The Official Rules to ‘Shotgun!’
By Maelstrom Wordsley
The Shotgun! Institute at Cannabismuth
For more information and up-to-date news on marijuana, Shotgun!, bismuth and M. Wordsley’s publishing adventures,
Cover photo of the front seat is available under Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike licensing
Cover photo of the shotgun is available under Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike licensing
Shotgun! is a game, but it's a serious one -- it's a game for a purpose. If there's more than two people in a car, someone has to sit in the front seat. There has to be a way to decide who gets to sit in the front and who has to sit in the back. Shotgun! is the answer to that problem.
It’s not the only possible way to determine who sits in the front. Some might say that the oldest person should sit there, or whoever gets there first, or maybe the driver should simply pick the person he or she likes best. There’s certainly nothing wrong with these methods, but none of them have the cultural resonance or permanence of a game of Shotgun!.
Why does it even matter? The car moves at the same speed regardless. You’ll still get there at the same time no matter who sits in the front. There’s certainly an element of truth there; in effect, it doesn’t matter that much. It won’t change the price of tea in China (unless, I suppose, you are on your way to deliver a huge shipment of tea in China and the lack of a clear means to determine who sits in front delays you, disrupting supply for the entire country).
But in all practicality, it does matter, and I don't think anyone can deny that. The front seat is more comfortable. You can -- with the driver's permission, of course -- work the stereo and GPS; you can plug your cell phone into the charger; you can see out the windshield; if you're prone to carsickness, you're likely to feel better sitting in the front than the back. Additionally, people usually interpret the person sitting in the front seat as the one who is dearest to the driver; that's the driver's closest friend or most trusted companion. So there's both practical and social, symbolic reasons to want to sit up front.
With that said, some people prefer sitting in the back. There are a few circumstances where it's typical. People normally sit in the back of limousines, taxi cabs or other situations where a passenger is being chaffeured by a driver. But in ordinary social outings with friends and family, people generally prefer sitting up front. If there's only two people in the car -- a driver and a passenger -- then there is no problem. But if there's more than one, there has to be a system to determine who sits up front and who sits in the back. Anything else leads to chaos and disorder.
Are there any scenarios where the Shotgun! game is inappropriate? If seating is assigned by social convention, then you should absolutely not play. A child, for example, who has to be in a child-seat, must be in the back, so Shotgun! rules do not apply if there are only two adults (or teenagers or tweens, who are big enough they do not need child-seats). A woman typically gets to sit in the front seat -- which is blatantly sexist, but that's still the way it is -- especially if she is the driver's girlfriend, fiancee or wife. Women do sometimes play Shotgun! among themselves, but it is not common in mixed-gender company.
So it’s important that we have a system to determine who gets to sit in the front, and the system that has developed is Shotgun!! It began in the United States a long time ago (see the “Additional Information” section at the back of this e-pamphlet), and has now spread to much of the world, even in places where people don’t use English, and thus don’t even know what the word Shotgun! means.
Rule Number One
The person who yells Shotgun! first gets to sit in the front.
That might sound simple, but there's a lot of complications. Once people settled on that as a rule, they immediately started trying to game the system so that they would always come out on top (or in the front seat, in this case). From one perspective this is cheating -- it certainly violates the spirit of the game to call out Shotgun! for the return trip as soon as you arrive at your destination -- but on the other hand, what is the point of such a game if not to find a why to always shout Shotgun! first?
Making it impossible for anyone to take advantage of the game is what leads us to the rest of the rules.
Rule Number Two
You can not call Shotgun! until you are outside and heading towards the car.
This means that you can’t call it in the house before you leave, or while you dawdle outside trying to decide who’s coming with you. The game of Shotgun! only begins when the journey is in process, which you are outside and heading towards the car in order to depart.
If you are leaving an outdoors event -- such as a camping trip or concert in the park -- you must have departed the actual venue, meaning you have set foot outside the campground or concert venue.
You do not have to be entirely outside of the building or location before you call Shotgun!, just one foot past the threshold is enough.
Rule Number Three
Everyone who will be in the car when it is in motion must be able to see the car before anyone can call Shotgun!.
If one or more passengers are blind (hopefully not the driver), this rule obviously doesn’t exactly apply. But the passengers must still all be in a position where they could see the car, if they were capable of sight. If all of the passengers are blind, then the driver will have to alert them when the car is visible.
Rule Number Four
Everyone who will be in the car when it is in motion must be outside and heading towards the car before the game begins.
You may not call Shotgun! until everyone is outside. The destination has been decided upon, and everyone knows where you are going and who will be coming along, not to mention who will be driving. This rule is practical -- not everyone will want to sit in the front if the journey is long -- they may prefer to sleep in the backseat, for example -- and is only fair, as otherwise you might call Shotgun! before some riders even know they will be in the car at all.
