I am in fact going to defend Beirut this week. “Why,” you say? Well, no one has stepped up to do it, and I’m tired, tired, tired, of seeing a game I love made the scapegoat for the general and unrelated problem of irresponsible drinking by many young people in America. If you want people to stop chewing tobacco, should you first make them stop playing baseball? No, instead you address the issue at the heart of the abuse: that people drink excessively at times regardless of the means in which they consume it. There are efforts on campus to educate and preach responsibility. And these are worthwhile and sometimes underappreciated.
Beirut is competitive. Competition is an essential part of sport. Staring across at your opponent and realizing that you both want the same thing. You have a partner and you see who can put a ping-pong ball into a cup on the other side of the table better. But the amount of pleasure I have personally taken from it is borderline shameful. I know for a fact that I am not alone in this because you see it played all over campus. Just as in any other competitive endeavor, a crucial win or loss can ruin a night. Extra-curricular imitation of shot form, discussion of technique or strategies are commonplace activities. Games have become the stuff of legend, with certain nights of particular success serving as chief sources of pride.
Beirut culture comes replete with all the formalities and unwritten rules that accompany any sporting activity. You do not put up a net. You act like you’ve been there before when you win. Partners stay together. Loose balls are fair game, but there’s a beverage here, man. Sidespin occasionally helps. Watch your drinking cup, put some arch on the damn ball, and rack at six.
There are things that administration can very easily control and direct. Removing ping-pong tables from common areas and altering school policies towards drinking games are two examples of them. However, students are going to drink. That has been said before and will be said again. The truth of the situation is that the game can be “point-and-chug” or it can be Beirut. Point-and-chug is not fun. You play Beirut because you enjoy it as an activity, not to get rollicking drunk. Beirut is played in public with a large group of friends. It is a game that necessarily involves multiple participants shuffling off the table (unless you are on Dan Matro’s ’01 team). It is the safest drinking game I can think of because the drinking element takes a backseat to the competition on the table. The nature of the game is to shun the side of those who are possibly feeling the effects of alcohol by their horrible play.
But we are in college. This is the heart of the narrow range in time where we play drinking games like this. And that’s not a defense, explanation, or justification. But it is a reality. The college has the obvious legal responsibility to protect the health of its students and of its endowment. This is true. But at some point individuals must make choices for themselves. A choice made on your own builds character. Beirut would be fun if played with water, but we are of drinking age, and this is our choice.