Let Me Get You A Drink, Part 1: Beer
There is an epidemic plaguing today’s society.
Whatever part of our brains that allows us to enjoy the finer things in life is atrophying in many of us and as such, our appreciation of all forms of culture is withering away. Our environment keeping us constantly mobile has shortened our attention span and we are always looking for the next little bit of excitement. Anything that happened five minutes ago is old news. We have forgotten how to stop and smell the roses.
Well…most of us anyway…
There are a few holdouts yet who make an effort to seek out challenging and finely crafted bits of culture, and I consider myself among them. So as the newest addition to the Ludus Press crew, I thought it would be a good idea to give the world a sorely needed injection of fine culture in the form of a sort of online drink tasting session.
“So why write about alcoholic drinks on a video games and wrestling site?” I hear you asking me. One reason is simply that as great as video games are on their own, great things always come in pairs. Steak and eggs, Siegfried and Roy, kisses and moustaches. Bringing one thing into the equation only serves to enhance the fine qualities of the other. Who among us hasn’t been enjoying a few drinks at a party only to have the host fire up Rock Band or Kinect Sports to liven things up? How many times have you been hanging out with someone, playing some couch co-op only to offer a frosty brew from the cooler to further establish your friendly partnership? When it comes to a social setting for adults, video games and alcohol complement each other perfectly.
The other reason is that as the newest member of the Ludus Press staff, I thought that this would be the best way to introduce myself to you without writing a boilerplate biography outlining my history with video games and why you should like me. I also don’t want this to be a checklist of my favorite games, because frankly, as I’ve discussed with Joe, those kinds of articles are boring and pointless. Why should the reader care what someone’s favorite games are? The answer is that they shouldn’t. What I’m doing is giving the reader something to expand their cultural palettes and introduce a new way for them to analyze and appreciate this medium we love so much.
So with that in mind, let’s get on to the games.
Unibroue: La Fin Du Monde – The Walking Dead Season 1
There’s no denying the impact that Telltale Games has had on our collective video game experiences. Years ago an adventure game would not have stood a chance of winning awards over the biggest AAA releases of the year. Yes we all have very fond memories of pointing and clicking in what are now classics by LucasArts and Sierra, but for the most part they appealed to a niche audience as they required a great deal of patience and lateral thinking that kids and adolescents rarely possess. Their limited appeal seems to be broadening as those of us who grew up with them are now more mature and the interfaces are more streamlined. And what Telltale has done is craft an all-inclusive user experience with different kinds of play for different kinds of players.
However, for all their work making the “point-and-click” adventure game easier to play, they have taken a huge risk and poured a massive amount of creativity into composing a game which is extraordinarily difficult to play. Not “difficulty” in the sense that the play is too hard and that less skilled players will have a tough time completing it, but rather Telltale has garnered a reputation for being a studio that creates branching paths in their narratives, and the difficulty manifests itself in the emotional strain it puts on the player in decision making events. Going in to the experience, I knew that I would be forced to make difficult decisions, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the stress I would feel in those situations. Indeed the reason that I could write only about Season 1 is that I couldn’t bring myself to play through the second season as, right in the very beginning of Episode 1, I was forced to make a choice that actually caused me a great deal of mental anguish, and I turned the game off.
So why does this game pair so well with this beer? Because the beer carries a similar challenge with it. It is not difficult to drink due to its harshness or bad taste, but because there is a lot going on with it. It has a robust blend of flavors which is tricky to distinguish, yet absolutely worth trying. It is bitter in some spots yet has an air of sweetness to it. Just like season one of Telltale’s adaptation of everyone’s current favorite zombie saga. And despite Unibroue’s description of La Fin du Monde (translated as “the end of the world”) saying that the beer represents gold that travelers from the age of exploration would venture to the end of the world for, I interpret the phrase as meaning Earth’s final hours. And if the zombie apocalypse ever does strike, there’s no other beer I’d rather have by my side.
Boulevard Brewing Co.: Tasting Room/Oatmeal Stout – Little Inferno
We may be past the worst of the snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures here in Chicago, but even though we’re starting to see signs of spring the weather is still subject to change drastically at any moment with little notice. But even if it doesn’t we should still be set for many winters to come with this next combo. Not many North Americans know how to handle an abrupt drop of the mercury like we do in the midwest (I’m not forgetting about you, Canadians and north-easterners), so I thought it appropriate to pick a beer from a midwestern brewery to help us tough out all future winters and polar vortices.
Boulevard Brewing Co. is from Kansas City and those of you who are not afraid of a rich, full bodied, dark brew would do well to try out their Oatmeal Stout. It may be a little tricky to come by, as, to my knowledge it has not seen a full release or even been given a unique name. I came across it in a Boulevard sampler pack I picked up and it carries a sparsely designed “Tasting Room” label which reads, “The tasting room was once the only place you could sample test beers our brewers were working on for potential release.” If you manage to find it, it is well worth checking out. And what I’m about to say may upset some beer drinkers and possibly even the brewers at Boulevard themselves, but I think that the best way to enjoy the Oatmeal Stout is to heat it up. That’s right, you need to try a hot beer. Heating your beer is a concept that goes beyond being merely foreign to many drinkers in the US into the territory of the strictly inconceivable. Why it never caught on here, I don’t understand because there are plenty of other cultures that suffer stingingly cold winters and for them, heating up their beer is as reflexive as putting on a scarf and gloves. And the great thing about heating up your beer, this one in particular, is that it amplifies the smooth smokiness and you can feel it spreading throughout and warming up your whole body.
