Drink Up! It’s All Fun and Games…Or Is It?

English: Beginning of a Flip cup game
English: Beginning of a Flip cup game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night at a 3oth birthday party for my friend Bill, I was in the company of some younger adults who had just reached anothr coming-of-age milestone:  21!

The younger folks were the creative / designer / web developer types.  Which means that they are super-cool but don’t know it and have limited capability for social interaction without first getting medicated / lubricated / etc.

So, the first thing on the agenda upon their arrival was a drinking game.  They chose flip-cup and decided that we all were to play. It was Friday night, so I mustered up my youthful enthusiasm and played along. For those unfamiliar with flip-cup…please see the instructional video below:

http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-play-beer-games-flip-cup

There are many drinking games to choose from.  This along with Beer Pong are new American college favorites, but there are many other drinking games from around the world:

http://regretfulmorning.com/2009/10/getting-smashed-international-drinking-games/

It got this anthropologist / sociologist wondering about the functional role of drinking games as well as their cultural significance.  Generally speaking, games and play in childhood are meant to socialize us and prepare us for life as an adult and our various roles responsibilities and career options.  We play with dolls, play doctor, build things with blocks and fake tools, play team sports to learn to work together towards a common goal and play board games like monopoly and Life to train our brains.  Many of these activities carry into adulthood for other reasons: e.g. sports to keep us fit and be social, board games for the same  social reasons albeit to keep our brains fit, etc.

I believe drinking games are preparing us for something different, however.  Perhaps the art of functional alcoholism?  Admitting that life is hard and the we need something to keep us from going off the edge, so we had better learn how to get drunk and function at the same time?  Or at least learn what our limits are lest we try and go out into the world not being able to hold our booze.  It’s an important lesson and one you can’t really start learning until adulthood (or shouldn’t, anyhow) because our bodies are not prepared to process alcohol until we have had a couple of decades of development.  Which explains why the games start in college or young adulthood.

So, there’s the functional social role of learning how to drink.  But then there’s the cultural piece.  Drinking allows you to let down your guard and be more social.  Hence the aforementioned twenty one year old adorkable flip-cup players.  Becoming an adult and putting yourself in situations with strangers can be intimidating.  When entering a new “tribe” it is important to show that you are not a threat and  / or that you have good intentions.  By allowing yourself to be slightly impaired you are committing to your good intentions and giving license for everyone else to do the same.  Breaking the ice and moving on.

Then there is the connection to masculinity:  not in all cultures, but in pockets of American Culture as well as many European cultures.  There is something about having a higher tolerance and being able to drink copious amounts of alcohol that some how signifies a man’s credibility as masculine.  This and the ability to tolerate pain…and I suppose alcohol abuse is really just another way to damage your body.  The side effect of this cultural phenomenon / tradition, however, points to increased likelihood for irrational violence and other social penalties.  So, its’ all fun and games until someone ends up sprawled out and bloody  on the floor or in jail or worse.

That being said, I am terrible at drinking games.  I am, however, GREAT at mixing cocktails and love to enjoy them in any kind of company.  I find the art of being able to craft a culinary cocktail tells people you respect their good taste, but understand that the drinking part of the evening is still important so we can all get along.

And all this narcissistic anthropologist wants is for us all to get along.  So, drink up!

🙂

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3 thoughts on “Drink Up! It’s All Fun and Games…Or Is It?

  1. This made me remember something that happened when I recently visited DC:

    My female friend, who is 22, just moved into a house with eight boys at the start of the summer. I went to visit the first week, to help her settle in, and the night I got into town the house was having a “family dinner.” They were then hosting a bunch of people to pre-game before going out. The dinner, which my friend prepared, was an admittedly decadent one, including pulled pork sandwiches, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, stuffed and bacon wrapped jalepeno peppers, and chocolate cake. After dinner, a few members of the house looked pretty full, but this didn’t stop them from beginning the pre-gaming process. Within an hour, all nine members of the house were in the full swing of drinking.

    The game the house started out with was something deemed “Beerio-kart,” which makes use of the video game Mario Kart. Playing four at a time, drivers representing different characters in the game are required to chug a beer before finishing their laps around the course. The game moves quickly, and within 15 minutes, it is likely that whoever is playing will have chugged at least two beers.

    The people playing this game, remember, had just indulged in a feast of sorts, and most of them began complaining that they were really full. At one point, during the 3rd or 4th round of Beerio-kart, one of the boys got up and left the room for a while. When he returned, he openly admitted that he felt better because he had just gone and forced himself to vomit.

    Now, as an anthropologist and a woman, I was both fascinated and shocked. In most parts of American culture, binging and purging is associated with eating disorders – especially if a woman adopts the behavior. But when drinking is involved, is the stigma automatically removed in some circles? Or just among men? Or just among really close friends?

    Whatever the case, thanks for your thoughts!

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