GAMING THE GAME: FINDING BALANCE IN PARTY AND COMPETITION (WHEN EVERYONE’S DRUNK)
Originally posted 4/26/16 on Ace of Geeks
Photo by Red Scott
Words by OJ
I’m horrible at math. Especially public math. It’s why I’m anxiously terrible at playing board games or tabletop campaigns. It’s why I love video games: flashy calculators doing all the physics and arithmetic behind the scenes for me. It’s why I basically majored in rules, words and basic probability, and game design, instead of coding at the video game college I graduated from. Alas, I’ve found myself scorekeeping, scribbling down results, rewarding sportsmanship and docking points for bad behavior, adjudicating for a rowdy mass of geeks in their attempts to win $200.
“I just want to do a comedy show where we play video games and drink,” Jesse McGrath (SF Sketchfest) related two years ago. It was part joke, part wish, part gripe. We’ve been friends since high school, started doing stand-up in SF together, and, after four years, the everyday open mic grind had taken its toll. I was on my way out as a performer, Jesse was limited to weekend warrior status; our day jobs had caught up with us. Waiting around for three hours for three minutes of stage time wasn’t fun anymore, let alone feasible. It’s perhaps why our new venture, Super Trashed Bros, is the most fun: why it’s so easy, so natural; why it inspires our highest care, work, commitment, passion; why we’ve made fast friends with strangers; and why good natured strangeness—hilarious heckles, histrionics, naked or clothed costumes—is so encompassing. Super Trashed Bros, and everything it encapsulates, are why I’m doing the math.
Drunkathalon is a monthly show we put on in San Francisco. Teams of gamers, comics, wrestlers, people from all walks of life get together to compete to win prizes playing video and board games and getting drunk off their asses.
Our show streams online, but the magic (and debauchery) is in the room. Most comedy shows are stagnant, passive but demanding reaction. A lot of video game events (especially those with commentary), are intense, exclusive or intimidating. We marry the two to, hopefully, avoid the pitfalls of either. After being banned from Oakland’s video game museum; having a too-hot-for-TwitchTV party at SylvanHouse—comedy frathouse as seen on Viceland’s FLOPHOUSE; and establishing a flagship monthly residence at the 8-bit, Russian-inspired Soda Popinskis’s; we finally created Drunkathalon. Teams battling while yelling and showboating and wackiness every fourth Wednesday at PianoFight. It’s our culmination.
In game theory, the game outside the game is called “the meta”. The meta is usually in reference to leaderboards, social hierarchies and strategy lingo, juxtaposed to a game’s “mechanics”, its controls or allotted player actions. Our meta is meta: self aware and ironic tasks to take the seriousness out of competitive gaming. We call our drinking prompts “(ja)Rules”. Failure to call them jarules, take a drink. Lose a life in a game of Super Smash Bros—our namesake—take a drink. Fall off the track in Mario Kart, chug until you respawn. If you bring the Jenga tower down, finish your drink. All (ja)Rules are carefully considered, tweaked and honed for the most fun and least hangovers. We don’t want people obliterated, nor do we want the best players to get too comfortable. While we embrace the “Trashed” in our identity, the drinks can be nonalcoholic, only required nearby as an added distraction from playing the game. The panic in having to sip, slurp, gulp, or chug while trying to shoot, punch, fly or score is priceless. How often that panic occurs is precision. It’s like we have sliders and knobs on being blatto (or just plain bewildered), like we’re dungeon masters for a nerdy house party. Strategies emerge to offset our irreverent handicaps. That’s meta on meta on meta.
And, amid the calculations, the weirdest thing emerges: our audience, friends or soon-to-be friends, begin redefining the experience, making it theirs, imprinting their personality on the show and on each other. Garish loudmouths became our de facto heels, our villains, heckled for their flamboyant arrogance. Jacob Rubin (TBS’ King of the Nerds) is our resident know it all. Chants of “Ra-chael, Ra-chael” and “Roy’s Our Boy'' have echoed into our lexicon. Creativity in a team’s theme or name, like being graced by a gaggle of Power Rangers, or somebody schtick, like the continual entry (and absence) of “God”, emerges independently, is encouraged innately and adopted immediately. Super Trashed Bros is everybody’s show and inspires unpredictable—but greatly appreciated—dedication and support. Justin Gomes (Sylvan Productions) has naturally grown into a co-producer; he just wanted to help out, said Super Trashed Bros are his favorite nights of the month. His sacrifices, and the sacrifices of others, have bolstered what started as an excuse for two friends to hangout into a bonafide community. I guess other people just want to play video games and drink as well.
It’s a hard sell to get people to turn up for an hour and a half on a Wednesday night, but all signs point to a resounding success. There’s no telling where Super Trashed Bros will go. There’s been murmurs of more events and bigger productions, the whisper of a crowdsource campaign, some roadtrips. Who knows, we might even pay someone else to do the math.