Video games

Comparing gaming to social drinking

I often get asked why I enjoy playing games in my adulthood. I’m tired of that question, but let’s try a less-trodden idea. Gaming isn’t that different to social drinking if you really think about it. Consumption of alcohol is normal in most societies, and it’s done for a wide variety of purposes, such as to share news, meet up with friends, and celebrate.

It’s a good example to use for the normality, sociability (and downsides) of video games.

An idea

Many people find drinking liberating, to free up their concerns and inhibitions, helping them relax with others. Interestingly most people I know who play video games do so for many of the same reasons – to experience a life slightly outside of “themselves” and to explore ideas they wouldn’t normally. To experiment with behaviour in a similar way to how people who drink can pin their “out of sorts” self to the booze rather than their own behaviour.

Both gaming and drinking can be an excuse for people to act in ways they society would not normally let them – to say things that would be otherwise out of order. This is shown in our experience of games day in day out, but is perhaps best shown by the growing bravado that seems to come with playing games online, where people say and do things safe in the relative anonymity of the internet.

It can also be as simple as acting out scenarios in games that we would not normally find ourselves doing. We make decisions far from our own moral compass, killing people (as an extreme example) leading people along with a lie, or simply stating things in another way to how we would in real life.

One of the only differences between the two pastimes is that social drinking is often perceived as an adequate use of time – where as gaming is not. This is primarily because drinking is a historical sociable pastime, whereas games are still struggling with its less than social reputation.

My experience

To put it another way – gaming is another form of social lubricant, I have met most of the people I am close to through video games and games continue to be important for most gamers, as another way to interact with our social circles.

Playing games are not yet part of social normality, but I think gaming does perform many of the same tasks as social drinking in situations where lots of people are involved – the influx of party games, phone games and the proliferation of console gaming in homes are good examples of this and inspire those who may not have considered games before to give it a go collaboratively.

I suspect one of the few differences is that gaming is too young to have become as much of a social norm as drinking. Despite this most of our gaming experiences now are with others – even if they’re not played collaboratively they become talking points that we can elaborate on, as we share things between ourselves.

This is because despite widespread perceptions of our hobby, video games are inclusive – allowing everyone to have a go, and there isn’t much of the historical peer pressure associated with drinking. Culturally video games are my preferable replacement to drinking, because they’re not a social norm yet, I feel that responsible gamers have to be ambassadors for our pastime – proving that we’re normal, well-rounded members of society, just like most drinkers are.

Possible problems

Like any pastime or joy things can be taken to the extremes. Many more people have an over-reliance on drink than they’d care to admit. We have a particular problem with binge-drinking in the UK, both gaming and drinking have had their fair share of national and international public outcry.

No one is denying that both gaming and drinking can have adverse effects, but in my experience it is usually a minority of the people partaking in both things that take them to the extreme. A small percentage of the British public are problem drinkers, but there are an even larger portion of the population drinking more than the recommended weekly amount of units, (not to mention the fact that binge drinking costs the UK economy about £20 billion a year). People are doing this for a variety of reasons – to cope with stress, to relax or to socialise with others, and that’s an extremely familiar concept.

Most of the time both of these pastimes are a way to relax and enjoy the company of others, just occasionally though they can also be about having a coping mechanism, and there is definitely more appreciation and consideration given to those who drink to relax compared to those that do other things. Bad behaviour when drinking is pinned on the playfulness of drink, minor indiscretions that are “harmless” and can be ignored. Bad behaviour as a result of gaming is supposedly because games provoke violent tendencies, addiction and social ineptness and this perception needs to change. It’s quite a double-standard.

5 replies on “Comparing gaming to social drinking”

An interesting subject. Sadly, I still feel myself very reluctant to tell people I don’t know well of my passion for gaming thanks to the connotations that still linger on. It’s usually when somebody else mentions it that I have that “Ah ha! You too?” moment where I finally feel comfortable talking up a storm.

Are they really comparable? Gaming has some bloody huge barriers to entry compared to drinking – you have to decide on a platform, shell out hundreds for it, buy games that cost more than most drinks, continually keep up with the trends of social gaming (play what everyone else is playing), and spend time teaching newcomers the basics of whatever you’re playing. Many people won’t have the time, or the money, or the patience. And even if you’re somebody who prefers to visit others to play rather than own a machine yourself, you have to be sure that there are games out there that cater for your level of skill.

Conversely, anyone can drink if they’re above the age of consent, doing so is cheap, you don’t have to worry about your tipple of choice, and it’s completely effortless. The problem with gaming isn’t just the social stigma, it’s all the hoops you have to jump through to enjoy yourself. The closest parallel is mobile gaming at the moment, and that’s hardly a “social” gaming platform unless you include comparing high scores on GameCenter. 😛

Yes, I obviously think they’re comparable, did you read the whole article?

I also think that the idea of drinking being cheap is a complete fallacy, you’re confusing initial cost with cost over time, if you think about it drinking on a regular basis actually costs you more per hour or per week, you’re just spreading the cost over a longer period.

What about all the money you spend buying drinks for others, travelling to and from your location and all the associated costs? Not to mention the impact on your health and the already mentioned cost to the economy. I can’t find any figures on the cost of gaming to the economy – why? because they’re minuscule.

As you become more of an accustomed drinker you have you drink more and more to get anything close to the sensations you got when you first started drinking, and that all adds up, in more ways than one.

Also the perception that gaming has a bigger barrier to entry it just that – a perception, in the same way that people that grew up without mobile phones, computers or televisions find them bewildering, it’s a lack of desire to try it rather than a lack of ability, everyone is more than capable, we’ve merely had longer to do it.

You don’t have to do any of the stuff that you mention with gaming, you can do as much or as little as you want, that’s the beauty of it, I think it’s wonderfully inclusive, and there’s no hangover. :p

Hah! My first thought was: Of course! A group of drunk, rowdy teenagers gather in a derelict warehouse and proceed to run around, beating the crap out of one another in a woefully uncoordinated way, while screaming grammatically-challenged insults at one another. That adequately describes post-pub activity and multiplayer gaming for me.

Now, drinking AND gaming, there’s a combination to truly fear!

“Culturally video games are my preferable replacement to drinking, because they’re not a social norm yet, I feel that responsible gamers have to be ambassadors for our pastime – proving that we’re normal, well-rounded members of society, just like most drinkers are.”

To this point, you are bang on, as with most things in this world you can have your fun pretty much any way you want to; just do it in moderation and don’t hurt anyone whilst doing it. Once mainstream news media and society have moved (evolved might be a better term) on a bit, and gaming has become as common and widespread a thing as drinking (or films, or books or music for that matter) then we can all band together to hate on the next form of entertainment to come around.

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