Friday, September 25, 2009

Tickled Pink: Brewfest – Happy Hour or Horrible Hangover?

We’re halfway through the biggest booze holiday of the year, Brewfest. The inhabitants of Azeroth are gathering to swing their goblets. They’re running rams, engaging into bar fights and filling our bags with jugs, silly hats and all sorts of crap. Above all they’re more or less constantly drunk, pending on a scale between tipsy and smashed, depending on how long it was since they did their last achievement.

There has been a lot of enthusiasm for Brewfest in the blogosphere the last few days. Several bloggers have pointed it out as their favourite holiday event. There are cheers and happy cry-outs all over the place (with one exception).

Since The Pink Pigtail Inn is run as a virtual pub, you could expect the innkeeper and bartender to join the choir, praising this celebration to Bacchus, which definitely will increase the sales of this business considerably. But strangely enough our landlords don’t seem to be entirely pleased. Someone is grumbling in the corner.

Let’s hear what they have to say about it! It’s time for another Tickled Pink.

Larísa:

I remember the first time I got drunk in WoW. I was shocked when my character started to wobble. And also utterly fascinated. Such a simple mechanism and yet, it was so realistic!

However the entertainment value of this faded off pretty quickly. I guess it’s a bit like in real life. Our enthusiasm for getting drunk normally decreases as the years goes by. We don’t get excited about it anymore. Only tired.

This year is the first time that I participated in Brewfest. I never bothered about it on the two previous opportunities I had, since the all-year-round-achievement-dragon wasn’t available at that time.

And innkeeper as I am, I must admit that my feelings for this event are mixed.

On the positive side, I like the situation of the Alliance camp, right outside of Ironforge. I’ve always felt at home in the winter landscape of Don Morogh, and with all those dwarf connections, it fits in very well. I like the way they’ve set it up. The festive atmosphere, the little happenings, the wagons and salesmen, all those things give a feeling of what Darkmoon Faire could be like if it hadn’t been deserted by the developers. The boss fight in BRD gets quite repetitive, but the transport service to get there is very charming. It reminds me of a TV show from my childhood, John Blund (Sandmann in Germany), where a little gnome travelled the world in a space rocket.

The ram ride is OK. It’s nice to compete with yourself and see how many rounds you can get out of the given time. Still I can’t get out the idea of my head that I’m whipping the poor animal until he’s bleeding. I know it’s not what actually is happening, but it’s what my brain makes out of the animation and the sound effects.

But Brewfest isn’t just fun. As a matter of fact it has given me a bit of a hangover, and then I’m only half way through it. Not only because of the extremely grindy character of this event (how ironic isn’t it that you have to log in more or less every single day, playing like an addict to get your achievements done?) It also makes me feel a bit uncomfortable because of the shameless glorification of heavy drinking.

Read me right. I’m not an absolutist in real life, I’m not against drinking as such. Not at all, as long as it is moderate. I love to have a glass of wine or a jug of beer when I’m having a nice meal in company with friends.

On the other hand I also know about the negative sides of alcohol. I know more than I’d like to know, having a close relative who is an alcoholic. It’s painful and I assure you it’s not something I like to be reminded of, especially not in a game that I play to be entertained and escape reality.

I’m also a bit concerned about the young audience of WoW. All those kids who are playing – what kind of view on drinking will they get? The more you drink, the more achievements you get and you’d better get completely smashed to succeed? You don’t even get a hangover!

I’m not asking for Blizzard to cancel the whole event because of my concerns. They’ve already taken away a couple of quests from the players on the EU realms for political reasons, which I think is silly. Those quests weren’t any worse than anything else at Brewfest.

But perhaps it would be possible to make some smaller adjustments, so the event is pointing towards responsible drinking rather than get-smashed-drinking? Adding an appropriate hangover debuff after you’ve done your achievements could be a start.

Elnia:

Like Larisa, I too have some social concerns that Brewfest is not simply a festival of good cheer but disturbingly a festival that glorifies drinking to excess. Especially in a game that's rated for teens, and we know people even younger than teen play it, it does seem unfortunate. Yet I can't help but feel a little hypocritical. After all, the last time I looked at the statistics on my achievement panel it showed that I had killed more than 30000 virtual creatures. Maybe this simulated killing is killing to excess. Looked at more broadly, there are other aspects of the game that are excessive: bosses that stand three to four times taller than a night elf, grinding for a rare mount for three months, the whole motif that we puny little characters will defeat the Lich King and save the world from the Titans. There are elements to Warcraft that are exaggerated, cartoonish. From this broader perspective the drinking and drunkenness that goes on in Brewfest is in line with the overall character of the game.

