well.

One game, Punch Buggy, involves identifying vehicles that granted the identifier rights to punch or poke the other player (I'm not sure how this would expand to multiplayer scenarios).  The first person to spot a Volkswagen Beetle shouts "punch buggy" and the color of the car (e.g., "punch buggy blue") and punches the other player.  The first to see a yellow vehicle yells "click it" and punches the other player.  Spying a Coca Cola truck provides a license to "poke" (because it rhymes with "coke"?) the other player.

Now this games seems simple, but complexities arise in practice.  For example, what if one person spots a yellow VW Beetle?  Is that "worth" two punches?  What if one yells "punch buggy yellow" and the other yells "click it"?  What if each player calls out simultaneously?  How often can the same vehicle be identified?  (We passed the same blue VW Beetle driving in the opposite direction two consecutive days; we also passed a parked yellow mini Cooper two days).  I'm just glad we didn't pass a Coca Cola bottling plant.

The other game is called Alphabet.  Each player starts on the letter "A" and tries to find a sign with a word that starts with the current letter; once such a sign is found, the player can advance to the next letter.  A word on a sign can be used by at most one of the players.  Negotiations took place regarding whether the letters had to be in words (e.g., did the "G" in "G-sale" count?) and whether hyphens counted as word boundaries (e.g., the "H" in "Adopt-a-highway").

I don't remember my childhood games being so filled with rule challenges and changes ... and I wonder why, as I've "matured", that I have such a hangup on searching for order and stability in the "rules" that govern my activities.  I'm reminded of Finite and Infinite Games, a book by James Carse; I don't remember much about the book, except that it, too, helped me question assumptions about games ... and gamesmanship.  I'm also reminded of Calvinball ... and wonder if maybe this flexibility in rules isn't more the norm than the exception, at least for kids (and tigers).

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