How Realistic Is Video Game Drunkenness?

How Realistic Is Video Game Drunkenness?

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love drunk video game characters.

The slurred speech, the blurred vision, the ragdoll physics as they fall backwards down a flight of stairs which somehow never results in paralysing spinal fractures – I’d much rather nurse a digital person back to sobriety than my university-aged friends.

I’m sure you, too, have laughed yourself into a stupor at hilarious alcohol-inspired game scenes. Some examples: After a few too many hard drinks in WoW, your screen goes out of focus and enemies appear as lower levels than they actually are, and you can easily get caught up in an unwinnable scuffle. (“No, trusht, me, I can take ‘ im!“)

Remember Conker’s Bad Fur Day? The star of the game is an adorable squirrel – and that squirrel is a raging alcoholic. He lies to his woman about bar-hopping, gets lost, pukes on a stranger – he even gets drunk at a disco and urinates on guests. It’s like every fraternity party I’ve ever been to.

But however comical it is to watch an intoxicated John Marston careen into strangers, or a brave Commander Shepard throw back one too many batarian ales, how true to life are their drunken actions?

In a clearly professional video made for this column (see above!), I have selected a few video game scenes to dissect. Experiments are run, questions are answered, and beverages are consumed.

This is probably the time I should say that I do not condone the act of excessive drinking, only consume alcohol if you are of legal age, and this video was created solely in the interest of science. Action science! Don’ t try this at home. No seriously, you will be ill.

The question you’re probably asking is, “Why does it matter if video game drunkenness is true-to-life? It’s hilarious, that’s all that matters.”

Good point. However, that’s never been my attitude toward minute details in games – I’m selfish and I always want more. (It’s the ” If you give a mouse a cookie…” syndrome.)

Here’ s a large reason why the concept of realistic inebriation intrigues me:

In his book, Acting in Film, Michael Caine states, “In real life, a drunk makes a huge effort to appear sober. A coarsely acted stage or film drunk reels all over the place to show you that he’ s drunk. It’s artificial. And eventually, that kind of acting puts up a barrier between the actor and the audience, so that nothing the character says or does will be believed.”

As an actor, those words have never left me. It’s a perfect explanation of how good acting involves “being” rather than “performing”. Obviously, video game characters cannot “be” because they’re not real – but these days, they can come damn close. They’re actors, and we want them to be good actors.

With this in mind, we return to the question: Is video game drunkenness realistic? Well, yes and no – mostly no.


Games take a very theatrical direction with insobriety, as characters fall over themselves and slur their speech in an exaggerated way to make sure the player knows, HEY, THIS CHARACTER IS MEGA WASTED! But as Mr Caine explained, this behaviour isn’t necessarily realistic.

My favourite example is still Red Dead Redemption. As I discussed in the video, tanked John Marston, while hilarious, is certainly not a realistic drunk. The fact that he can’t even walk up a flight of stairs is pretty ridiculous. The man can wipe out half of the Old West’s population without breaking a sweat, yet five shots of cheap alcohol have him collapsing onto other men like a sorority freshman at her first kegger.

And John’s not the only lightweight hero around. In the upcoming Duke Nukem Forever, there is a button (Left on the D-Pad) specifically for ” Beer.” This seems undeniably awesome, but Max Scoville from Destructoid had this to say in his Duke preview: “While chugging a beer will make you take less damage, it’ll also give you blurred vision. This is one part I really hope they change before the game is released, because unless Duke Nukem has the alcohol tolerance of a heavily medicated ten-year-old girl, nobody gets that blitzed off one beer.”

That’s just how drinking works in games – characters are quickly drunk, experience the Beer Goggle effect, and then quickly return to sobriety, so as not to ‘bother’ the player. (Examples: Mass Effect 2, World of Warcraft, The Witcher, Bioshock, etc.) Consuming alcohol is treated like a short tongue-in-cheek moment as opposed to an opportunity to introduce new factors into gameplay.


Bottom line: The gimmick of video game drunkenness, while funny, could use some creativity. I mean, why not?

Instead of the unrealistic sideshow act that is John Marston under the influence of whiskey, what if it did take him a little while to feel the buzz after drinking? What if the brick wall of intoxication hit him mid-mission? Hilarious! Realistic! Actual consequences for drinking! Just like when you wake up with a hangover, you’ ll be saying, “I drank; this is my own damn fault.”

Again, the amount of times I’ve succumbed to a giggle fit while watching plastered video game characters affirms that I don’ t have a problem with how they’ve been portrayed thus far. I simply love the concept so much that I want to expand it, and perhaps even amplify the hilarity by keeping it relatable.

…Well, except for Conker. I’ m cool with letting that squirrel go on as many nonsensical

drunken escapades as he wants.

Warning: I do not condone the act of excessive drinking. This video for this column was created solely in the interest of science. Do not try this yourself, or you will end up very sick. Seriously. Just ask Owen Good how he felt after his drunken experiment, Grand Theft Auto: DUI.

Kotaku columnist Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon’s award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa’s official website.


  • As long as it was ONLY in the name of science, I think it was a great idea 😛

    AN interesting article and vid, something I’ve always pondered about in games, but enjoyed the drunk states for what they are….entertainment. 🙂

  • Haha good times. Pretty funny video especially the last shot 😛 THAT’S some realism for ya.

    But anyway, videogames aren’t ever realistic, in a lot of ways. They are ‘symbolic’ so taking a shot at the bar is a symbol/icon for ‘drinking’ in the same way health packs are symbolic for medical attention. I do think you’re right in the long run though–like sex/romance drinking is a grown-up activity that could be explore in much less symbolic ways and with more narrative and mechanical weight.

    Also, I was pretty critical of Lisa’s videos in another post–this one is much better. You don’t have to dress like a character on Glee to get people’s attention. Don’t do it and you’ll come of a lot more credible 🙂

  • I wish there were more accidents/injuries that resulted from game intoxication, like John Marsten accidentally shooting himself in the foot, or Shepherd getting up on a table and shouting, “lissen up evreebodeeee, the Reapers are comin to kill us in the next game and we is fuuuuuuuuu- (spewing sound)”.

    Also, while I doubt you’re reading Oz comments, you should maybe move the warning to the top of the article.

  • Ew, Lisa Foiles. I honestly thought Gaga.

    GTAIV Drunkenness I thought was reasonably realistic. Not enough puking, breathlessness and promiscuity though.

  • In Lord Of The Rings Online, there was a pub crawl quest that had a timer. You basically started at a pub had i think it was three drinks and then had to run to the next pub and so on. It was a great quest. The screen started to blur and eventually went into double vision the triple etc. Running into the last pub was challenging as i couldn’t tell which of the multiple version of myself on the screen i was, therefor running into obstacles. Good fun.

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