Note that “outside” can mean just your first foot going past the threshold. It is valid to watch for that moment and call it as soon as it happens.
Also note that Shotgun! resets if someone goes back inside. The previous victory is then vacated, and anyone can call Shotgun! again when the last person again comes outside and is able to see the car.
Rule Number Five
You must say Shotgun!, but you may use any tone of voice. Mute people, or others who can not speak, are allowed to get the attention of the others through any means necessary, such as by pantomiming the use of a Shotgun!.
There are those who play with the rule that you have to shout it out loud enough that everyone can hear. This is not a valid rule because it is unfair and often rude. Not everyone wants to hear you yell Shotgun!, especially if you are leaving at night. Furthermore, some riders may be ill or hoarse or simply unable to shout loudly. The point of Shotgun! is to decide who will sit upfront, not distinguish between the loud and the not-loud. At minimum, one other player, or the driver, must be able to hear you.
Rule Number Six
Disputes are decided by the driver.
For example, if everyone says Shotgun! at the same time, or near enough that there is no unambiguous victor, the driver may simply choose who will sit up front. There is no disputing the driver’s decisions, even if they contravene other rules.
The driver may cancel the game of Shotgun! if necessary, such as because only one passenger knows how to get to the destination, and that person is needed up front to provide directions. The driver may also forbid a particular person from sitting up front for a period of time (or forever), perhaps as punishment for some other rule-violation.
Rule Number Seven
If it is not caused by cheating, actual presence trumps Shotgun!.
This means that if you sit in the front seat because you thought you were the only passenger, and you wait for a few minutes while the driver gets ready and decides to bring someone else, you do not need to call Shotgun!. You didn’t sit in the front in violation of the rules at the time you sat there, so the game doesn’t apply.
This does not grant you the right to run to the car and sit in the front seat before the actual Shotgun!-victor gets there. That’s cheating, and the driver should (but doesn’t have to) intervene to make you sit in the back.
Rule Number Eight
The use of the word car in these rules should not be taken to imply that the rules are different for other vehicles. Trucks, vans, boats, SUVs and any other vehicle should be substituted in the rules when appropriate.
Rule Number Nine
If the car is being driven by someone other than its owner -- such as because the owner is drunk -- then the game is invalid. The car's normal owner is the winner, no matter what else.
Rule Number Ten
Shotgun! is a game for men. It is widely considered inappropriate to play in mixed company. Some women do play it among themselves, but not groups consisting of both men and women.
If you are riding in a car with both men and women, you must volunteer the front seat to the women, especially if they are dating the driver.
Yes, this applies to lesbians too. Stop emailing me to ask about that.
Responsibility of the Shotgun!! Winner
Winning a game of Shotgun!! comes with duties in addition to the benefits and perks of the position. With great power comes great responsibility, as some famous fictional dead guy once said. That aphorism applies to Shotgun! winners as well.
First of all, you must be ready to provide directions and support in finding your destination. The driver may be distracted by driving, and need you to look for the correct street sign, for example. The people in the backseat don’t need to (and can’t effectively) look for street signs; that onus is on you, the Shotgun! rider.
What about GPS? Well, sure, in most cases that is a reasonable replacement for your duties. However, GPS is not always right, could break or cease functioning without warning, or otherwise not be effective. If you are sitting in the frontseat, it is your responsibility to be awake, alert and able to take over at a moment’s notice. It is not safe to rely entirely on functioning GPS to go to a place you don’t actually know how to get to. Maps (the kind made from dead trees and that don’t need electricity to be useful) are your friend.
Secondly, the Shotgun! rider must behave appropriately regarding the radio or stereo. If that's you, you must keep the music at a reasonable volume, playing something appropriate -- ideally something the entire car will enjoy, but at least something the driver will find pleasant.
Thirdly, if you are riding Shotgun!, you may need to intervene if the people in the backseat (especially children or stoners) are being irresponsible, distracting the driver in an unsafe manner.
Fourthly, you may need to answer the driver's cell phone if it rings while he or she is driving. Obviously, it would be unsafe and inappropriate for the driver to do so, so that burden must be on you. Note, however, that the danger from the driver answering the cell phone personally comes from the distraction of talking to someone who can not respond to the traffic (i.e. someone not in the car) -- that's why the use of hands-free headsets doesn't make answering one's cell phone in the car much safer. Therefore, when you answer the driver's cell phone, you should not distract the driver by merely being a go-between: that's no safer, or only barely safer, than the driver answering the phone. You should have a conversation with the caller, and tell that person that the driver can not talk because he or she is driving. If there is important information to share (e.g. the party will start late; the bridge has been flooded out; the driver's wife is sleeping with the mailman), you should determine when and how it is appropriate to share it. Do not simply relay every statement through the cell phone.
