Thinking About Drinking Games
Drinking games always leave me with a lot of questions. It’s not anything about how they’re played, but more about their names, players, or general existence. Two that I could never figure out: Why do some people call it beer pong and others Beirut? And, why are girls so good at flip cup?
The question that I want to think about today is a bit different: Where do drinking games fit in the broader beer culture?
When I think of drinking games, the first thing that comes to mind is obviously the combination of fun and competition. But it’s tough to ignore the fact that two other defining characteristics are cheap, watery beer and fast drinking. It’s no shock that these two go together, but it always catches me off guard when someone who enjoys sophisticated beers is suddenly polishing off a dozen Miller Lights. How is it possible for someone to spend one night recording details of the aroma and subtle flavors of a $10 beer, then start the next night drinking Milwaukee’s Best out of a Solo cup, frisbee, boot, or anything else?
I don’t have a great answer, but my best thought is that it goes back to the fact that drinking beer is inherently an inclusive, social activity. While many college freshmen and university administrators might beg to differ, the basic message in inviting someone to drink with you is “I’m enjoying myself, you should too.” Whether tossing a beer to a friend who just showed up at the party or enjoying a beer with your parents, the message of common enjoyment–or, depending on the drinking game, at least common experience–is clear.
For many, drinking games are the most obvious manifestation of this sense of community. While they are inherently competitive, they facilitate engagement with those around you in a way that is difficult to replicate. They lead to heckling, pride, surprise, showing one’s skill, and sometimes deep thought. Glimpses into others’ thoughts and perspective constantly emerge as they establish their roles in the game and the group.
But as this happens, everyone involved is also making a commitment to join each other on a bit of a journey. We’ve all played drinking games with someone who clearly didn’t want to be there; he drank a little bit, didn’t really bother trying to keep up, and never really understood the rules. Nobody likes this guy because this guy hasn’t made the same commitment to competition, drinking, and the inevitable drunkenness that follows. This commitment brings everyone involved together, and while some may end up drinking far more than others, the joint understanding entering the game was the implicit promise needed to form a bond.
In looking back, I’m not quite sure I fully addressed some of the original questions I had, but that’s fine. Beer is meant to be enjoyed, and that fulfillment can come in many forms. Someone who can appreciate beer in any number of forms is, in my mind, the epitome of a good beer drinker. Not necessarily because of insightful taste or because he somehow always rolls the Mexican, but because he understands what beer is all about. And because they make the most of any opportunity to enjoy beer with others.