Last Thursday night my friends and I were playing Beirut in the basement of our house. For anyone who does not know, Beirut is a popular drinking game that was recently on campus. It has the disadvantage of being highly visible, as it involves a ping-pong table and gross physical movement. Thursday night, everyone in the room was 21 years old, but when Security came by, they took everyone’s college ID and wrote us up anyway.
Apparently we were engaged in “high-risk drinking behavior.” I take this ambiguous phrase to signify any consumption of alcohol with the intent of getting drunk quickly, or in potentially hazardous ways. These are the grounds upon which Williams has banned drinking games. Security officers broke up our game in order to ensure our safety and the safety of the college community in our presence.
Upon being told we could not drink the way we wanted to drink, we came back upstairs to our suite to waste another half an hour before we were ready to make our way to the Log. We were not ready to stop drinking for the night just yet, and we were going to do it one way or another.
Deprived of the option of one of our favorite recreational activities, we resorted to the only form of drinking that is still permitted at this school: shots of Ephman Vodka in our common room. Some of us took as many as five shots of vodka in 20 minutes. High-risk drinking? I would say so, given that one of my friends has no memory of anything he did after 10:45 that night. Evidently, though, taking five shots each was preferable as far the College is concerned to our playing one or two more games of Beirut, in which we would have had roughly a beer and a half each during the same amount of time.
This actually happened last weekend, and I do think that behavior is a fairly typical response among many Williams students to the recent crackdown. I am not telling a parable to make a point. Certainly it was our responsibility to make good decisions and drink safely. Security cannot be blamed for the fact that my friend does not remember six hours of his life. On the other hand, we had already made the decision to drink responsibly before security officers told us that our decision was not acceptable.
Obviously there is a wide variety of drinking games, and not all are safe. Beirut is the game that I love, so I will defend it specifically. The game is designed so that the drunker someone gets, the less likely that person is to continue to play.
Two teams of two people each compete, and the team that wins defends the table from the next challenging couple. Because Beirut depends on physical dexterity, the drunker a person becomes, the less likely he is to be able to throw a ping-pong ball into a plastic cup. His team will not win, and both players will have to sit out until it is their turn again. If everyone on the table is drunk, they make fewer shots and the game naturally slows down, and with it the rate of consumption of alcohol.
Beirut is not a contest of drinking. Teams cannot win a game by drinking more, or more quickly than their opponents do. They win by throwing a ball into a cup more accurately than the two people across the table. In Beirut as we play it, no one is forced to chug a beer at any point in the game. If the pace of the game corresponds to a pace of drinking that is too fast for someone, that person is allowed to finish his beer at his own pace, including after play has stopped. Since each player determines for himself how full his cups will be, he determines exactly how much he wants to drink in the course of one game. Moreover, anyone who does not want to drink beer quite simply will not play Beirut. Anyone who does want to drink beer will do so regardless of whether he plays or not.
It is evident that the people who have made this new policy are not familiar with what exactly they are prohibiting. Every administrator, security officer or other college official who I have heard defend or explain the ban on drinking games has constantly referred to the plague of “beer pong” on this campus. In my three years and one month at Williams, I have not seen a single game of beer pong played. Pong, Beirut, Mrs. Smith, quarters, kings, etc. are all very different games with different potentials for high-risk behavior.
The fact that the policymakers do not distinguish between various drinking games indicates to me that they do not have an accurate picture of the subject with which they are dealing. A blanket ban on all drinking games is absurd because it ignores vastly different safety concerns among games. Each game requires a unique consideration.
I freely admit that when some people play some drinking games, they sometimes drink irresponsibly. The same is true about some people who drink while eating dinner, or watching baseball, or going to bars, or standing in keg lines at Perry. There is no logical necessity or legitimate reason to ban all drinking games on the basis of some behavior. A comprehensive ban on all drinking games indicates that Williams does not trust its own students to make responsible decisions.
Prohibition of drinking games is not only counterproductive, but it also punishes the majority for the behavior of a minority. Should we also ban wine with meals because some people drink four bottles at dinner, or beer at baseball games because a few idiots get obnoxious and rowdy? Drinking games do not necessarily indicate high-risk behavior, just as drinking in general does not necessarily indicate irresponsibility and danger. If there is a drinking problem among the student body at Williams, the problem is not with a green piece of wood and a few plastic balls. We do not drink because we play drinking games. Rather, we create games because we drink.
Even though some drinking games do in fact include high-risk drinking, those games â€“ like Beirut â€“ that do not center on the amount or the rapidity of drinking rarely, if ever, are the exclusive cause of a Williams student having to go to the health center. By “exclusive” I mean that the student’s only substantial consumption was in games, and he did not have any shots or chug any beers before or after playing in addition to whatever he drank during the game. Even if there are such incidents, I will counter each one with 25 incidents of students drinking to the point of serious physical danger because they did not have the opportunity to drink socially.
We play Beirut because we have fun doing it. It is not a means to getting drunk, it is the end in itself. Most drinking games played here are inherently social activities. They are nothing but groups of people having fun together, joking, laughing and competing.
They are dependent on alcohol, but they are not entirely focused on alcohol. If we are of legal age, drinking is our choice. The college policy-makers want us to drink socially and responsibly. Maybe next time when we decide to do so, they will let us.