Tag (game)

Last updated

Jongensspelen 10.jpg
A Dutch cartoon of children playing tag, 1860s
Players2 or more
Setup time0 to 1 minutes
Playing timeNo limit
Random chanceLow
Skills required Running, stalking, hiding, observation

Tag (also called tig, it, tiggy, tips, tick, tip) is a playground game involving two or more players chasing other players in an attempt to "tag" and mark them out of play, usually by touching with a hand. There are many variations; most forms have no teams, scores, or equipment. Usually, when a person is tagged, the tagger says, "Tag, you're 'it'!" The last one tagged during tag is "it" for the next round.


Basic rules

Children playing a version of tag Children playing tag.jpg
Children playing a version of tag

Players (two or more) decide who is going to be "it", often using a counting-out game such as eeny, meeny, miny, moe. The player selected to be "it" then chases the others, attempting to "tag" one of them (by touching them with a hand) as the others try to avoid being tagged. [1] A tag makes the tagged player "it". In some variations, the previous "it" is no longer "it" and the game can continue indefinitely, while in others, both players remain "it" and the game ends when all players have become "it".

Many variants modify the rules for team play or place restrictions on tagged players' behavior. A simple variation makes tag an elimination game, so that tagged drop out of play. [2] Some variants have a rule preventing a player from tagging the person who has just tagged them (known as "no tag-backs", "no catch-backs", "no returns", "can't tag your master" or "can't get the butcher back"). [3]

Base and truce terms

Players may be safe from being tagged under certain circumstances: if they are within a pre-determined area, off the ground, or when touching a particular structure. Traditional variants are Wood tag (see knock on wood), Iron tag, and Stone tag, when a player is safe when touching the named material. [3] This safe zone has been called a "gool", "ghoul", or "Dell", [4] [5] probably a corruption of "goal". [6] The term "gool" was first recorded in print in Massachusetts in the 1870s, and is common in the northern states of the US. Variants include gould, goul, and ghoul, and alternatives include base and home. [7] In the United Kingdom, the base is frequently known as "den". In much of Canada and parts of the northern United States, the state or home base of being immune from tagging is known as "times" or "T", most likely as mutilation of "time out".

Players may also make themselves safe from being tagged by the use of a truce term. When playing the game tag, some may cross fingers to let others know that they, the player, cannot be it. Yet, this rule may come into play only if the crossing of fingers is shown; if the fingers are not shown to the person who is it, then the crossing does not count.

Bans and restrictions

Tag and other chasing games have been banned in some schools in the United States due to concerns about injuries, complaints from children that it can lead to harassment and bullying, and that there is an aspect to the game that possesses an unhealthily predatory element to its nature. [8] [9] In 2008, a 10-year-old boy in Omaha, Nebraska, died from brain injuries suffered from falling onto a metal pole while playing tag. [10] A school dinner lady in Dorset was left partially paralyzed after a boy playing tag ran into her in 2004; her damage claim was rejected by three Court of Appeal judges, who ruled that the boy had not broken any school rules by playing the game. [11]

A principal who banned tag in her school criticized the game for creating a "self-esteem issue" in nominating one child as a victim, and noted that the oldest and biggest children usually dominate the game. [12] A dislike of elimination games is another reason for banning tag. [13] In some schools only supervised tag is allowed, sometimes with a type of tagging called butterfly tagging—a light tap on the shoulders, arms or upper back. [14]

The president of the US National Association for Sport and Physical Education said that "Tag games are not inherently bad ... teachers must modify rules, select appropriate boundaries and equipment, and make sure pupils are safe. Teachers should emphasize tag games that develop self-improvement, participation, fair play, and cooperation." [13]


British bulldog

The game "British bulldog" (sometimes also called Bullrush, Cat and Mouse, Red Rover, Cats and Mice, sharks and dolphins, Sharks and Minnows, Spiders and Flies, or Octopus or Open the gates (in South Africa)) is mainly played in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and other Commonwealth countries. It is banned from many schools.[ citation needed ] One or two players start as the "bulldogs", who stand in the middle of the play area, while the other players stand at one end of the area. The aim is to run from one end of the area to the other without being caught by the bulldogs. When a player is caught, they become a bulldog themselves. The winner is the last player "free". [15]

