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Are Video Games Glorifying Alcoholism?

by Jori Hamilton on 08/20/19 10:16:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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Over 65% of American adults play video games. That’s a huge percentage, considering the stereotypes surrounding them. Because so much of the player base consists of adults, it makes sense that video game developers have created games with adult themes in mind. This includes everything from violence and sexual conduct to drinking and drug use — even substance abuse

While it’s easy to argue that video games are strictly used for entertainment purposes, it’s important to keep in mind that young people do still play them, even if they aren’t the biggest audience. Kids play video games too, and they can be quite impressionable. Therefore, understanding how games are depicting certain things, like drinking, is important.

Do video games glorify alcoholism, or do they portray it realistically? What’s the harm in a game making alcoholism seem “cool” or trendy? It could be more problematic than you might think. Before diving into how games portray alcoholism, let’s look at how it affects the body.

Drinking Is a Dangerous Game

Binge drinking has become a serious problem across the country, with over 26% of people ages 25-34 having five or more drinks at once in a 30-day period. Binge drinking comes with risks like injuries, alcohol poisoning, and neurological damage. 

Further, regularly drinking alcohol on a long-term basis comes with another set of potential health risks. Heavy alcohol use can lead to hypertension. So much so, in fact, that it’s estimated that nearly 10% of all high blood pressure cases in the United States have to do with too much alcohol consumption. 

Drinking can also damage almost every organ in your body when it’s done in excess, and can even cause varicose veins. Other potential health risks include: 

  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Memory issues
  • Depression or anxiety

Obviously, drinking isn’t something that should be promoted or glorified for entertainment purposes. Are video games showing the dangerous side of alcoholism, or are they glamorizing it?

The Depictions of Drinking in Video Games

Strangely enough, video games usually have somewhat odd and inaccurate ways of depicting drinking and alcoholism. In many cases, it’s depicted as something comical. Grand Theft Auto has a history of drinking in its video game series that usually results in extra dialogue between characters, some shaky, swaying camera movements, and eventually a blurred screen that leads to sobriety. 

If you play Grand Theft Auto Online, the rules change. There is actually a popular hidden “easter egg” within the game that you can only discover if you allow your character to become drunk

Meanwhile, Red Dead Redemption 2 has a mission where you’re required to get someone drunk in order to progress. Players have argued that the heavy use of whiskey and bourbon in these games is an accurate portrayal of the gritty Wild West at the time, but the storylines tend to go to extremes with just how much the characters focus on drinking. 

In Bioshock: Infinite, your character can drink unidentified alcohol from a flask to restore health. The drink causes immediate inebriation, and you learn through the game that the protagonist, Booker DeWitt, has a drinking problem. It’s interesting to see how alcohol both helps and hurts him throughout gameplay. 

Many times in video games, characters are defined by their drinking habits. It becomes a part of who they are and shapes the story of the game. Max Payne was an alcoholic and drug addict by the time Max Payne 3 was released. What’s interesting about this particular game is how it weaves Max’s addictions into the story, and it actually shows the downsides of what alcoholism really can do. There are cut scenes of Max having flashbacks in drunken state. He passes out. He has memories of younger, better days. Some call it a character study on addiction

The Problem With Excess

It’s hard to say for certain whether video games glorify alcoholism or not. One thing is certain: They tend to push the idea of alcohol to excess, one way or another. It’s rare that you’ll see a casual, moderate drinker in video games. Rather, the characters who drink tend to drink heavily. They use alcohol as a coping mechanism. No one goes into a bar for a beer and leaves right after. 

In showing these extremes, video games could actually be showing players the darker side of binge drinking and alcoholism. In many games, alcohol has a lot of power, and it can derail even the strongest main characters. 

So, is alcohol glorified in video games? It’s definitely overused, but there is rarely a game where alcohol is portrayed as a good thing or something that improves the lives of the characters in the game. While critics may argue that games glorify alcoholism (and some specific examples justify this sentiment), most games do just the opposite.

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