Previously: The Alice Game.
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Here’s one I’ve been thinking about for a while: Ma Lon, a Vietnamese ghost game that entails summoning a spirit into an empty can, then running away from the possessed can as it tries to chase you. Indeed, the phrase “ma lon” translates to something like “spirit of the can” or “ghost can” in English — that is, the game is literally what it says on the tin. (Har har.)
The reason I say I’ve been thinking about this one for a while is that a TGIMM reader from Vietnam actually detailed one way to play it in the comments of our piece on the game Deadman’s Tag way back in 2018. Since then, I’ve discovered that numerous variations on the game exist — although interestingly, it’s mostly just the smaller details that change from version to version: Performing the game at midday vs. midnight, for example; incorporating a cigarette in addition to using incense vs. using only incense (don’t worry — no one actually needs to smoke the cigarette); or the complexity of the chant used to summon the spirit.
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This suggests to me that this particular game might be a little more forgiving than some of the others we’ve looked at here in the past. It seems to allow for personalization; what’s more, you won’t necessarily be penalized or suffer anything untoward if you change things up a bit. The important thing, as TGIMM’s commenter noted in their post, is to be respectful, no matter what else you do. (To see how that reader plays Ma Lon, head here.)
As always, though, low stakes doesn’t mean no stakes.
So: Play at your own risk.
- At least two participants.
- An empty, metal can. (See: Additional Notes.)
- Candy, sweets, or other treats — enough to fill the can.
- One to three sticks of incense, plus something to hold it. (See: Possible Variations.)
- One cigarette, plus something to hold it. (Optional; see: Possible Variations.)
- Matches or a lighter.
- A large, clear, outdoor area in which to play. (See: Additional Notes.)
- Field marking chalk. (Optional; see: Possible Variations.)
- First, choose a time to play. (See: Possible Variations.)
- Shortly before your chosen time, gather together all players and supplies at your playing space — that is, the outdoor location at which you have chosen to play.
- If using the field marking chalk, use it to outline the boundaries of your playing space. If not using the field marking chalk, simply come to an agreement among players as to where the boundaries of the playing space are.
- Place the incense holder on the ground within the boundaries of the playing space and use it to secure the sticks of incense.
- If using the cigarette, place whatever you have chosen to hold it on the ground near the incense and use it to secure the cigarette, as well.
- Place the empty can upside down in front of the incense.
- Place the candy or sweets around the can. (See: Possible Variations.)
- Using the matches or lighter, light the incense and, if using, the cigarette.
- Gather all the players around the can, incense, and sweets.
- Together, in unison, chant aloud the following phrase: “Ma ơi mày hãy ra đây chơi với tao”—or, in English, “Ghost, please come out and play with us.” (See: Possible Variations.)
- If using the cigarette, watch it carefully:
- If it simply burns: The ritual has failed; do not proceed. Extinguish the incense and cigarette, pack up your supplies, and vacate the area. You may try again another time.
- If it begins to flare in such a way that it looks as if someone unseen is smoking it: The ritual has succeeded. You may proceed.
- NOTE: If not using the cigarette, disregard this step and instead proceed directly to The Invitation: Step 12.
- Now, watch the can. It may, at this point, begin moving. Do not be alarmed — but: Get moving. Run. The game has now begun.
- You must now do whatever you can to avoid the can. Think of it as a game of tag: The can is It; the participants are the players It is trying to tag.
- Also, keep an eye on the incense.
- Keep moving, but do NOT exit the boundaries of the playing space — whether you physically marked them or not.
- Keep an eye on the incense.
- Do not let the can catch you.
- Keep an eye on the incense.
- If the can knocks against your heel, ankle, or elsewhere on your foot and/or leg, you have been caught. To be caught is to be eliminated; if you become eliminated, remove yourself to the side of the playing space and wait until the game has concluded.
- Keep an eye on the incense.
- The game ends either when all the participants have been eliminated, or the incense has burned out — whichever comes first.
- After the game has concluded, extinguish the incense and/or cigarette if necessary (e.g. if the game ends with all participants being eliminated while the incense is still lit), thank your opponent for their time, pack up your supplies, and vacate the area.
- Dispose of the remains of the incense, the cigarette (if using), the can, and the sweets.
- NOTE: Although you may consume the sweets after the game has concluded, it is NOT recommended that you do so. (See: Additional Notes.)
- You may play again at a later date if you so desire.
This game may be played with one participant; however, it is recommended that it only be undertaken by groups of two or more. As a general rule, the fewer players, the more difficult the game — which means that, when played solo, it is nearly impossible to win.