Duck, duck, goose

How duck, duck, goose is played Duckduckgoose.gif
How duck, duck, goose is played

In this game, usually played by young children, the players sit in a circle facing inward. One player, the "picker" or "fox", walks around tapping or pointing to each player in turn, calling each of them a "duck", until finally announcing one of his choosing to be the "goose". The goose then rises and runs around the circle in the same direction as the picker, attempting to return to their seat before the "picker" can sit back down in the vacated spot. In Minnesota, this game is referred to as "Duck, duck, gray duck". [16]

Freeze tag

Freeze tag is a variation of classic tag. A player is deemed "it." When a person is tagged by "it", they are then "frozen" (staying still in the place where they were tagged). All "unfrozen" players still in play can then touch frozen players to "unfreeze" them, allowing them to be back in play. The game ends when "it" freezes all but one of the players who is then typically "it" during the next game.

Kiss chase

Kiss chase, also referred to as Catch and Kiss, is a tag variant in which tagging is performed by kissing. [1] All members of one sex are "it" at once and chase players of the opposite sex until everyone is caught, then the roles are reversed. [17] A variant is that the player chosen to be "it" will, with assistance from players of the same gender, chase all members of the opposite sex and kiss one of them.

Octopus tag

Octopus tag is a mix between Red Rover and tag. [18] "It", or "octopus", attempts to tag the other players. The playing field is known as the ocean. The players, or "fish", line up along one side of the ocean. When the Octopus calls out, "Come fishies come!", "Octopus!", or a matching attribute of one or more fishes, they try to run to the other side without getting tagged. In a variation, once the fish run to the other side without getting tagged, the game pauses until the octopus starts it again. Upon getting tagged the fish become "seaweed" and must freeze or sit where they were tagged, but they can wave their arms around and assist the Octopus in tagging other fish within their reach. The last fish to be tagged becomes the next Octopus. This game can also be played in the water and then it is called Sharks and Minnows.[ citation needed ]


In the game of Poison, play starts with players holding hands around a small "poison" circle marked on the ground. The first player to be pushed or pulled into the circle become "poisoned", all hands are released and the poisoned player or players must chase the others.

Team tag

Cops and robbers

Cops and robbers, sometimes called "jail", "jail tag", "team tag", "chase", "cowboys and indians", "police and thief", "prisoner's base" [19] "jailbreak", "releaseo" or "manhunt", [20] has players split into two teams: cops and robbers.

A. M. Burrage calls this version of the game "Smee" in his 1931 ghost story of the same name. [21] The cops, who are in pursuit of robbers (the team being chased), arrest the robbers by tagging the robbers and putting them in jail. Robbers can stage a jailbreak by tagging one of the prisoners in the jail without getting tagged themselves. [22] The game ends if all the robbers are in jail. In a variant, the robbers have five minutes to hide before being hunted, and only one jailbreak may be allowed per robber. In the videogame Mario Kart 8 Deluxe , a variation of the game is used for a Battle Mode minigame known as "Renegade Roundup". [23]

Zombie tag

Humans vs. Zombies is a survival game of tag, where "human" players fight off increasingly large numbers of "zombies"; if a human is "turned" (i.e. tagged), then that player also becomes a zombie. At the game's beginning, there are only one or two zombies; the zombies multiply by tagging humans, turning them into zombies after a period of one hour. Humans can defend themselves from zombies by using socks, marshmallows, Nerf Blasters or any other toys deemed safe and appropriate; if a zombie is hit by one of these, they are stunned (not allowed to interact with the game in any way) for 15 seconds. The goal of the zombies is to turn all the humans; the humans, meanwhile, must outlast all the zombies.


Manhunt is a mixture of hide and seek and tag, often played during the night. One person is "it", while the other players have to hide. Then, the person who is "it" tries to find and tag them. The game is over when all players are out. Manhunt is sometimes played in teams. In one variant there is a home base in which a player is safe. That version ends when all players who are not safe are out.

