They are called MMORPs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games) and the biggest one of all is World of Warcraft that claims over five million online players. Players range in age from seven (as in my own son who I let play on occasion when I'm not hogging the computer) to seniors. Judging by the banter on the live chat portion of the game I would guess the statistical bell curve peaks out in age somewhere in the late teens or early 20s. This means a large number of players are definitely under the legal age of consuming alcohol. Even if my guess is way off, by sheer numbers alone it is possible that those under the age of consent could be pushing a million.
What does this have to do with imbibing you say? Stay with me.
Within the game players have a character that has to complete quests. They fight monsters, each other and search for treasure so that they may have virtual money to increase their skills and buy that enchanted glowing sword so that they can kill more monsters, each other and find more treasure. Along the way, they must monitor their health, feed themselves, and, visit taverns where they can get beverages. Naturally some of these beverages are alcoholic. And, being part of the game--when sipped, chugged and swallowed--impart benefits which enhance a characters stamina and strength. But drinking comes at a price and characteristics of being drunk such as loss of agility and coordination come into play as well. After drinking several Thunderbrew Lagers my dwarf's screen seems to waver in and out a little. Some quests are specifically designed around finding the ingredients for a keg of beer or getting goblins drunk. Not only that, but some special concoctions cause some players to behave erratically, unconsciously taking off their characters clothes in the game to run around in their skivvies. Most player's characters are plain fun to look at (who wouldn't want to see a naked gnome?) while others border on the slightly erotic. A naked female night elf dances like a stripper and can be quite engaging to look at. But I digress.
I never gave it much thought while playing the game, but that little white angel on my left (or is it right?) shoulder whispered in my ear the other day, "What kind of message does this send our youngsters?"
"You're right," I said. "The first experience some kids have with alcohol may be within this game."
Then the little red guy on the opposite shoulder reminded me about growing in an extended family full of German and Chzec immigrants in South Texas. At wedding receptions the kids ended up being the gophers for beer and we'd always sip a little off the top thinking the adults wouldn't see us. They always knew what was happening, of course, and allowed it out of entertainment to see a bunch of kids act all crazy, but also because they knew we'd crash hard for a nap later and allow them to play dominoes in peace. But I digress again.
I'm not the type of person who imposes his own personal morals on others. Heck, I'm of the mindset that if you are old enough to die for your country you should legally be able to toast one to it. But within MMORPs such as Warcraft, I find slightly unsettling the glorification of booze. It would only need slight modifications. I could be made fine with it if they added in more realism for the characters such as alcoholism, DTs (delirious tremens) and guards that issue public drunkenness tickets or put people in the drunk tank. But that probably would only make it more fun for people. Has anyone created a game with a virtual liver transplant?