Culture Conversation: Heads Up Seven Up

I spend a significant amount of my Internet time researching stuff that is not particularly new or timely but catches my interest, and I inevitably end up thinking about it through some cultural lens. Here is the first post of a new series that chronicles this aspect of my Internet adventures.  I encourage you to share and become a part of the cultural conversation. 

My mom substitute teaches at my old elementary school. She came home for a quick lunch today, because they’ve put the kids on “rainy day schedule” (a shorter lunch indoors) since it’s so hot and the kids shouldn’t be outside. Before leaving, she told me she was going to go play Heads Up Seven Up, a school game I had completely forgotten about. We used to play it in elementary school, regardless of the teacher or grade. If you don’t know what Heads Up Seven Up is, the first description on this page is a solid explanation. At my elementary school, we never did any variation on the basic premise — no one ever had to share something about themselves or their culture, which is also apparently a common variation. I remember now that even as an elementary school student it was basically impossible to figure out who had tagged you, unless you cheated and looked at the person’s shoes or one of your friends happened to be a tagger. But I started thinking about Heads Up Seven Up and its cultural influence, and went down a research rabbit hole.
1. Apparently this is a game that people have been playing for a long time. Googling it gets me nearly 53 million hits on how to play it and what it is, and the first results are from a lot of teaching, sociology and parenting blogs. “Heads up seven up drinking game” is also a suggested search, which I find amusing. But that helps to suggest something about the basis of the child’s game apparently has staying power. It’s probably because it’s easy to teach and kids like the novelty of it — at my school, for example, it seemed like it was exclusively for rainy day schedule. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything about the origin of the game. If you find something, I’d be curious to know who came up with it and its story.
2. Because elementary school in particular (and games and play in general) is about socialization and refining motor skills, it makes sense that this could be a covert educational attempt. This blog post talks about how adding the “tell something about your culture” aspect and making it an icebreaker could help students understand each other better at an earlier age, as well as how to listen. We played it with no variation, so I have no idea what it was supposed to be teaching us beyond what other people’s touches felt like and how people can play mind and guessing games with you. I guess in one way that’s educational, but a very twisted way.
3. Regardless of where you’re from, there’s a large chance you know or have experienced this kind of game. I know it’s been awhile, but I do not ever remember having to stop and explain the game to new students. Everyone just knew how to play it. The gameplay is easy, but I think it’s important to note. There are just things that everyone knows how to do, which I think just has to to do with the power of socialization. Take playground rhymes, for example: do you even remember learning the words to “Ring Around the Rosie” and “Miss Mary Mack” and ever realizing what they meant? Or do you remember learning how to play hide-and-go-seek? And how did kids in California and kids in Maine know the same rhymes and games, pre-technology? And how are they perpetuated? Folklore is creepy. I haven’t been able to find anything for confirmation, but my guess is that children’s publishing was just that prevalent and the minimal pair rhyming of a lot of these songs just stick in kids’ heads. Siblings and family members also have a lot of influence in passing it on.  Heads Up Seven Up isn’t quite equivalent with metafolklore since it seems to be exclusively a classroom thing, but the basic idea that we’re all related in weird ways is fascinating and important. Beyond interests in media or hobbies, there’s this underlying thread that connects most people in the form of childhood games and rhymes, which is touchingly and uniquely human.
4. This t-shirt is a thing and I don’t know why. I remember not being particularly great at the game, but the fact that this is a shirt you can buy as an adult and that people know exactly what it means is overwhelming.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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