Prisoner's Base

In Prisoner's Base, each team starts in a chain, holding hands, with one end of the chain touching the base. The end two players on each team break from the chain and try to tag each other, taking them to their base if they do. The end pair progressively break from the chain and join the tagging. As with Cops and Robbers, prisoners can be freed by tagging them in the base. The game is thought to date back to the Renaissance period, and may be inspired by the act of bride kidnapping. [24] A game of Prisoner's Base was played by members of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery against a group of Nez Perce. [25] [26]

What's the time, Mr Wolf?

One player is chosen to be Mr Wolf and stands facing away from the other players at the opposite end of the playing field. All players except Mr Wolf chant in unison "What's the time, Mr Wolf?", and Mr Wolf will answer in one of two ways: Mr Wolf may call a time – usually an hour ending in "o'clock". The other players take that many steps towards Mr Wolf. They then ask the question again. Alternatively Mr Wolf may call "Dinner time!", and turn and chase the other players back to their starting point. If Mr Wolf tags a player, that player becomes Mr Wolf for the next round.


In Ringolevio, there are two teams. In one version, one team goes off and hides. The other team counts to a number such as 30 and then goes looking for them. Each team has its own "jail", a park bench or other defendable area in another version. The game goes on until all of one team is in jail. In many ways, Ringolevio is similar to Prisoner's Base.

Variants requiring equipment

The "Blind man's bluff" variant requires a blindfold to be played. Blindfold (PSF).png
The "Blind man's bluff" variant requires a blindfold to be played.

Some variants of tag use equipment such as balls, paintball guns, or even flashlights to replace tagging by hand.

Blind man's bluff

Blind man's bluff, also known as Mr Blind Man, is a version of tag in which one player, designated as "it", is blindfolded and attempts to tag the other players, while the other players try to avoid them.

Computer tag

Research students developed a version of tag played using handheld WiFi-enabled computers with GPS. [27] [28]

Flashlight tag

Flashlight tag, also called "Army tag", "Spotlight", and "German Spotlight", [29] is played at night. Rather than physically tagging, the "it" player tags by shining a flashlight beam on other players.

Fox and geese

A traditional type of line tag, sometimes played in snow, is Fox and geese. The fox starts at the centre of a spoked wheel, and the geese flee from the fox along the spokes and around the wheel. Geese that are tagged become foxes. The intersections of the spokes with the wheel are safe zones. [30]

Kick the can

One person is "it" and a can is placed in an open space. The other players run off and hide, then it tries to find and tag each of them. Tagged players are sent to jail. Any player who has not been caught can kick the can, setting the other players free from jail. [31]

Laser tag

Laser tag is similar to flashlight tag, but using special equipment to avoid the inevitable arguments that arise about whether one was actually tagged. Players carry guns that emit beams of light and wear electronic equipment that can detect the beams and register being hit. The equipment often has built-in scoring systems and various penalties for taking hits. Pay-per-game laser tag facilities are common in North America.

Marco Polo

An aquatic American variant of blind man's bluff, most commonly played in a swimming pool, although it may also be played while swimming in shallow natural bodies of water (typically the areas near the shores of oceans, seas, and lakes). The players may be swimming, treading water, or walking on the bottom of the pool or body of water. The person designated "it" is required to close their eyes, and shouts "Marco!" at regular intervals; the other players must shout "Polo!" in response. "It" must use sound localization to find one of the other players and tag them. The tagged player then generally becomes "it," and the process repeats. In some variants, if any of the players who are not "it" climb out of the water to ensure not being caught (depending on the variant, this may be cheating) and the player designated "it" suspects this, they are to shout "Fish out of water!" and can open their eyes briefly to confirm this. If their suspicions are correct, then the culprit must become "it" as the game starts over.


