Earlier in the week, I came across a link to the trailer for the documentary “Murderball”. It looks like an interesting little film, but when I first saw the words “murderball” I thought it would be a documentary about a very different type of “sport”. The Murderball that I know is the one that I remember from grade school.

Like many schoolyard games of the time, Murderball had a very crude but appropriate name. I can’t fully remember the “rules” of the game, but it basically consisted of one “player” standing against the school wall while other people whipped tennis balls at him. He had to face the throwers and could only move along the wall to avoid the throws, and if he got hit… well, too bad. I can’t remember what (if any) was the mechanic of determining who went to the wall and when, but I don’t think it really mattered. The game was just an excuse for youthful violence.

A similar game, “Red Ass”, I remember more fondly. In Red Ass, players would whip the tennis ball against the wall. On its return, someone had to attempt to catch it. If they failed — in other words, if it touched them on the body or escaped their grip — they were, essentially, “it” and had to run to the wall and touch it to become neutral. The name of the game arose from what happened when a player was “it”. If someone was running for the wall, they were a free target. You were supposed to whip the ball at them. If you were quick enough (or if they weren’t evasive enough) you’d hit their backside with the ball. Ideally, you’d hit them hard.

Of course, the option to never play the ball was always present, but if you never touched it, you’d never have the chance to hurt your friends (or enemies). At that point, you would just be spectating and that wouldn’t be as fun, for to have fun in “Red Ass” is to manage risk vs. reward.

I think there were many variants to these games, and they merged together quite often, but for the most part they were ruleless. Play for the sake of play. Video games seem limited by comparison.

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