Marco Polo (game)

Marco Polo
Players 2 or more
Setup time < 1 minute
Playing time no limit
Random chance Low
Skill(s) required swimming, sound localization

The game Marco Polo i/ˈmɑːrk ˈpl/ is a form of tag played in a swimming pool.[1] The origin of the game is unknown.[2]


One player is chosen as "It". This player closes his or her eyes and tries to find and tag the other players without the use of vision. The player who is "It" shouts "Marco" and the other players must respond by shouting "Polo", which "It" uses to try to acoustically locate them. If a player is tagged, then that player becomes "It."[3]

The game can also be played on land, with slightly modified rules, or played with the addition of rules from Fish out of Water and others. It is similar to blind man's bluff, where one person is blindfolded while others choose hiding places around the room.


The game shares its name with the 13th-century Venetian trader and explorer Marco Polo.[4] Some etymological sources say it was named for him, but there are no documented reasons why he would be seen as connected with it. According to one whimsical explanation, "legend has it that the famed explorer didn't really have a clue as to where he was going, much like [the "It" person]".[5] WiseGeek says, "No one seems to know what the origins of the name are, although there are a number of apocryphal stories," adding "There does not appear to be any real link between the game of Marco Polo and the explorer of the same name, despite the creative efforts by some people, and it is hard to determine when the first game of Marco Polo was played."[6]

The game has similar traits with blind man's bluff (essentially the same game played on dry land) and can be considered an offshoot. Wisegeek notes, "Blind man's bluff dates back to at least the 1500s, and it was once a very popular parlor game, especially with ladies."[6] Marco Polo was known as a water game in America by the 1960s. Between 1965 and 1970, some respondents to a Dictionary of American Regional English survey, when asked to name a game played in the water, responded with "Marco Polo."[7]

Although water polo was another popular pool game at the time, the name of the game 'Marco Polo' is apparently unrelated.[8]

In modern times, Marco Polo has been played worldwide. Various regions have their own versions of the game,[6] with names such as Mermaid on the Rocks and Alligator.[9] The term "marco polo game" is sometimes used to describe an online game where a similar call-and-response system of gameplay is adopted.[9]


Marco Polo is an "easily modifiable game", and is based on the notion of call-and-response.[9] Marco Polo is not a location-based game because players are confined to a set space and because players must locate each other using auditory clues.[9] Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society argues "there is bipolarity in the reversal of roles...there are repeated actions, a routine to be repeated, rules to be observed, and verbal signs to be used".[9] Playing this game can allow children to experiment with different social roles, for example learning what it means to be an outcast in the role of "It" (isolated, confined to a space, and unable to see others).[9] According to the Nevada Regional Medical Center, "Marco Polo is not only fun, it can be a good workout. It also puts less stress on your bones and joints because the water makes your body float."[10]


  1. Bittarello, Maria Beatrice (2009). "Marco Polo". In Rodney P. Carlisle. Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society. SAGE. ISBN 1-4129-6670-1.
  2. editor, Rodney P. Carlisle, general (2009). Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society. Los Angeles: SAGE. p. 376. ISBN 978-1-4129-6670-2. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  3. Jeffrey, Phillip; Mike Blackstock; Matthias Finke; Anthony Tang; Rodger Lea; Meghan Deutscher; Kento Miyaoku. "Chasing the Fugitive on Campus: Designing a Location-based Game for Collaborative Play". Proceedings of CGSA 2006 Symposium. Canadian Games Study Association.
  4. "Marco Polo". Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  5. "Marco Polo - Retroland". Retroland. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 "What Is the Game Marco Polo?". wiseGEEK. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  7. Games Played In The Water Dictionary of American Regional English Survey.
  8. "Polo / Marco Polo". Word Detective. September 15, 2010. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society - Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  10. "The Nevada Daily Mail - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 10 September 2014.
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