Let’s paint a picture. You’re a senior in college, eager for the weekend so you can drink and hang out with your buds. Perhaps one of your professors was being especially crabby during the week. So you and a group of your friends go to the local bar near the university. You know the one, the one that’s always pop’n. The one that always has the coldest beer and the friendliest atmosphere. While you’re enjoying the company and developing a nice buzz, you see a strange machine tucked away in the corner. “Computer Space.” It has a screen like a computer seen in the labs but the machine is filled to the brim with strange buttons. “Fire missile” “thrust” “rotate.” Through observation, you see you can insert a quarter in the machine. What do you know, you got a spare one in your pocket. Out of curiosity, you put the quarter in. The machine starts up. You take control of a rocket ship in the vast, black space. Your rocket ship squares off against two saucer CPUs. Whoever has the most kills after a set time wins the round. After winning the first round, the screen changes color. You got a free round. You take another drink of your Coors Banquet and play on. You lose the next round but a buddy, who was keenly watching, wants a go. Your friends then start playing, seeing who can get the highest round total. The beers continue to flow and the night goes on.
That little scenario centers around the promotion of Computer Space. The grandfather of the arcade. While Computer Space itself wasn’t an original idea (it’s based on the 1962 game Spacewar!, a game that was only seen running on the high spec computers at MIT. They couldn’t copyright it so it led to the first video game ports), it was the first video game developed and advertised for monetary gain. While far from being THE first video game, it sent a precedent for the subsequent, acclaimed release of Pong and the golden age of arcades that followed.
When Computer Space was being developed, Nolan Bushnell and friends needed an area to test run the game. So they decided on the Dutch Goose, a local bar right by Stanford University. The game was a hit amongst the technically adept students (which proved to be an oversight, as Nutting Associates wanted the game to enjoyed by all, not just budding geniuses). So you can imagine these “nerds” getting drunk and seeing who can get the highest round total. Momentum was building.
Meanwhile, another coin-operated port of Spacewar!, dubbed Galaxy Game, was making the rounds in the Stanford Tresidder student union building. It was a two-player machine and ran on much higher specs compared to the cheaply made Computer Space. It was a straight-up improvement on Spacewar!. Yet the creators of Galaxy Game, college grads Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck, knew this game wouldn’t be successful commercially. They couldn’t advertise it and the machine itself would never turn a profit, despite drawing rave reviews. With it being on campus, students could easily pregame in their dorms and head over to compete against each other in the vast depths of space. With these two games, it showed that video games, booze, and friends belonged together. And the brand new Atari, formerly Syzergy, knew this.
I want to make a game that any drunk in any bar can play. Simple. Simple enough for a drunk to play.
- Nolan Bushnell
Up comes Pong to the plate to change the world. While many falsely believed it to be the first video game due to the impact it had, it did usher in the era where the video game became a household name. But in the beginning, like Computer Space before it, Pong built its name in the bars. Bushnell had his goal after all. The first “beta” Pong machine was installed at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyville, California. It was a brand new bar tucked away in the Silicon Valley. There was even a Computer Space machine there! In Harold Goldberg’s book, All Your Base Are Belong To Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture, he details a story centered around Pong’s unveiling in this generally unknown tavern.
After designer Allan Alcorn made Pong’s circuitry and Ted Dabney crafted its case, a lowly sawed-off plastic milk jug was placed inside beneath the coin slot, to collect quarters. Pong was put in a truck and delivered to an anteroom in Capp’s that also included a pinball machine. Then the drunks played. Not only did they play, they lined up to play. Their egos wouldn’t take being beaten by a machine. They fed so many quarters into the slot that the machine jammed up. Then the bar’s usually genial manager, Bill Gattis, phoned Bushnell in a booming voice that carried the length of the bar.