I also find my worries about Brewfest inconsistent with my position regarding violence in the game in another respect. There is solid body of academic work that disproves the notion video game violence leads to violence outside the game. If I am persuaded by that research, then it seems improbable that simulated drinking would also have the out of game affects I fear.

Yet despite all my logical reasoning Brewfest bugs me; it does. I think Larisa hit on the key point of why it still bugs me. Both of us have had family members who have been touched by the curse of alcohol abuse. We know what that's like; we have experienced first hand the social, psychological, and physical trauma it causes. One doesn't think about alcohol the same way after staying up all night making sure a passed out relative doesn't choke on their own vomit. That isn't cool. Seeing my own character drunk hits too close to home; it brings up too many bad memories. Even the cool Om-pa-pa music can't remove the sour taste.

There are lines from the Tina Turner song "What's Love got to do with it" that go,
It's physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore
that it means more than that.

Sometimes being ignorant is a really difficult thing to do. Physically, logically, getting drunk in the game seems no more harmful than anything else about the game. Yet subjectively, intuitively, it means more than that.

15 comments:

Cap'n John said...

My grandfather was an alcoholic. I don't abstain, in fact during my 40 years on this planet I've been known to drink to excess at the odd party here & there (my Bachelor's Party for one).

There have been times when I've come home from work so frazzled & depressed and thought "Man, I could really use a drink!" And it's those times when I tell myself No.

Other times, maybe I've been working in the yard or one one of the wife's many projects, I will definitely knock back a beer or two. If I'm barbecuing dinner, it doesn't feel right to not have a cold brew on hand as I stand over the grill. But at those times I'm drinking for a different reason, and it's not because "My life sucks," but rather, "life is great".

The last time I drank to excess was four years ago during my father's wake, and my brothers-in-law and I certainly put the alcohol away that week.

I'd taken part in the Brewfest activities in prior years but this year while trying to catch my share of Wolpertingers, being unsure exactly how much the "sample" brews were affecting my character and not seeing any wild Wolpertingers, I just continued to chug them down as fast as I could click them.

Still no Wolpertingers? Keep drinking.

See anything? Nope. Keep drinking.

All of a sudden my character leaned over and for several seconds I was stricken by a Drunken Vomit debuff.

I agree. While I don't think First-person Shooters glorify, encourage or promote real-world violence, WoW's Brewfest activities, with their encouragement of binge drinking, is going a little too far. I realize most players will understand "it's only a game", and yes, I realize the irony protesting Brewfest in a game where our avatar slays countless beasties and NPCs/Mobs in our quest for the next Shiny Epic, still, is binge drinking and drunken vomiting really a necessary part of this game?

Tesh said...

On the violence angle, perhaps it's good that few of us have close intimate connections to mass murderers. We are probably better off without that particular bit of sympathy.

I'm against drinking of any sort. I don't think there is such a thing as "responsible" drinking. That said, it's not my place to make that decision for someone else.

Yet, that's exactly the position that a game dev takes. They are the "gods" of their game world. They encourage or discourage certain behaviors. WoW's core design is all about getting people addicted to the treadmills. I'd argue that such a real life addiction to the game can be just as deleterious as real life drinking.

Encouraging heavy drinking isn't really socially responsible, but then, neither is the rest of the game design. That doesn't mean it's right, but neither is it inconsistent with what the rest of the game is.

So the question again is: how much does the game affect the player? (Also, what responsibility do game devs have to care about that sort of thing?)

Ben said...

To me, Brewfest is a light hearted event and I love the alcohol-related jokes. It parodies the drinking culture with bar fights and such, which to me doesn't send a message that Blizzard is telling kids to get wasted because it's cool.

The whole achievement part of the event doesn't really appeal to me either. However the ram riding minigame is quite fun and I love the challenge of trying to get my ideal goal of 19 kegs. Between that and the Dark Iron invasion, which you don't even need to participate in, I will probably get my meta achievement before the event ends. I've only killed Coren Direbrew around twice altogether as well.

Dorgol said...

I have never had a drink in my life, and probably won't. It's just a choice I've made.

I also chose not to participate in Brewfest the first year, as there wasn't really anything to lure me in.

Last year I participated by buying the Wolpertinger (with cash), and farming the boss for drops. I fought off the Dark Irons, and thus got drunk, a few times - but that was the extent of it. I also joined the Brew of the Month Club - mainly because there wasn't nothing of real use to spend my tokens on.

