1983’s ‘Tapper’ Better Reflects Glasgow Culture Than ‘GTA’ or ‘Call of Duty’

Video games don't make you violent, but could their depictions of alcohol abuse be influencing real-life drinkers?

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06 February 2015, 7:44am

Glaswegians having a drink and a dance. Photo: Joe Donnelly

"Give me two pints of lager and a vodka and coke – one bit of ice," says the puffy eyed, cherry-faced man stood in front of me, as he sprays flecks of saliva onto the bar. He can see that I'm busy, but still he incessantly waves a ten pound note above his head, as if to cement the notion that he wants served; his obnoxious comportment clearly not an obvious enough indicator in his mind's eye. He offers no please. He offers no thanks.

"I'm serving someone, mate. You'll have to give me a second." "Aye, well, when you get a chance," he replies nonchalantly as he throws the tenner down onto the bar top. His flippant politeness is merely a formality. What's more, I can almost expect to be met with the same boorishness from the "gentleman" at this one's back.

Tapper gameplay

You see, I recently quit a bar job at an "old man's" pub in a slightly rougher area of Glasgow. For many that frequent these kinds of establishments, drinking isn't merely a social convention – it's a livelihood, a way of life, and, for some, a pseudonymous career. By no means are these folk bad people, and it's far from exclusive to these sorts of venues, but such is the drinking culture sewn into everyday life in the UK – but most specifically, hard-drinking cities like Glasgow – people are almost compelled to overindulge in alcohol, and thus the majority suspend any sense of manners or politeness as they impatiently line up for a bevy.

To be fair, I'm no angel myself, and have on occasion acted like the aforementioned while on the other side of the taps. One could blame the constant corporate-sponsored advertising that's perpetually shovelled down our throats, or the weight of attitudinal peer pressures, or perhaps even lacking willpower as a means of understanding this cultural permissiveness. And that's completely overlooking any socio-economic factors that can be, and often are, at play. Ultimately, though, the responsibility lies with the individual.

So, what's this got to do with video games? In late 2013, Glasgow University published the findings of a ten-year study into whether or not increased exposure to television and/or video games had behavioural altering effects on children. While the research – which examined 11,000 people – found that "watching TV for three hours or more daily at five years predicted increasing conduct problems between the ages of five years and seven years", the study also found that video games had no adverse effects on children's behaviour whatsoever.

The age-old proposition that "video games make players violent" is tired and misleading. Yet every time a young male – perceived falsely as the largest demographic of video game players worldwide – commits an atrocity in the US, for example, video games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty are too often linked to the motive.

The abhorrent Elliot Rodger shootings in Isla Vista, California last year proved that certain facets of the media remain rather hell bent on pointing the proverbial finger of blame at the games industry, with a number of online outlets and newspapers running articles blaming World of Warcraft for the killer's behaviour. There was little mention of possible mental illness. And little mention of America's incredibly lax gun laws. Surely, then, with such intricate and idiosyncratic variables at play, violent video games are all but a clear case of art imitating life and not the other way round?

Elliot Rodger quotes from World of Warcraft

And thus back to Glasgow's drinking culture.

Bally Midway's 1980s arcade hit Tapper best reflects my time as a part-time barman at the heart of a hard-drinking city. The serve-'em-up's near-never-ending conveyor belt of virtual customers, concerned for nothing else but to wet their whistles, holds a mirror against modern day Glasgow's problems with alcohol addiction.

A Saturday night up the town, no matter the venue, bears a glaring resemblance to the ever-burgeoning punters pushing towards the barman in Midway's cabinet classic. The jostling, the shoving, the swearing, the glass smashing and the boisterous behaviour: it's all there. Bar staff can hardly keep up with the demand, not to mention the gross sense of self-entitlement that lends itself to those who finally make it to the front of the queue. Yet by indulging in what is perceived as a "recreational" activity, we are creating serious health problems for ourselves – more than anyone else, anywhere else in the country.

A screenshot from Tapper

According to an NHS study conducted in 2013, sales of alcohol per person were 13% higher in the west of Scotland, compared to its northeast England counterparts, and deaths were 67% higher. Compared to northwest England, sales were 12% higher in Scotland, and deaths 47% higher. The same study found that deaths related to alcohol were 80% higher in Scotland than the rest of Britain, the majority of which came from Glasgow. A statement on the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde website reads: "It is estimated that the cost of violent crime in Glasgow, of which many are alcohol related, is £262.1 million."

Yet nobody is pointing the finger at the GTAs, the Red Dead Redemptions, the Bulletstorms, the BioShocks, the Fallouts, the Skyrims, or the myriad of other games which portray violence, while at the same time offering players the option to binge on alcohol should they so desire.

Drinking and driving with Packie McReary in GTA IV

Among these examples are games like Grand Theft Auto IV, which encourages players to sustain social drinking relationships with non-player characters. Packie McReary, for example, is but a quick phone call away from an exorbitant night on the lash, after which you stumble into your Blista Compact and set about pinballing up the road – as per that scene in The Wolf of Wall Street – to drop your drinking buddy home. Furthermore, Bulletstorm's entire plot is predicated on booze; and Skyrim sees the Dragonborn piecing together a drunken evening post-drinking contest, recapturing a stolen goat, divorcing an untimely marriage, and travelling to a foreign dimension, all in order to restore his marbles.

Nobody is pointing the finger here because these scenarios take place in places that don't exist. Certainly no one is suggesting the way in which Tapper promotes reprehensible autogenetic alcoholism is the reason for Glasgow's battle with booze because, well, that would be daft.

A Glasgow kitchen. Photo: Joe Donnelly

Again, this is clear-cut example of art imitating life, not life imitating art. And while Glasgow University's research can in no way conclusively prove that video games do not make people violent, at the very least it's another example which highlights the sheer ambiguity – and arguably, against other external factors, the ignorance and hypocrisy – of the suggestion.

Collectively, Glasgow should drink less. But such is the modus operandi for a large portion of a population very much part of a serious drinking culture. People drink because they want to: for release, to hide from their problems, or for a number of other, often personal and complex reasons. They certainly do not do so based on influences fed by the media – in any shape or form.

@deaco2000

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