- Harold Goldberg
You’ll have to decide whether that story is real or not. But nonetheless, Pong captured the hearts of the dedicated drunkards at Capp’s. Whoever would win the most would be revered as a king or queen, with all the bragging rights that came with it. Sounds much like the modern-day right? Pong was the perfect game to capture any inebriated person’s attention back that era. The video that was never before seen, the simple yet hard to master gameplay that mimics table tennis, and the sweet satisfaction of beating someone. Many had felt Computer Space was way too complicated, so Pong appeased those folks as well. I mean just look at this cute little guy. This bite-sized arcade machine started a revolution.
As the late ‘70s-early ’80s rolled on, plenty of fire arcade machines would encapsulate bar-goers everywhere. Pac-Man, Galaga, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pole Position, Frogger, the list goes on. Their difficulty would enrage yet enthrall drunkards as they seek domination in the bar. That high score is enough motivation to waste any quarters they had (ones that weren’t spent on beer that is). At that point, an arcade game’s ability to maintain a drunk bar goer’s attention meant life or death, theoretically speaking. Obviously, arcade machines during this golden age would shed their adult-only reputation and spread out to pretty much anywhere you can imagine. Malls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, movie theatres, and full-fledged family arcades. Fun fact: Nolan Bushnell founded Chuck E Cheese to introduced arcade machines to a more family-friendly atmosphere. Despite the fact he wanted to make Pong for drunk people. Color me shocked. Then there’s the weird shit like shady gas stations and even funeral homes. Yeah, that’s totally the place I want to play some Dig Dug.
Now we all know how the Golden Age of arcades ended. Oversaturation of family-friendly arcades, “harmful” effects of video games (remember, this the ‘80s we’re talking about), and the moral effects stemming from the early ‘80s recession. The emergence and subsequent fall of early generation home consoles didn’t help matters either. Atari, the pioneer of both the arcade and the home console, was dead and buried. Doomed to watch Nintendo succeed and innovate in their steed. Arcades never truly died, however. It became more centralized with those who truly loved them. Sure, they weren’t the absurd cash cow of the Golden Age anymore. Far from it. But early-mid 90’s fighting games such as Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, and Virtua Fighter gave birth to the FGC (fighting game community). Racing games like Daytona USA absolutely shit on Pole Position. Dance Dance Revolution would soon take over the world with its fresh beats and people pretending to be anime protagonists. NBA Jam gave birth to the arcade-sports genre. Now, what if I told you both the best parts of the early stages of arcade’s history would collide with the post-golden age era where some of the best arcade games emerged. Enter the Barcade.
The arcade would go back to its roots. In 2004, avid arcade fan Paul Kermizian alongside four of his best friends would establish the first trademarked Barcade location in Brooklyn, New York. Initially a side gig due to his profound love for arcade games like Mappy (I tend to agree with him, fire game) and his eagerness to open a small bar, the establishment would explode. Much like the people who discovered Computer Space and Pong in bars way back then, modern adults can get hammered and compete amongst the other drunk idiots there. You’ll also have the best of both worlds when it comes to player demographics. You’ll have the younger adults who perhaps have never touched an arcade game then you’ll have the grizzled veterans of the ’80s who make a round of Galaga look like a Renaissance masterpiece.
When these Barcades started showing up in New York, it attracted dozens of people vying to claim any world record. Hank Chien would pop in and take the Donkey Kong world record. George Leutz played and practiced on the Q*bert machine in Barcade for years before claiming the world record for himself. Josh Lombay discovered the Timber machine at Barcade and would walk away with the world record, to this day. Can you imagine all the buzzed bar-goers watching on with excitement as someone gets the world record for something? Shit would be like the Super Bowl. It’s a live spectacle you can’t get anywhere else.
With the emergence of the original Barcade, others would arise in all areas of the US of A. Ground Kontrol in Portland. Headquarters in Chicago. Kung Fu Saloon in Dallas and Nashville. Pinballz in Austin. And there are plenty more. Barcades are huge in Australia as well.