This year, I noticed that Blizzard has added an item that will SIMULATE drunkedness, without actually requiring the players to drink. So it seems Blizzard is AWARE of the concerns, though they didn't make a point of making the item obviously available.

Klepsacovic said...

I think it is acceptable, as long as we can see it for the intended absurdity that it is. But somehow it is sometimes hard to sense that, to not just know, but feel, that it is supposed to be a joke.

Overall I like it. The dark iron attack seems to actually draw people together. Sure they can get the gear whether they participate or not, but they do anyway, as if they genuinely enjoy it. That to me is a great success.

Flawlless said...

BOOZE ROCKS!

on a more serious note:

I Just got my Violet Proto-Drake!
I also got the remote and a Kodo.

I don't care that the game has drunken violence and bunny-ears in it, the real world has drunken violence and bunny-ears too, what it doesn't have is 11 MILLION people from all over the world trying to kill things and people just to get a cuter outfit.

It is a violent game but I don't think kids will go out and kill animals in the forest and 'loot' their giblets and I don't think kids will get stupid-drunk and jump of a 65-foot building because of it.

Amber said...

I'm a little torn on some of the things that people have mentioned here (bloggers and commentors)...

One thing that I'd like to point out particularly about the drinking aspect of Brewfest (again), you don't HAVE to drink. You can use your free goggles to accomplish your Wolpertinger and Pink Elkk quests.

Personally I think if anything the simulation aspect of drinking in game mocks real life excess drinking fairly well. Why is it bad that if you drink to excess in the game you get sick?? That's what happens IRL! One of my guildies actually told his son, "See, this is what happens when people drink too much." (BTW Cap'n John you don't need to drink that much to see the Wolpertingers, you personally just couldn't see them on your computer monitor.)

It seems kind of like a double edged sword to wave your finger at the small drinking holiday in a game that regularly has players killing animals and people to accomplish various objectives.

I'd also like to point out that there are real life brewfests going on right this very second (I'm going to one tonight) where people drink, eat and be merry. Are those events promoting irresponsible/excessive drinking? Hardly. The individuals that go to those events make that decision, not the event planners.


If it's the kids you're concerned about, talk to their parents about it since it's THEIR job to be monitoring what their kids are doing on the computer. Other than that I see nothing wrong with this in game holiday.

spinksville said...

I think it's good fun and Oktoberfest iRL is also good fun. I have fond memories of visiting friends in Munich (not during Oktoberfest though) -- it was a hot summer day, we sat out in the Englishegarten drinking cold beer and eating pretzels and listening to the band. So brewfest brings back only happy memories for me.

I'd much rather have a festival about having fun and ... yes ... drinking ... than about some thinly veiled semi religious heavily commercialised tat like whatever they do for Christmas though.

I'm very surprised that anyone could think there's no such thing as sensible social drinking. That goes completely against my experiences and those of my friends. Maybe it's a cultural thing.

Rhii said...

I LOVE that they've added the "beer goggles" item. I come from a background that is very against "social vices", and while I'm much more liberal than my family (I'll have a drink or two when called for, but not into heavy drinking), I still like the fact that Blizz provided the opportunity to participate in the activities without having to virtually partake of the booze.

On a completely unrelated note, I get motion sickness from certain videos video games, and while WoW normally isn't one of them, the drunk effect makes me very very nauseous. I like the goggles because I can take them off the second I'm done and I don't have to watch the screen wobble for longer than absolutely necessary. I debated not doing the drunk quests for that reason, but... the wolpertingers are so darn funny I couldn't pass them up.

Bell said...

I have family members who were, are, alcoholics. I personally don't drink often if at all, as I see no reason to (non alcoholic drinks taste way better). I just turned 21 in June, and I've been doing Brewfest since I started playing about 4 years ago. I have had, in total, maybe ten drinks in my life, all but two being consumed after I turned 21. I have never been drunk or even tipsy, and never plan to be. I also have my Violet Proto.

I played Oregon Trail purely for the hunting aspect (as it was the most engaging for me at the age in which I played), shot deer in arcade games and now I go out of my way to moonfire critters and have slain masses of supposedly endangered animals for their furs, yet I'm a vegetarian and have been for five years.

We have shamans running around in WoW getting high off incense to go on vision quests. We assassinate people for money and say "oh well." Sometimes, for no reason other than the quest giver said to. A guy in Terokkar just really, really wants a nice coat made from worg tails, can you go massacre them all so he can wear them? Or, hey, I'd like this animal's paw as a trophy, so go slay him. You'll get a nice trinket and an achievement, so it's totally worth its extinction. Also, as the Kirin Tor, we're not allowed to torture people. Lucky you're here to do it for us!

