The Politics Of Beer Pong

There are unusual and unconventional ways to figure a person out, but the humdrum how are ya and nice to meet you are the most common. Formalities of meetings teach you a few things: how well a person knows traditional greetings… trivial facts about them… whether they’re eager, or reserved, or ambitious, or sensitive. And you might whiff a scent of their duende, or assign them some fate. But you don’t learn as much of, say, a man’s center or a woman’s physical prowess during small parties and café hellos, as you do when you stand lop-sided in a sway across a table from their cups, trying to shoot at them.

For instance, you’re close to them, and you’re drinking… anyone who has drank, or seen a drunk try to describe half a thought with a quarter of his brain, knows on some level that beer reveals problems and conflicts the heart and mind can have. So, a game with beer probably reveals quite a bit about a person.

I want to get this straight. This is not an essay meant to set up any serious point. I’m not slitting to open some vein of deep meaning. There was a barbecue, and I had got into a game, lost by seven cups, and it got me to think about what I’ve shown of myself, and what I’ve learned. The guy I played against was wild, and only under such circumstances do you get to see that in him—a fun, faux-violent wild, but shocking if you only knew a little about him. What I learned from years of beer pong, I’ve found, is that it exposes flaws and purities in each of its players.

Beer pong is as natural as Apples to Apples or Scrabble to certain circles. It makes sense. The game attracts all kinds of people, and nearly anyone can get into it. Massage therapists, musicians, hunters, and pharmacists… even bookworms play.

The game has evolved since my first rounds. We pour water into the cups, instead of beer, because it cleans the game up a bit, and erases a disturbing tradition. By the end of a night, beer-filled cups usually turn into watery graves for gnats and fruit flies as well as breeding grounds for weird strains of bacteria… and people would share the cups all night. Now, many choose to keep beers at their side to drink when they have to, which shows that a wider range of hygiene-conscious people play now.

The night in question, I played against a friend of mine, who’s of some bizarre Celtic derivation. He won a few games with a beautiful teammate who liked to laugh, and he liked that she liked to laugh, and made her laugh whenever he could in what seems an old Irish tradition of absurdity, rapid but coherent speeches, and paradoxical outbursts. I already knew this about him, but had I never met him before that night, I would have quickly learned how absurd he could be.

I remember playing my first game in my basement in high school. For whatever unholy reason, we asked some legal-aged guys to buy us 30-racks of Red Dog, which is not uncommonly smooth, as its label claims. Beer pong then was not so much a worry over whether or not my parents would find out—I cleaned up well and appropriately and didn’t break anything—but rather a worry about what I’d be able to eat the next day because I could categorically document the layers of my stomach in the sink afterward.

Here’s what I know people learned about me: From the start, I developed an inconsistent throwing style. There is almost no arc in the shot. The best shooters tend to shoot as if the ping-pong ball has close relations to a basketball. My stance changes, and where I shoot from depends on intuition, and that’s mainly because I lack patience. I try not to swat at bounced balls. I yell to get a game heated, and go stoic when everyone else shouts, and I space out in thought or dream pretty damn often.

Music has always played a role. It sparks conversation. Helps people concentrate, or throws them off. And because of the game’s nature, certain people are more likely to openly burn a bowl in front of people they don’t know. Disc throwing wallflowers will get into over-exaggerated battles with athletes, and win, which begged questions like: What did pot and proficiency with Frisbees add to their game?

Beer pong, unlike most other sports, involves a right and good intoxicant that shatters moral bedrock after excess. Whether you play with water in the cup and you drink beer on the side, you gamble your ability to sink a 2.7 gram ball into a Solo cup versus their ability to do the same… drinking cheap beer and maintaining motor skills.

For most, it’s about passing time and hilarious interludes with friends rather than the game. Only the serious players miss this point. Sometimes the games look like a volleyball match between basketball champions and paraplegics. Some games show you who will get real cruel, and who does not separate meanness from competition. Humiliate your crushed opponents. Emotionally pimp slap them. Treat them kind, for a bit, and then go at them with the incoherent, bog swamp behavior of Charlie Sheen, or the pseudo-literate, false candor of Stephanie Meyer.