I imagine you can find one in your town if you look it up. Besides the dedicated Barcades, more club-oriented bars are introducing arcade games to them. Plenty of the biggest bars in Austin have games such as Guitar Hero and Pac-Man (especially the new four-player version). One of my favorite moments of Sixth Street as an undergrad was beating some random college dude in Super Street Fighter 4 with Sagat at Rooftop on Sixth while both of us were blitzed. In modern times, with PCs and high spec consoles dominating the gaming landscape, arcade games have gone back to their roots by going back to the bars. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s poetic.
Since the inception of home consoles, people have been able to experience the joys of video games in the comfort of their own home. The history of drinking and video games at home is quite the opposite of the arcade. Arcade’s history is concrete. Bushnell brings both Pong and Computer Space to bars. Barcades emerge after the golden age. But for home consoles, we as human beings can create our own history and experiences. I know it sounds cheesy for people just getting shitfaced drunk and playing video games but each person will have their own staples and stories. Perhaps one group is big on Mario Party for a nice casual time (especially now with Super Mario Party on the Switch).
Maybe some aristocrats take turns running split-screen 1v1s on Nuketown in Call of Duty Black Ops. You can make a drinking game out of almost any video game if you really set your mind to it. Now you’re probably wondering where the hell this article is going. Great question. What I have planned is I’m gonna list the best multiplayer games to play drunk by each generation. That we way we can get a good grasp on the games ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000’s, and 2010’s college kids played while downing beers. Feel free to take a break if you want. You good? Let’s roll.
It’s weird to say now, but NES games are great drinking games for modern times now. Due to the NES library on the Nintendo Switch as well compilations such as Rare Replay, they’re easily accessible. Not to mention the controls for these games are simple enough for anyone to understand (I mean come on there are two fucking buttons, what else is there to get?) and they’re super quick to boot up and play. The NES set the sports game genre alight, and these games are prime drinking ones. Tecmo Bowl and Ice Hockey are the kings. Take a shot or drink with every goal. Simple. Plenty of classic Nintendo arcade games are on NES as well. Mario Bros and Donkey Kong come to mind. Contra and Battletoads are perfect for partnering with a buddy, even if you want to suffer a bit. If you make a drinking game centered on Battletoads, that’s a one-way ticket to kidney failure, especially knowing you can hit each other.
Now for the 4th generation. Many of the staples from the prior generation apply to this generation as well. 16-bit sports games like NBA Jam, Super Tecmo Bowl, and NHL 94 dominated the landscape. Two-player Super Mario Bros 3 is always a classic. Even Kirby is two-player now thanks to the helper mechanic in Kirby Superstar. Streets of Rage 2 and Final Fight helped fill the beat em up craving Battletoads and Double Dragon created. With this generation came the emergence of fighting games like Street Fighter 2 and Killer Instinct. People can now properly duke it out with drinks on the line.
But perhaps the greatest revelation that was born in this generation was Mario Kart, aka, Beerio Kart. A pregame party affair that stands the test of time.
The N64 took the script for multiplayer games and threw it out the fucking window. Four controller ports. Countless games that fully supported split-screen. What more could you ask for? Plenty of games on the N64 obtained GOAT status for their multiplayer. Mario Kart 64. Goldeneye 007 (and its successor Perfect Dark). NFL Blitz. Mario Tennis and Mario Golf set off the highly underrated Mario sports series. Mario Party made its grand introduction, establishing itself as a game that can test friendships and destroy livers. But one game took its place as the one true GOAT of multiplayer games. Super Smash Bros. What’s better than absolutely beating the shit out of your friends with the greatest Nintendo characters ever? And while Beerio Kart has some established rules, you can pretty much do whatever you want when it comes to Smash Bros. Crank up the items and take a shot if you find Goldeen in a Pokeball? Should you have to finish a beer like in Beerio Kart? Do you have to chug while you’re on the respawn platform? Do you want to challenge someone to a item-less 1v1 with shots at stake? Anything goes! There are so many different rule sets for drunk Smash Bros it puts the competitive scene to shame. So find which one works for you. I know the PS1 and Dreamcast existed. They just didn’t compare to the N64 when it came to multiplayer games. I mean the controller even doubles as a bottle opener!