Why aren't those considered problems, but a light-hearted festival of comical boozing is?

For me, Brewfest is about fun quests, hilarious slurred speech, possibility of mounts and trinkets, and some fun mug tossing. I can joke about being "shoooo drunk...hic!" and just enjoy myself as my mount dips and sways erratically and my bosses appear to be 3 levels lower than normal.

Gevlon said...

"I never bothered about it on the two previous opportunities I had, since the all-year-round-achievement-dragon wasn’t available at that time."

I hope you don't grind annoying quest for a pixel dragon.

*vlad* said...

It should be fun, but once again Achievement grind has taken over.

Log in to grind quests every day, so that you can buy a Brewfest Costume, get drunk and fall 65 feet or whatever, and then get some 10 point achievement added to your log...

I really wonder why people force themselves to jump through achievement hoops just for the sake of completing them.

Larísa said...

@Cap'n John: yeah... I've been thinking about it, why I feel this way about drinking excessivly in game, while I don't hesitate a sec about killing monsters. I think it's got something to do with that it's too close to reality. And as you say... not really necessary.

@Tesh: I don't think that you go out killing people in real life because you kill monsters in WoW. I definitely don't. But the attitude towards alcohol that is displayed is a different thing I think. Getting smashed is something that is within reach of most teenagers. Killing others isn't.

@Ben: yeah... it is kind of lighthearted. And it's not as if I'm extremely upset or anything. I just wanted to show another perspective. And I don't think I'm totally alone in this.

@Dorgol: simulated intoxication... hm... I wonder if the players will get the difference.

@Klepsacovic: yeah, I too appreciate the atmosphere, getting people together, just as Darkmoon Faire should. It's just a pity that it has to be accompanied with heavy drinking. Although that actually pretty much reflects real life in the country where I live...

@Flawlless: grats! I wondered where the RNG put the kudos and remotes. Now I know... You stole mine :)

@Amber: well... my point wasn't just about influencing kids. But also actually that this is a quite painful reminder to people facing "totally smashed" relatives in their real life.
I'm not starting a huge campaign or anything though. This was more a humble reflection about it, sharing the somewhat bitter aftertaste. Not everyone will get it. I'm perfectly aware of that.

@Spinksville: yeah, I definitely agree that responsible drinking is possible. I just wish it was better reflected in the game. Maybe you should try to achieve the perfect balance. If you're tipsy, you'll get the achivement, if you're smashed, you'll fail?

@Rhii: yeah, I agree about the nausea. I really wouldn't like to be drunk for very long in the game, I would have to go away from it and wait for it to wear off.

@Bell: I think the difference is that the drinking activity is much closer to reality than killing a monster is.

@Gevlon & Vlad: I'm not addicted to achievements. I'm really not. But somehow they managed to lure me into the one for the dragon. Although I resisted it well enough to begin with. I never did the halloween stuff last year. But when they offered the title "Merrymaker" for christmas, I thought it would go very well with what I want Larísa to be. And since the quests were pretty fun and I had never done it before, I enjoyed it. And then there was this "Elder" thing, which I also wanted. If someone was "Elder" in the game, it surely must be me (I'm oldest in the guild as far as I know of).
Before I knew it I had done several of the holiday things. And now that I'm so close to getting a quicker mount... well... I'll see if I can get it. Only the Halloween stuff left now.
All in all, I'm kind of glad that I was pulled into seeing this content. It's laughable, but the titles and other vanity items helped to motivate me to take part of a lot of things that I hadn't bothered about for the first 1.5 years I was playing. Now I wouldn't think of doing it again, but yeah, once is fun enough, even though I too think that some of those achievements are WAY to grindy.
Waste of time? Hm... A bit. But as I said - I've had some fun on the way too, even though I haven't exactly enjoyed every single second of it.

Darraxus said...

350 brewfest tokens to finish the whole event. Get the clothes, go dance in Dalaran for the achivement. Go back and turn them in for the tokens you just spent. Buy brew of the year and the pet.

gnomeaggedon said...

Mmmm I wasn't sure what it was that was driving me away from brewfest... apart from my normal aversion for holiday events.

But I think you have nailed it for me.

I come from a family with an alcoholic, with my generation following in those footsteps.. something I managed to escape about 10 years ago... I still enjoy a drink, but no longer go to brewfest lengths every day.

Maybe it was the drunken whispers I was getting... all in good fun of course...

Maybe it was the drunken revelers...

Maybe it was my 1st attempt at tossing the mug, that left me blind and unable to continue playing...

Maybe it was just family history quietly ringing at that back of my mind.