When I was little, I always used to look forwards to the last day of school. Not just because it meant that the holidays were close, but because it meant we were allowed to bring in games. One year I brought in the game KerPlunk, a game about carefully removing straws stuck through a tube, trying to avoid disturbing the marbles balanced on them – which would otherwise lead to the eponymous noise.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Having carefully set it up, it turned out what my peers actually wanted to do was to pull out all the straws at the same time, in order to make the loudest KerPlunk they could.

I hated it.

Six-year-old me really couldn’t see the point. Why waste all that set up time (a couple of minutes seeming like an age for a six-year-old) on such a short and unsatisfying experience? I couldn’t articulate it then, but I wanted more. I wanted the building tension as straw after straw came out. I wanted to have to decide what risk to take. I wanted the cascade of marbles to signify a deserved win or a loss to avenge next time.

In short, I wanted the KerPlunk to mean something.

To my mind, not playing the game according to the rules was just another way that my peers Did Stuff Wrong (along with being noisy in class and not joining my picking up litter club and helping me Save The World). It reinforced my feelings of being different, and I just couldn’t relate to the other kids. Surely you followed the rules. That’s what rules were for. Of course I was right about everything.

Luckily I grew up and out of that attitude. The problem was never that they didn’t play according to the rules, or at least not really. No, the problem was that we were wanting and expecting different kinds of fun. For me, a slow build up and sudden release of tension, while they just wanted to get to the latter. What I hadn’t realised back then, but do now, is that there’s nothing pure or divine about a set of rules – they’re just as fallible as the people who make them, and as varied. Which is just as well, as we can all want different kinds of fun – and that’s what the rules are there for – to help us have fun. If they get in the way, they need changing.

There are plenty of games I don’t like, but other people love, and that’s great. There are house rules I love, and house rules I hate, and that’s OK too. And there are plenty of new game styles and new sets of rules I’ve yet to discover. Maybe, with the right group, I’ll even break some of them.

KerPlunk. That’s the noise of old preconceptions falling away.

1 Comment

Getting encouragement – Michael Conterio · March 19, 2021 at 12:00 pm

[…] by the fact that last month (sadly too long ago for the show to still be available), a recording of my blog post about Kerplunk and wanting to follow the rules was featured on BBC Cambridgeshire: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09514dh . I was really […]

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