This is the generation where split-screen became a household name. The brand new Xbox smartly decided to give us four controller ports much like the N64. The GameCube picked up right where it’s older brother left off with Super Smash Bros Melee, arguably the best Mario Kart in existence in Double Dash, Mario Party 4–7, and more electric Mario sports titles such as Superstar Baseball and Strikers. Then there are the more underrated games such as Kirby Air Ride (its simplicity is perfect for drinking while playing), F-Zero GX (that would induce some amazing drunk rage), and Super Monkey Ball. The PS2 decided to do its own thing and not give us extra ports but it did end up selling more than both the Box and Cube so I guess Sony has an excuse. The Xbox started hot though, boy oh boy. Halo CE revolutionized split-screen multiplayer. Magnums on Battle Creek. Sniper battles on Sidewinder. Then there’s co-op as well. And it’s fairly easy to design a drinking game around Halo. Drink when you die. Halo 2 would eventually bring us that sweet, sweet Xbox Live multiplayer, serving as one of the first online experiences for plenty of players. The golden era of sports games was during this generation as well. MVP Baseball 05 (who had the icon that is Jon Dowd), Madden 05–08, NCAA 06, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2–3, NBA Street, the list goes on. I could list games off forever if I wanted to but I know you have more respectable things to do so let’s move on. *cough* The true Star Wars Battlefront 2 *cough* Had to get that out.
The seventh generation of consoles, that being the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3, served as that peaceful time where online multiplayer and split-screen coexisted in perfect harmony. Plenty of games introduced online capabilities yet split screen was still a no-brainer. You’d have to be an idiot to ditch split screen at this point. Halo 3, 4, and Reach still championed split-screen and gave us tons of features like customizable lobbies and sweet, beautiful forge for custom maps. Left 4 Dead 1 & 2 gave us the perfect co-op zombie game, both for online and split-screen. When people start flinging Molotovs at each other, the beers start flying. The Wii continued to produce the staples, from Super Smash Bros Brawl (which was king of casual Smash due to the introduction of the Smash Ball and gameplay changes, fuck you tripping) to Mario Kart Wii. Admittingly, Mario Party kinda fell off a cliff after 8 but hey, you had an all-access pass to all the GameCube ones thanks to backwards compatibility. Thanks to the Wiimote, motion control games took center stage for drinking games. WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Mario Super Sluggers, and the classic Wii Sports come to mind. It’s was just imperative that everyone wore the wrist strap. Call of Duty was at its peak here. The stretch of CoD 4 to Black Ops 2 was nigh untouchable. Splitscreen multiplayer, online that exploded in popularity, co-op side modes such as zombies or spec ops. With nostalgia brewing for these games, now is a great time to revisit them. They are backwards compatible after all on Xbox. This would be the generation that would see the popularity of DDR fall, with Guitar Hero taking its place. And Guitar Hero 3 is the best of the bunch. Seeing either a drunk fool fumble around with the guitar missing every single note or a zen god play F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X perfect on expert despite taking a few shots is equally as entertaining. Not to mention there’s co-op and battles. Although Madden took a pretty harsh downturn after the sixth generation (with Madden 12 being the last good Madden), FIFA was coming into its own. Playing with random teams on FIFA 13 absolutely hit, especially when you got Spartan Moscow (Emmanuel Emineke and Welliton were that fucking duo man). Fighting games like Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3, Street Fighter 4, Mortal Kombat 9, and Soul Calibur V (fuck you I liked it, I miss Patroklos) were all varied and fit certain crowds but they all hit. This was a fantastic generation for drinking and playing amongst friends. How can it get even better?