Another staple of midwinter warmth-generating activities is huddling around the hearth. But if you’re like me and you live in a house which does not have a fireplace, you do not get to enjoy the crackling comfort and soothing glow that a fireplace provides. So rather than shelling out exorbitant amounts of money on home renovations or less exorbitant yet still prohibitive amounts on those electric fireplaces which are bulky, heavy, and stationary, pick up a copy of Little Inferno. There is a rather charming, creepy, and strange narrative at play in this game which itself is set in a snow-locked town, but the main portion of your experience will be as simple as dragging items into your fireplace and burning them. Many of the items create different effects when they are burned and it is fun to combine items to see what will happen when you burn certain things in certain ways. So snuggle up with a cozy blanket, grab a mug of piping hot Boulevard Oatmeal Stout, and burn the cold away.
Tallgrass Brewing Co.: 8-Bit Pale Ale – Battletoads
We’re not out of Kansas yet, Toto. Here’s a neat little beer that I happened across in a tiny liquor store in Middleofnowhere, Illinois and I had to temporarily suspend my self-imposed embargo on pale ales* because the design of the can piqued my curiosity so strongly. And I have to say, the beer itself was bitterly sharp, but something about it made me like it in spite of its harsh notes. Similarly to a well-designed 8-bit game in the vein of a Mega Man or a Top Gun for example, it was difficult to get through, but enjoyable nonetheless and an experience that I’m glad to have had. And as if we needed more reasons that the only suitable way to drink this beer was to have a game controller in your other hand, Tallgrass themselves say that its best food pairing is Doritos.Now, as for what game it should go with, there is a veritable bevy of options to choose from (I just listed a couple in the previous paragraph). But it isn’t enough for me to just say, “8-bit? Difficult? Then go with anything!” I had to dig deep into my mind to find something very special to pair with it for specific reasons other than the general categories that the beer falls into. And Then I remembered what happened when I had given my wife a taste of it for her to try out. For a brief note of clarification, my wife’s taste in beer is less adventurous than my own. When she finds something that she likes, she usually sticks to it and has a stable of dependable choices should her favorite beer not be available at a particular bar or restaurant. And the beers that she does like tend toward the lighter in tone and the milder tasting. So when I offered a taste of the 8-Bit Pale Ale, she nearly gagged and had a hard time even finishing her sip. I then realized something: I had taken what was meant to be a fun thing for people to enjoy doing together and instead caused a loved one to feel something painful and unpleasant. I knew then exactly what game would go the best with this beer, and that game is Battletoads.
Battletoads is a fantastic game in and of itself. It is well designed and simple to control, and above all else, fun to play. It is challenging and unapologetically brutal at times, yet it makes you really feel accomplished when you get past certain points. You really feel the connection when you’re smacking enemies, clanging them in the head with a metal rod, or blazing past them on your hover bike. What doesn’t feel so great is when you’re playing co-op with a friend and you accidentally hit them or they, you. This of course leads into a rally between partners to see who can balance the Hammurabian scales of justice. The exchange goes something like this:
Step 1: One player (A) accidentally friendly fires their partner (B).
Step 2: Player B retaliates against Player A.
Step 3: Player A, feeling unfairly reprimanded seeing as the inital blow was unintentional, retaliates against Player B.
Step 4: Repeat steps 2-3 until a player dies.
Accidentally hitting your partner in Battletoads carries with it an incredible level of guilt, and likewise when I offer a beer to another person for them to taste which they find so repulsive that they wind up almost doing a spit take, I feel very sorry for inflicting that level of discomfort upon them. But at the same time, it is kind of amusing knowing that ultimately I’m not doing any real harm. So if you’re going to playfully jab at your loved ones in the game, you might as well go whole hog and pop the top on the beer also.
So there you have it, folks! I hope I’ve given you some good ideas of what to drink while you play. And if I’ve completely missed the mark, then let me know in the comments what your favorite beer/game pairings are. And make sure you stick around for the second entry in this series where we will move on to some wine pairings.
*NOTE: I have consciously chosen to avoid drinking pale ales and IPAs, not because I don’t like them (although honestly I don’t think they’re all that great), but because they have so deeply infiltrated beer culture in the US that I have to search carefully to find a beer that is not one. Typically in any aspect of culture, I don’t go for the thing that everyone else goes for. I’m curious to veer off the beaten path for some hidden gem, because that is where you find the real interesting stuff. If the beers I usually like are the equivalent of the lesser known, weird indie games of the alcohol world, then pale ales and IPAs are the Call of Dutys and other brown-gray shooty spectacles.