A fun idea comes to mind: In what situations might it be beneficial to make people play? I can think of a few. Maybe a job interview… what if politicians had to play? What would we learn about them? A fair amount. I’d bet heavily on it.

How would that work? Make it a public event. Maybe throw them on stage with a bunch of American flags and a few beer caddies to refill the cups. They’ll need finger food, bread in particular. How would the President play? Who would bounce at the wrong time? Who would tweet during the game? Who would confuse a flirtatious movement with a strategic feint? Who would pick a partner thinking about romance?

Beer pong, to some, seems about the best game to play when courting. What better environment to impress someone than in a game in which you nail the final Solo cup—arterial veins ballooning with all the power of a rapid heart—while yelling at your opponents aggressive nonsense like: “What bitches? Suck some! …I am a number one risk factor for being awesome!”

Romantic. But what defines a great beer pong player nearly as much as their throw is what they do in the down time. Distraction. By and large, men are instinctively distracted by a woman player, which I will touch upon in a moment. However, it seems in most cases, men willing to distract their opponents will go to absurd lows to do so. And they don’t often work at all. They just look ugly, or mean, or awkward, but sometimes hilarious.

Some guys will stand stiff, and twitch their hand near their groin, or bark quickly as their opponents shoot. Some resort to homophobic remarks, or expose way too much of their body.

For instance, it is unusual to watch a man unzip his pre-ripped Abercrombie and Fitch khaki cargo shorts to reveal his southern beard plaited and accented by two pink ribbons. The sight bombs the brains of opponents into rubble and dust, or just bothers people a great deal. Weird? Yes, and probably a bit traumatizing. But either way, moments like that one say much about a man. McCarthyism may never have gotten out of control were beer pong a requirement for office back then. And Hoover would have been disqualified in seconds.

As far as distractions go, women should have the upper hand in most games, but often they will not stoop as low as men. Her ingrained notions of propriety normally prevent shirt-raising revelations that she once had a pierced nipple, and has a small birthmark below her left breast. And often enough, to add to her frustration, some male players care so much for the game that they do not notice, or can completely ignore when she bends, pretending to be absent of thought and feigning unawareness of the vast swath of soft cleavage spilling out her shirt or dress.

The mediocre players, like myself, fall complete victim to the sight of an attractive woman lightly dancing and revealing small patches of her skin just seven feet away. It’s a welcome distraction, sure, even for women trying to shoot. It is the same dynamic that occurs when politicians grip podiums and give speeches that are given much more merit than deserved.

Beer pong is a challenging game, and fun for the right person, but it’s hard to deny the game’s allegiance to cheap beer, and that it promotes basic animal urges like random shouts, and the intimidation of the shy and sensitive. But, positive characteristics show up as well. You figure out who just wants to talk and have fun with those around them. They’re easy to spot—they care very little about putting a ball in a cup, and prefer to talk to their friends rather than scream at them.

You can learn how physical certain people are. How dexterous they can be. How good their aim is. And, their attitudes towards humanity. You can learn how likely they’ll shout or swear without thinking—and how much emotional stock they’ll put into games, and how drinking affects that. How much anxiety they have, and how much they care about being perceived as a winner or a loser, or something else.

I’ve seen bottles thrown, fights erupt, sullen walk-aways, furious table whacks, and teams that left the table yelling at each other in short words and graphic, phallic phrases that contain verbs like “suck” and “swallow” and “gobble” along with weak allusions to homosexuality.

But it can also be fun. It can be a quiet, skill-oriented game, or a thing to do so people can get talking. You can learn all sorts of weird things about friends and random people – what kind of humor they have and whether they can run a state or a country. The game is a mirror – look closely enough and you’ll see the conflicts within you and your friends. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – Greg Ma

More From Thought Catalog