Plot twist: it got worse. Much so. While the seventh generation celebrated local multiplayer alongside online, the eighth generation threw it to the wayside. Many games started to completely exclude split-screen multiplayer. Even Halo 5, much to the displeasure of fans, abandoned it. Games like Overwatch (ew), Fortnite, and Destiny completely prioritized online and microtransactions. Others like 2017 Battlefront 2 gave a watered-down split-screen experience. Plenty of great games did give a proper local multiplayer experience. Cuphead for co-op, Rocket League both for purely local matches, and online co-op. FIFA was still in its golden era (12–15), so it remained a staple for pregames. 2K was really coming into its own, especially with 2K16 so it often paired with FIFA. Although CoD had some major stinkers this generation, it became one of the few Triple-A games to feature legit split-screen, both offline and online. Sad. But one game, rather one collection, would save local multiplayer this generation. Halo The Master Chief Collection. All of the past Halos. All in their split-screen glory. Reach would get added later, making it the icing on the cake. Alongside that, there was one more saving grace for this generation.
Firstly let’s gloss over one point. Yes the Wii U existed. It did absolutely nothing. Moving on. Alright, I’ll give it some credit. Smash Bros Wii U gave us the greatest feature known to man. Eight. Player. Smash. With great failure comes great reprieve. That reprieve was the Nintendo Switch. You can take this bad boy on the go and bust out the Joycons (with Joycon drift of course, it adds to the culture) and wireless controllers at any time. And you know daddy Nintendo is still gonna care about local multiplayer. Starting off, you have access to plenty of amazing NES and SNES games with an online subscription. Ice Hockey and Tecmo Bowl are available! Mario Tennis Aces single handily revived the Mario Sports genre after nothing for the Wii U (we’re not talking about Ultra Smash). Mario Kart 8 is an amazing Mario Kart, with driving mechanics that shit on the others. You can even enable safe driving so you don’t fall off (that could count as cheating in Beerio Kart though). Smash Ultimate is the perfect blend of the casual and competitive aspects of Smash. And you can play eight-player Smash on the go. That should explain how much Nintendo cares about local multiplayer. The Switch hard carried this generation when it came to party games and local multiplayer.
Now, we’ve talked about the arcade and local multiplayer on home consoles extensively. What about online? Yes, online has become a major part of gaming over the years. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing I leave it up to your discretion. But let me ask you something. Is drinking with buddies better in person or on discord? You’ll say in person 100% of the time. You can’t turn around and see the repulsed face of your friend after you hit a three headshot kill with a Magnum on Halo CE. You can’t wiggle a freshly poured shot of rum in front of their salty face after spiking their ass with a Snake forward air. But with the advent of online, you can gather with your bros/sisters no matter where you are.
It’s no secret one of the major catalysts for post-graduate depression is loneliness, stemming from the fact your friends are more than likely cities or even states away from you. It’s happened to me, no doubt about that. Hell I’m still feeling those effects. And even if you have some college, or even high school friends (as rare as that sounds), in town, there’s a near year-long pandemic still going on. And yes, because of this pandemic, Barcades and in general bars themselves are either on hiatus or incredibly risky to go to. Such is the dilemma of the global pandemic. We all yearn for our normal social lives to return. Even Oxford University agrees that getting together with friends over drinks at a bar (or pub knowing this article was written in England) does wonders for one’s social skills, confidence, and general happiness. In a period of time where social skills are dropping harder and faster than the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, we all desperately need to reconnect. So I ask you all, a New Years Resolution if you will, please find the time to get together with friends, drink some alcohol, and play some video games. There’s no shortage of games to play, even on a budget. Among Us is $5 dollars for Christ's sake. Jackbox Party Packs are perfect for streaming on Twitch or on Discord. Get MCC and party like it's 2007 all over again. You can even play Smash Bros Melee via Slippi for free! You have no excuses. So I’ll see you guys at the liquor store. Just stay six feet away, please.