Fifthly, there is a mercy rule regarding carsickness. No one likes being carsick, and no one likes sitting in a car someone has recently puked in. If you have won the game of Shotgun! but another passenger is prone to carsickness, consider giving up the frontseat. It is a well-established fact that sitting in the frontseat reduces the risk and severity of carsickness.
Sixthly and lastly, you, the Shotgun! rider, must keep a close eye out for police speed traps. Warn the driver as soon as they are visible, or when you see signs of one, such as a car in the oncoming lane flashing its high beams at you. Drivers often have tunnel vision and don’t notice this sort of thing.
There is another game, very similar to Shotgun!, you can play in any situation where three passengers will be seated in the back seat. If you don't want to sit in the middle -- and let's face it, who does? -- you can call out no middle! The last person to do so must sit in the middle. Otherwise the rules are identical to the gmae of Shotgun!.
This adaptation of Shotgun! is often called Bitch! Or No bitch-seat! Those are not names I prefer due to their potential to cause offense, but if it feels appropriate for you, the driver and the other passengers to be yelling the word bitch, then you may certainly call it that.
The word "shotgun" has a variety of other meanings, which can be confusing for those who are not initiated. It is, of course, primarily and originally a type of firearm. It most typically fires a number of pellets (which are collectively called "shot"), but may also shoot an individual piece of metal (called a "slug"). One distinguishing characteristic is the absence of rifling, which is the ridged surface of the interior of the barrel -- shotguns have a smooth barrel instead.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries of the United States, people rode stagecoaches for travel. These were carriages pulled by horses. Stagecoaches often carried valuables, and were the frequent target of bandits. As a result, a practice arose wherein an individual would sit next to the driver in the front of the stagecoach, carrying a shotgun. If bandits attacked, it was this person’s responsibility to defend against their depradations. It was also hoped that bandits would see the person with a shotgun and wait for a differet stagecoach to rob.
That is where the game Shotgun! arose. Of course it wasn’t a game at the time, it was serious business, literally life-or-death. The position sitting next to the driver came to be called “shotgun” as result of this practice; the earliest recorded uses come from 1919.
The Shotgun! game spread across the United States in the mid to late 20th century, and then propagated across the Atlantic to Britain and beyond. By the early 21st century, people all over the world began using the Shotgun! game to determine who sat in the front seat of a car.
Other slang uses of the word shotgun arose in the United States in the 20th century. It’s not clear if any of these arose directly from the Shotgun! game, but there may be an unproven linguistic connection.
When smoking marijuana, you can give someone a 'shotgun'. That means you exhale the smoke directly from your lungs into theirs. There's a couple ways to do so -- you can simply blow, but the downside there is that some of the smoke always escapes. You can also use some sort of tube, such as an empty paper towel roll. Another popular option is for both the shotgunner and shotgunnee to form a tube by interlocking the fingers of their opposite hands (i.e. one person's left hand and the other's right). Blowing a shotgun is typically only done between close friends or romantic partners.
Another type of shotgun can only be performed with a joint or blunt, most typically a blunt. A blunt, for the unitiated, is essentially a joint rolled with cigar paper instead of cigarette paper. To blow a shotgun with a blunt, insert it backwards into your mouth, so the lit part is near your tongue -- obviously, keep your tongue away from the burning cherry to avoid injury. Then exhale, blowing the air from your lungs through the blunt (backwards) and into the other person's mouth. Again, a tube will be helpful to keep the smoke contained, or you can alternatively kiss the other person, if you have that kind of relationship.
But wait, there’s more! Shotgun has a third meaning in marijuana lore. This one is a bit archaic, but it used to be common to refer to a pipe used for smoking weed, especially a pipe that is made from improvised materials.
When drinking beer from aluminum cans, the word shotgun has a whole nother meaning. You have to poke a hole in the bottom of the can -- which has to be unopened at the top for this to work. Then immediately place the can over your mouth so that the beer will flow directly down your throat. You will be forced to drink the entire beer without stopping.
The player to the left of the dealer in a game of blackjack is also called a shotgun . A "shotgun approach" to a problem attempts to try every conceivable solution in the hopes that one will work -- it is an especially common concept in medicine. A "shotgun" house or home is one in which the doors open on a central corridor or hallway. In filmmaking, a "shotgun microphone" is aimed, rather than omnidirectional.
Shotgun! is a vital part of everyday life in the twenty-first century, and this ebook contains the most widely accepted rules to settle disputes and ensure a smooth trip to any destination. For those who don't know, Shotgun! is a game that serves a very useful purpose: determining who sits in the front seat of a car with more than one passenger. There are frequent arguments over what the rules to Shotgun! are, and this informative pamphlet will ensure those disputes are a thing of the past.