One of the most interesting things revealed amid Inside Xbox was Night School Studio's Afterparty, an adventure game that stresses narrative and utilizes drinking mechanics in an interesting way. Very few games have developed the drinking minigame well, though if anyone can do it, it's Night School. Oxenfree, another of their narrative-rich adventure games, proves of their talent not only in storytelling and dialogue but in overall design as well. Afterparty's premise centers around two friends, Lola and Milo, as they attempt to free themselves from Hell through the art of drinking. It's pleasantly hilarious and is also well-crafted, as evidenced by the Epic Games Store page, which reads:
"Control Milo and Lola with an intelligent conversation system that changes the story and your relationships based on every decision. Uncover their personality quirks and foggy history during the wild events of the night."
Curious as it is exciting, Afterparty will certainly be a delight upon its release come October 29. But the real question still remains: whatever happened to great in-game drinking and, more importantly, how can it be done well in the same vein as Afterparty?
The Reality of Virtual Drinking
A large majority of games tend to offer some sort of drinking component, whether that be in relieving the character's health while also impairing sight and controls (BioShock), or simply the latter (Grand Theft Auto). Other games add a more strategical and creative aspect to drinking, such as Fallout and Watch Dogs. Instead of health, Bethesda utilized stats as a measure of their drinking component, though if players became addicted, stats would decrease. In Watch Dogs, Ubisoft's 2014 open-world hacker with an exciting sequel on the way, Aiden Pearce could go on a drinking spree in various bars throughout Chicago, targeting and effectively beating the top drinkers in their respective parts of the city. As a minigame, drinking was made cumbersome and difficult in light of it being a challenge.
Making it both fun and annoying seems perfect in sending a good message, that drinking leads to addiction if not kept in check, but there are better ways of pulling this off while keeping it interesting. As Riley Macleod says in his article on Kotaku:
"In games, drinking’s only consequences are either ‘hilariously’ falling down the stairs or ruining your entire life."
He notes how some characters in gaming dramatically highlight the pitfalls of drinking and alcoholism itself, such as Max Payne, Firewatch's Henry, Stardew Valley's Pam, and even BioShock Infinite's Booker DeWitt. He forgets to mention two games that literally screamed these proponents, Layers of Fear and the canceled P.T. In the former, players control a protagonist who sees himself as a painter yet, in reality, is a troubled alcoholic spiraling further into dangerous levels of depression. This same concept is mirrored in P.T., wherein the protagonist must now suffer an unending hallway with a presence that is always watching due to his drunken transgressions in the past. It seems these games seek to both highlight the downfalls that plague drinking while also making it funny and laughable in other titles. It's an interesting (and unstable) dichotomy.
Stressing Responsibility And Safe Drinking
Though it's from 2015 and based in Europe, a study done on "Alcohol and Tabacco Content in Games..." notes the following:
"In univariable analyses, the odds of ever trying alcohol were significantly associated with playing at least one of the 17 games, ever playing video games rated 18+ years, and playing video games rated 18+ years at least once per week."
So, how does one make drinking fun in games while keeping it responsible, as well?
One of the best missions in Red Dead Redemption II involves the player getting piss drunk with Lenny in Valentine. After some laughs and a myriad of brews, Arthur must then search the place hammered looking for him. Though only a mere moment crammed into an ever-larger narrative with countless missions even more explosive and wild than this, Lenny and Arthur's drunken foray at the Valentine saloon somehow just hit a special chord (and will be interesting to see with RDRII on PC). In the Witcher 3, Geralt of Rivia enjoys much-needed levity with some of his Witcher pals. Like in Red Dead, players must then go on a quest to find Eskel whilst drunk beyond belief, impairing even Geralt's Witcher senses to a degree.
In some distant memory, most likely locked away, we've all had to look for our friend at the bar and it turned out just as futile. This is what makes these moments memorable and will also challenge us to learn and to know when to stop. Drinking is fun, but in excess, it can be detrimentally world-crushing, as so evidenced by many other titles in the industry.
Instead of these lopsided views on the nature of drinking, making it both fun and hilarious while also life-ending and detrimental, videogames should stress their concept. Drinking with friends can be memorable and lead to some long-standing moments cherished for a lifetime. One just needs to be wary and know exactly when to stop.
It's all fun and games until it's a game no longer. Caution and stability are the keys to victory.