Muckle (sometimes called "muckle the man with the ball", "kill-the-guy-with-the-ball", "smear the queer", [32] "kill the carrier", among other names) is the reverse of regular tag; all the other players chase "it". This player is denoted by carrying a ball (usually a football). When they are caught, they are tackled, or "muckled". Whoever retrieves the ball first or whoever attacks the one who is it then becomes it. Sometimes the last player arriving to tackle the former ball carrier is the next person to be it; in other variations the player with the ball throws the ball up in the air, where it is caught by another player who becomes it.


Paintball is a sport in which players use compressed air guns (called paintball markers) to tag other players with paint-filled pellets. Games are usually played on commercial fields with a strict set of safety and gameplay rules.

Sock tag

A tube sock is filled with a small amount of flour in the toe of the sock; the sock is then gripped by the leg hole and wielded as a flail. Striking a player with any part of the sock counts as a tag. When the sock strikes the player, the impact releases enough flour to leave a mark which serves as proof that the player was tagged. [33] [34]


Spud is a tag variant that is best played in large, open areas. Players begin each round in a central location. "it" then throws a ball high into the air. The other players run but must stop as soon as "it" catches the ball and shouts "Spud!" It may then take three large steps toward the player of his choosing before throwing the ball at that player. If the ball hits the target, that player becomes it and the game starts over.

Team tag sports

In South Asia, two sports are variants of tag, played at the team level, sometimes internationally. In Kabaddi, raiders cross a dividing line to try to tag defenders, while continuously chanting "kabbadi" on one breath while over the line. [24] It is included in the Asian Games and even has a world championship, being played throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Iran, as well as in Indian communities in Canada, Great Britain, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. It was also demonstrated in 1936 Berlin Olympics. The other tag sport is called Kho Kho.

Tag or flag rugby is a non-contact variation in which each player wears a belt that has two velcro tags attached to it, or shorts with velcro patches. The mode of play is also similar to rugby league with attacking players attempting to dodge, evade and pass a rugby ball while defenders attempt to prevent them scoring by tagging – pulling a velcro attached tag from the ball carrier. However, the "tag" in "tag rugby" is derived from the "tags" that the players wear and the children's game of tag more closely resembles touch rugby whereby a touch replaces a tackle.

Origin of name

In 2018, the popular internet meme "How old when you were when you found out ____" began circulating stating that the meaning of the word tag was an acronym meaning 'touch and go'. [35] Investigation by snopes.com found this to be false. [36] According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the origin of the name 'tag' is unknown. [37]

See also

Related Research Articles

Hide-and-seek Childrens game

Hide-and-seek is a popular children's game in which at least two players conceal themselves in a set environment, to be found by one or more seekers. The game is played by one chosen player counting to a predetermined number with eyes closed while the other players hide. After reaching this number, the player who is "it" calls "Ready or not, here I come!" or "Coming, ready or not!" and then attempts to locate all concealed players.

Capture the flag Traditional outdoor sport

Capture the flag (CTF) is a traditional outdoor sport where two or more teams each have a flag and the objective is to capture the other team's flag, located at the team's "base", and bring it safely back to their own base. Enemy players can be "tagged" by players in their home territory and, depending on the rules, they may be out of the game, become members of the opposite team, sent back to their own territory, or frozen in place until freed by a member of their own team.

Kick the can Childrens game

Kick the can is an outdoor children's game related to tag, hide and seek, and capture the flag, played with as few as three to as many as several dozen players. The game is one of skill, strategy, stealth, and stamina.

Assassin is a live-action game in which players try to eliminate one another using mock weapons, in an effort to become the last surviving player.

Kickball Team sport

Kickball is a game and league game, similar to baseball. As in baseball, one team tries to score by having its players return a ball from home base to the field and then circle the bases, while the other team tries to stop them by tagging them "out" with the ball before they can return to the home base. Instead of hitting a small, hard ball with a bat, players kick an inflated rubber ball; this makes it more accessible to young children. As in baseball, teams alternate half-innings. The team with the most runs after a predefined number of innings wins.

Suicide, also known as Wall Ball, is a game typically played by children and teenagers. The rules vary widely from place to place; those given below are not necessarily a "standard" form of the rules.

