On the Architecture of the Folk Game: The Case of 'The Floor is Lava'

20 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2018  

Tim Hwang

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory

Date Written: February 12, 2018


Foursquare. Hopscotch. Duck, Duck, Goose. While styles of play vary, one striking aspect of children’s folk games is their ubiquity. This characteristic poses an interesting puzzle: how do the folk games of childhood begin? How do they spread across great distances and persist across multiple generations of children? Why are they adopted in certain geographies, among certain socioeconomic groups, and certain age cohorts? How do they disappear?

Folklorists of childhood have tended to emphasize the ways in which social networks and meeting points between children act as transmission points. The playground, summer camp, and school serve as prominent scenes of transaction in this work. These accounts rely on a social mode of transmission: a play practice is learned, modified, and transmitted among children in their interactions with one another.

This paper offers a conjecture around an alternative mode of diffusion that emanates from the built landscape itself. It explores the notion that vernacular architecture contains a latent space of games which can facilitate the simultaneous, independent discovery of a game across geographies. It leverages what Gary Fine dubs a “ecotypic” approach to folklore, one which looks at the relationship between children’s lore and the environment that it takes place within. In doing so, this analysis aims to propose one causal link bridging broader economic, political, and social forces with the playful spaces they often accidentally create.

The paper proceeds in three parts. First, the paper proposes a set of relationships between games and physical spaces. Second, it examines one case study for this conjecture, looking at the game “The Floor is Lava” and its relationship to the development of the suburban home of the United States in the mid- to late-20th century. Third, it will lay out a research agenda based on this initial analysis, suggesting a set of further explorations on the topic.

Keywords: games, folk games, architecture, floor is lava

Suggested Citation

Hwang, Tim, On the Architecture of the Folk Game: The Case of 'The Floor is Lava' (February 12, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3122458 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3122458

Tim Hwang (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory ( email )

20 Ames St.
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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