Voluntary Insanity

Alcohol is pretty prevalent around the world. I recall being home during a heat wave in Europe and a German news station interviewing English people who were griping because there was a threat of low beer supply–as the weather grew warmer, people were drinking more beer (which would probably also happen to Germans, so I’m not sure what the news story was attempting to achieve). A hint I might supply people is that alcohol does not really hydrate you, in fact, it is diuretic, so you’re more likely to dehydrate yourself. We, as a culture at large, love our alcohol, though.

Fallout, Deus Ex, MMOs, and a smattering of other games see a plethora of booze. In some cases their presence is far more abundant than that of other consumable resources the game provides. Different categories of wine, beer, harder alcohols, and others we’ve never seen in our own world litter game spaces. If one is to look at art, alcohol is a very prominent entity, whether as an impetus or as a featured guest.

It’s usually amusing to try out the effects of alcohol on our characters, mainly because the effects vary wildly, and everyone has their interpretation of what this can provide: from status boosts and ailments to blurring the screen, causing doubled images, or other effects which don’t immediately come to mind. Here’s the thing though, it’s hard to capture being drunk in a game (or being on any substance, for that matter). But that’s not the point, is it?

Let’s look at this from the point of a player. Our character is drunk. Motor skills may become impaired and directing this character becomes somewhat more difficult. Suddenly the controls become less responsive, we might teeter from side to side, and it would generally be much more frustrating–except we decided to impair our characters, hence our ability to control said character. This is voluntary insanity we inflict upon our characters and upon our play experience.

Cognitively though?

Cognitively, the character may have some setbacks to wisdom or intelligence, as some games suggest, but we the players are not affected in any way. While drunk, our character’s choices are still wholly our own, and while we can hilariously decide to have said character make a less than ideal decision (even drunk, we do have decision making abilities, but sometimes are rather susceptible to not practicing the good ones), it is still completely in our own hands. Hence, the point of drinking in a game is not to actually capture the effects of being drunk–it can’t achieve it unless we, ourselves, decide to pursue the same libations (and since our character is symbolically drinking for us, why risk hangovers?). Instead, alcohol becomes purely a resource in the game world, perhaps even a prop with which we can enact scenarios that we could anyway if our character was sober, but it also signifies something greater–what it says about us.

Discussing his playthrough of Fallout 3 with Cap’n Perkins, he mentioned how the game paints humans as despicable persons. Those given some measure of safety (a la Rivet City) become alcoholic mothers and drug-addicted husbands while the rest of the DC wasteland sees Rivet City as some manner of bastion for mankind, and a paragon for future developments shrouded in mystery. This is hardly new to the series, as a world where Jet is a drug of choice and a primary source of the economy, providing a way to decimate whole towns at the whim of a pusher with an agenda. Given the option of attempting to better the world, these NPCs choose altering their own minds and escaping the reality with which we are willingly participating.

I’ve joked around that the amount of alcohol present in Fallout 3 will cause me to make an alcoholic next game–someone who is constantly swaggering around the wastes, slurring her speech, and being boisterously embarrassing to thankfully no one, as she is a stranger to all and I don’t have the text options of making a complete ass of her. The idea amuses me simply because having played through the game once already, I know there is never a shortage of supply for her rampant alcoholism.

While in the case of the Fallout universe this speaks to how pathetic we as humans can be when faced with an easy escape, it also speaks to the perception of how much of our economy is apparently strung along by its consumption (as are cigarettes, early on I found myself picking up cartons to sell for a relatively steady income). As a culture, we are obsessed with alcohol, and it just so happens to filter down into our games and how much is ready at hand for our ever-willing characters to chug and easily slip into binging. All the while, the choice still remains ours, and the characters in the game have no way to really discern alcohol-related decisions from the ones we make for them.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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3 Responses to Voluntary Insanity

  1. Ben Abraham says:

    On a funny aside I recall that in World of Warcraft in a certain town in an Outlands zone, if you got blind-stinking drunk… you could see some pink elephants that weren’t there otherwise. Which I thought was funny.Your idea of RP-ing as an alcoholic in FO3 always struck me as rather inspired. I’d been meaning to steal it since you first mentioned it sometime last month but I have sadly become exceedingly bored with Fallout 3. But with the GECK out now, I’m sure some cool new development will drag me back eventually.

  2. Sparky says:

    Well, I certainly agree that <>Fallout<> paints a pretty negative picture of humanity. I’m not sure whether to classify it as being pathetic or despairing, given the condition of mankind. It’s interesting that the weight mechanics make cigarettes, drugs, and ammunition some of the best items (value/weight) to collect for resale.Also curious: the game allows you to drink yourself silly, get high on hardcore drugs, and even eat human flesh… but you can’t smoke.

  3. Denis Farr says:

    @Ben: I recall seeing those pink elephants, but I quickly dropped the game thereafter.There are probably many other games in which to play the alcoholic, though.@Sparky: I would lean toward pathetic in that I do feel a pathos for many of them for the situation. Their situation is pathetic, this is not how we want to see human beings–how we want to see ourselves.The smoking thing struck me, but I wonder how they would have played that. This may have been merely overlooked, or something they could not figure into the equation.

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