When I went to my first game jam, I didn’t think I would be able to do anything. It was Global Game Jam 2013, and I already had made my first game, but there was still a sort of imposter’s syndrome about. The most accessible game making tool most people recognized at the time was Unity, and the new wave of DIY hadn’t yet reached the corners of the net. When people were pairing up, there was little need for someone who was just a designer in an environment where you had to get a digital game up and running within 48 hours. Like many other celebratory events about games, the focus can be prohibitively technocentrist, and that women who showed up were usually visual artists or volunteers showed that there was deeper work to confront around the kinds of events we codify as a part of maker culture.
Thankfully, I ended up creating a card game with other women and having a lot of fun doing it. It started a tradition for me to bring materials for non-digital game making to hopefully attract other people who wouldn’t fit into making a video game. I think a lot about shifting the center of games to an attitude where accessible game design is the norm, where digital games aren’t what first come to mind. Thinking about game jams with just bodies, or markers, or other easily obtained and usable materials that don’t necessarily require a special skill to make a basic design with. After the game jam, a friend and I thought up of one such idea: a drinking game jam.
A couple years later, I’ve repeated the idea enough to embolden some friends to organize a jam for making drinking games, and had a really good time. Besides the obvious benefit (or detriment, depending on the perspective), there is a common experience with playing drinking games, down to the same basic kinds: Kings (Circle of Fire), Flipcup, beer pong, these games go by a lot of different names, but they are a sort of (at least American) cultural pastime, passed down year after year like we were yearning for them all our lives. What are drinking games really doing in our culture? What are their functions, and what would we be messing with to create something new?
We started this discussion to get ideas flowing to start our games. First, was a general explanation of what a canonical drinking game is: a game where drinking is the result of some performance test, or is the main act of performance. The main tension that popped up for me was the ambiguity of whether drinking was a punishment or a reward, after all, when playing a drinking game, you mean to drink in the first place and to get comfortable with friends, and being sober around a lot of drunk people is not usually a common goal. Creating a difficult choice between drinking and another action appealed to me, like having to confess an emotion or drink, or some other lose-lose situation. We also noted that most drinking games are designed for skill level to steadily deteriorate once you’ve started to take some hits and drink, that is, the parts of your brain that is affected by alcohol will be the parts needed to avoid drinking.
There is also the why. Most found that drinking games are more of a reason to facilitate drinking itself; you have friends, you have booze, now here’s a reason why you will be drinking it. Some want to get completely wasted, or get at least get to a place in a certain amount of time that they can’t unaided. I was fascinated with the less mechanistic reasons we drink, like for getting to know each other. Games like Never Have I Ever also let people get to know each other, typically with things we wouldn’t readily admit. And that’s an aspect of our culture that I wished to prod, that we often use alcohol in order to be vulnerable, to admit and share things, or to do risky behavior. What kinds of games could we make around that?
After we broke out and started creating things however, we found how really difficult it was to make these more intimate games right off the bat. There were other factors involved with drinking games, such as having very few, simple rules, and low-risk enough behavior in the beginning so strangers could be comfortable enough to play with each other. I am loathe to say that my social experiment drinking game fell very easily to a mechanistic card game, and for the most part, things biased in that direction. But I think if I were to do this with the same crowd a second time, we could dig a little deeper. What is an art drinking game? I will leave that with you.
With the theme of Mischief and Subterfuge, here are some of the drinking games we jammed out and you are more than welcome to try out at your next gathering:
This is the main game I worked on. It felt like a classic quick card game you’d find at parties. This works best if the shots you have are particularly strong or distinct tasting. We had some pretty gross honey whiskey or something, that wasn’t so bad as a half shot, but god I got the full shot once and I hated myself. I just had to be stubborn and understand the authentic experience by not playtesting with water… It’s a really fun information gathering game, where you have to scout out what cards are in the game and try to get as much in the middle as you can. We ended up editing this a little to be fairer to the first player, where it’s not just the card you have in your hand at the end of the game that determines whether you’re the highest or lowest, but the sum of it and the card you originally discarded.
I watched many people play this game, and it was very entertaining to watch. It’s a reflex game, which also feels pretty classic for drinking, and one that rapidly deteriorates as time goes on. Once you play through a couple rounds it becomes almost instinctive, and you just speed through and drink a whole bunch. The tension between watching your opponent and trying to anticipate what drink you need to signal is really enjoyable, most rounds are just always weird hilarious fuck ups.
The most dangerous game of all, mostly because it doesn’t actually have an ending condition (“sufficiently drunk” is a decision I don’t think sufficiently drunk people can make). It is reminiscent of power hours, where you are just biding your time until you take a drink. It felt like one you’d play at a bar or around a table where you’d be having a conversation otherwise. You don’t necessarily need to concentrate hard on playing, as it’s mostly luck and a bit of maneuvering to set up your friends to drink more. I do like that it is inherently social without it being in the rules, and also a little malevolent at the same time.
There were a couple of games that didn’t have the rules drawn up, but I thought were pretty good. One was called, I believe, Soul Search, which was closest to a purposefully social and icebreaker type game. It inverts Never Have I Ever, saying something you have done instead of something you haven’t. Inspired by Dixit’s judging rules, you won your turn if you said something you’ve done that only one other person playing has also done. On the game table, there are shot glasses of a cheap, less fancy beer and a few of a nicer, craft one (this is definitely a game for beer snobs) that you got to drink if you won your round. If more than one other person did that same thing, you all had to drink the crappy beer, and if no one else has done it, you don’t get to drink anything. It was during this game that I heard people genuinely ask about each other and tell stories, and was one of the more off-the-cuff games to get created. The game ends when the good beer is finished, and just one standard bottle size worked as a good timer of sorts.
The other was unnamed, or possibly called Red/Black, which was an unfinished concept that I was really into. Everyone was randomly dealt two cards, and could play one card a turn. On your turn, you chose another person to play a card with, and you can put down either a red or black card. If one of you put down a red card and the other black, the person who put down the black one doesn’t get to draw back up to two cards while the red player could, and has to take a shot. Two reds meant both took shots but both drew back up to two. Two black ones made the two players allies, and whenever one loses a card or takes a shot, all people in the alliance had to do the same. I’m a particular fan of hidden information and social dynamics, and I ended up playing a round playtested without the shots (because we literally would have been dead if so) by rebelling against a large alliance, eventually getting absorbed into it, kicked out, and then killing them all at once. I would really like to see it evolved and worked on, since logistics definitely needed adjustments so players wouldn’t need to go to the hospital, plus it was fun to see the strategy personalities some newer friends I’ve met had, and I imagine with drinking involved, it would turn into mayhem.
I definitely want to try a drinking game jam again, and also think up a lot of other jams using other cultural and material conventions that more people can relate to. Outside of the fact that it was a reason to drink a lot with friends, I enjoyed how many non-games people were involved, learning to make games because it spoke to their lives in a way that made sense. There is also something to being able to playtest a game that all you have to do is discuss and right down the rules, since we made and tested these games within 4-5 hours instead of 48. It feels more attainable, relevant, and hey, I now have some new party games I can feasibly use with friends.
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