What's the time, Mr Wolf? is a form of tag played in Australia, Belgium, Canada, the United States, the English-speaking Caribbean, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

British Bulldog is a tag-based playground and sporting game, regularly played in schoolyards and on athletic fields. Early descriptions appeared in the 1940s, e. g. in 1941 in the Canadian journal The School. Secondary Edition, published by the Ontario College of Education, University of Toronto, and in 1944 in Boys' Life magazine in an article by William "Bill" Hillcourt. The game is a descendant of chasing games that have been recorded from the 18th and 19th century and is played mainly in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries.

Forty Forty is a children's game combining elements of the games "It" and Hide and seek. One player is "on", or "It", and they must capture the other players by 'spying' them rather than by tagging.

Keep Away, also called Monkey in the Middle, Piggy in the Middle, Pickle in a Dish, or Pickle in the Middle, or Monkey, is a children's game in which two or more players must pass a ball to one another, while a player in the middle attempts to intercept it. The game could be considered a reverse form of dodgeball, because instead of trying to hit people in the middle with the ball, players attempt to keep the ball away from them. The game is played worldwide.

The game of Fugitive combines elements of a number of outdoor games such as capture the flag, cops and robbers, and Sharks and Minnows. In Fugitive, players divide into two teams, with each team playing the part either of the "fugitives" or of the "police". The cops are further divided into "runners", "drivers", and "riders."

Foot hockey is a sport related to hockey in which the only equipment is a ball, most commonly a tennis ball, that is kicked about the playing surface by the players in an attempt to score a goal on the opposing goaltender. It has been described as a "combination of hockey, soccer and handball" and "a form of soccer with a tennis ball". Foot hockey is played indoors or outdoors; footwear is optional indoors, but must be worn by either all or none of the players. It may be unisex or coed. Participation in foot hockey produced fewer catastrophic injuries than other winter sports in studies from 1986 to 1995.

Traditional Filipino games or indigenous games in the Philippines are games commonly played by children, usually using native materials or instruments. In the Philippines, due to limited resources for toys, Filipino children usually invent games without needing anything but the players themselves. Their games' complexity arises from their flexibility of thought and action.

Matball, known in some areas as Big Base, or Gaga ball, is a sport, usually played indoors and sometimes outdoors. Matball is a safe haven game similar to kickball, but with the key difference that bases are larger, often gym mats, and multiple runners can be on each base.

Darebase or dare base, also known as prisoners' base or Chevy Chace, and originally as bars, base or prisoners' bars, is a tag game between two or more teams on an open field that places a premium on speed and agility. Darebase holds some similarity to capture the flag in its basic premise of chase, capture, and conquer. It differs in that the game field consists of a large no-man's land with team bases occupying two opposite ends of the field and in the methods of achieving victory. A variation called stealbase uses an object that may be either touched or stolen to achieve victory.

Humans vs. Zombies

Humans vs. Zombies is a live-action game predominantly played at US college campuses. The storyline of the game dictates that players begin as Humans and try to survive a Zombie invasion. The ultimate goal of the game is for either all Humans to be turned into Zombies, or for the humans to survive a set amount of time. Humans can defend themselves using any item that is approved by a moderator and thereby deemed safe and appropriate. The most common equipment includes balled up socks, marshmallows, and foam dart blasters. Humans may throw or launch these items at Zombies, who become stunned once hit. Safe zones are also established so that players can eat and sleep in safety. Zombies, on the other hand, are unarmed and must tag Humans to gain a kill. In some cases, if a kill is not made within a set time period, Zombies "starve" and are removed from the field of play.

Pie (game)

Pie or Pieman Pieman, is an outdoor game for more than three children. Its origin is unknown. A variant exists called Easter Eggs.

Duck, duck, goose Childrens chasing game

Duck, Duck, Goose is a traditional children's game often first learned in preschool or kindergarten. The game may be later adapted on the playground for early elementary students. The object of this game is to walk in a circle, tapping on each player's head until one is finally chosen; the chosen player must then chase the picker to avoid becoming the next picker.

Poison is a traditional children's game, a variant of the game of tag. Jessie H. Bancroft's 1909 book Games for the Playground... describes it as follows.


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