That said, there do not appear to be any negative consequences for losing the game — so long as participants are respectful. Do not be a sore loser. (Or an arrogant winner, for that matter.)
Some sources specify that this game may only be played by children — either between the ages of 10 and 13, or under 10 only, depending on the source. Others, however, do not specify an age range or limit. Should you attempt to play this at an age outside of any range or limits, and are not successful, it is possible you are simply too old or young for success to be achieved.
Regarding the can: Most sources recommend using the kind that packages canned goods such as condensed milk, beans, vegetables, etc., rather than, say, a soda or beverage can. Choose your can wisely.
Regarding the playing space: A field, churchyard, cemetery, or other similar space is recommended. The important thing is that the space be mostly clear — that is, without a lot of obstacles or places to hide. Remember, this is a game, not of hide-and-seek.
If you are eliminated, you will be marked with a small bruise. Do not attempt to hide that you have been eliminated in order to remain in the game; this mark will make it impossible to do so. Besides, no one likes a cheater — especially your opponent.
Regarding the sweets: It is at minimum rude or disrespectful for humans to eat foodstuffs used as offerings for the dead after they have served their purpose. Furthermore, to consume these former offerings may even invite bad luck to attend you. As such, it is NOT recommended that you eat the sweets after finishing the game — or that you allow anyone else to eat them, either.
You may terminate or “force-quit” the ritual early by manually extinguishing the incense while the game is still in play. Note, however, that doing so may not be as simple as it seems. You may encounter resistance or obstacles as you attempt to do so — although you may not necessarily be able to see the cause. If you must force-quit the ritual before it reaches a natural conclusion, it is recommended that participants team up on the attempt, charging at least one participant with causing a distraction while another extinguishes the incense.
Many variations on this game exist. Factors which may be altered or adjusted include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Time of day. Some sources recommend playing at noon, as that is known to be the time at which spirits are most interested in seeking out offerings (e.g. sweets); others recommend playing at midnight, as that as when spirits are going about their regular lives; and still others recommend playing anytime from 8pm onward.
- Date. Many sources do not specify a particular date on which the game must be played; however, others recommend performing it on the night of a full moon for best results.
- Cigarette vs. no cigarette. Many sources suggest a cigarette be utilized as an indicator of when the game has successfully begun; however, not all sources state that it is a requirement. If you are unable to procure a cigarette, or simply do not wish to use one, you may play without one.
- One vs. three sticks of incense. The number of incense sticks required to play vary from source to source. If you choose to use three instead of one, they must all be lit as close to simultaneously as possible. The game is over when all three sticks have burned out.
- Incense and/or cigarette holder. The incense may be held in place by any number of items, ranging from an actual incense burner to a cup, jar, or other receptacle filled with rice or sand. If using the cigarette in conjunction with the incense, and/or if using more than one stick of incense, the jar-plus-rice-or-sand method is recommended: You may use it to secure both the incense and the cigarette simply by planting each item in the rice or sand, lit end up.
- Placement of the sweets. Instead of placing the sweets in front of the can during The Invitation: Step 7, you may place them within the can — that is, pile the sweets on the ground, then place the can, upside down, over the pile of sweets.
- Boundary markers. You may choose to delineate the boundaries of your playing space with field marking chalk, or not. Regardless, do NOT step outside the playing space while the game is in action.
- The chant.
- Many different chants may be used during The Invitation: Step 10. You may even invent your own chant, if you like. The only requirements are that the words you speak invite the spirit into the can to play with you, and that the chant as a whole be respectful.
- You may also either choose to have all the players chant together in unison, or you may designate one player to speak the chant for the group. If you are using a complicated or invented chant, you may find it simpler to designate one chanter, rather than having the group chant together.
- It is not known whether the chant must be spoken in Vietnamese, or whether it is permissible to chant in other languages. You may attempt whichever language you like, although note that whether or not you achieve success may or may not be affected by this factor.
- Elimination vs. escape. According to some sources, being caught by the can does not necessarily result in elimination. One possible variant states that you may escape the can, either by taking evasive actions or by prompting it to switch its focus to another participant, and continue playing after a successful escape. If you choose to play without elimination, the game concludes either when the incense burns out, or if the participants decide to terminate or force-quit.
If you play the game using a particular set of these and/or other options and do not achieve success, consider making a few adjustments and trying again another time.
A Final Warning:
NOTE: The spirit in the can MAY NOT BE YOUR ONLY OPPONENT.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking it is.
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[Photo via tookapic/Pixabay]