Friends Playing Video GamesPhoto Credit: Thinkstock
South Bend, Indiana. 2001.
I entered my friend Terrence’s room. It was Friday night. I was bored. Terrence had a Sega Dreamcast and Virtua Tennis, and I had two 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor. Game on.
“Hey Terrence,” I said. “I’m gonna play some Sega. Cool?”
“Cool,” he said. “But, I’m studying for an exam, so, try to keep it down, cool?”
I fired up the Dreamcast and started drinking 80-ounces of malt liquor. Mind you,I was drinking it casually, as if it were an afternoon cup of coffee. I took control of Tommy Haas who, under my dominion, started doling out a convincing, thorough beatdowns of opposing players.
Anyway, as you might imagine, the two gigantic bottles of hobo soda rocked me pretty good. At some point some other guys came in and some things happened and the next thing I know, lights are off, “party lights” are on, and the last thing I remember is someone saying “Remember when we kicked Germany’s ass in Pearl Harbor!?” and everyone started screaming and cheering and punching things.
And all the while, poor Terrence sat there trying to study.
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That was the first foray into drinking and video games that I can remember. But lord almighty, it was not the last. That was my freshman year — a year that was marked by many evenings of beer-fueled Super Smash Bros. (Luigi ftw!). Then came sophomore year. That was the year of Tommy Vercetti’s reign of terror in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, as well a lot of throwback time spent on NHL ‘95. Junior year, I eschewed the Xbox and PS2 for the Nintendo Gamecube, where I set some records with drunk Animal Crossing. And senior year? Why, that was reserved for Knights of the Old Republic.
For all of those: drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk.
This might sound like I have a problem. But I disagree. If you’ve never had more than a few while playing a video game, you’re missing out. Why, just the other day I found myself sipping on a doppelbock while fiddling around with Bioshock: Infinite. It’s one of life’s little joys.
So. Understood. You can drink while playing a video game and have a blast.
But can you tailgate while watching a video game?
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“NOOOOOOOOOOPE,” some of you are screaming. And your reservations are understandable. After all, treating video games as a spectator event in and of itself feels… weird. Then again, if you’re saying that, then clearly you’ve never seen the joyous 1989 masterpiece The Wizard, in which Fred Savage and Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame) lead a young boy to play a round of Mario 3 in front of a raucous, live studio audience. It’s excellent. Beau Bridges and Christian Slater are in it. And they’ve never steered us wrong.
But that’s besides the point. The point is, there’s precedent here. If you’re still not convinced, grab a beer and watch this video of a sociopath surfing on cars, which he then immediately crashes in spectacular fashion. Tell me that’s not an enjoyable way to spend five minutes. And if you still need convincing, consider this: there’s already a whole bunch of people that tailgate for video games, and they’re having the time of their lives.
The event in question is called “Barcraft.” It’s an international phenomenon whereby bars across the globe host drinkers who hoist pint after pint while watch major tournaments of Starcraft II, a game which, by all accounts, is probably the most popular spectator video game/e-sport out there. And that sentence was so weird to type that I’m going to go take a bite out of a bar of soap.
If you’ve never played or heard of Starcraft before, here’s a quick primer: starting with nothing but a single building, you need to establish an entire self-sustaining military compound in real time. That means that you need to dedicate resources to gathering money and fuel, all the while preparing defenses for your base, establishing a robust economy and then rolling out an army of land and air units to wipe your opponent off the map. Meanwhile, that person is trying to do the same thing.
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Another wrinkle worth noting, there are three different armies you can choose from, all with different attributes. Think of it almost like the Saints (pass heavy), the Vikings (ground and pound) and Miami of yesteryear (Wildcat). There are three different approaches to the same game; each has its strengths and weaknesses. This, obviously, creates a good bit of intrigue and tension. And intrigue and tension are always fun to watch.
Meanwhile, the players are celebrities. This is, in part, because they’re often brash and competitive. Also, in part, because they train like lunatics. Rumor has it that some attach sandbags to their hands and wrists to build dexterity and strength. They do that, so they can do this.
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Watch that video! Look at it! I can’t even watch that fast, nevermind the fact that this player is thinking AND ACTING that quickly! (For an added bonus, check out the end of the video, where the player actually autographs the mousepad he was playing on.)
And around all this — a popular video game, celebrity players — a tailgating culture has evolved. Unlikely as it sounds, it’s true. A friend of mine — an avid Barcraft attendee — says that it’s like “going to your favorite bar and watching the Olympics.” If you’d like to see it for yourself, here you go. Something that rowdy, to me, absolutely screams “tailgate.”
Now, granted, it’s not your typical tailgate. And once again, we’re straying ever farther from the tried and true “grilling in a football parking lot.” But look at the joy and enthusiasm on these folks’ faces, and tell me that they’re not doing what a tailgate sets out to do: sharing in some revelry and camaraderie while watching your favorite spectator activity.
Is it weird? Sure. Is it unexpected? Yep. But when you get right down to it, how much weirder is it than seeing lightning-fast 300-pound linemen knock the beans out of each other? I say: it’s a celebration of life. And frankly, that’s just about all I need to count it as a tailgate.