Press Space to Drink

Drink is a 2 week project based around the concept of conveying perspective and narrative through a games mechanics rather than just via text and dialogue. The context of the game takes on a deeply personal topic and explores the effects of alcoholism. I’m truly grateful that this game was made and aim to break down some of its design intent and accomplishments in this entry.

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In Drink you are able to control the father of a small family by moving to the left and right of a cutout scene that almost feels like a theater stage. The game’s core mechanic is to  drink, by pressing spacebar, which will progress the game by destroying a panel of  the current scene to reveal a portion of the next set. Each new scene reveals story elements and highlights specific consequences that can result from alcohol abuse such as domestic abuse and fear. The opening scene is harmless enough and is likely a picture that many can relate to, the father is simply enjoying a drink at the local bar but as the consumption throughout the game increases so does the severity of the consequences. Scenes 3 and 4 reveal evidence of domestic abuse and  eventual separation of the family. After another round of drinking the father is alone on a blank set while a preset animation plays of him realizing the  reality of his choices. The rest of his life is represented through a quick animation of his aging and a grave with a solitary flower laid upon it.

The art style  combined with the way that the panels visually change almost feels like a picture book or a theater set. As each page is turned and set changes, It feels as if I’m apart of this retelling of memories. Immeditaley I understand  that the artists perspective is of the child, however the game is played from the perspective of the alcoholic father.The bouncy but somber 8 bit audio track and the pixel art aesthetic conflict with  the seriousness of then games content, only adding to the introspective feelings one is left with after playing drink. I also noticed that the father’s sprite is noticeably more detailed than the games environments and the other characters that appear in each scene, depicting the blurred vision and judgement  one may have whilst under the influence.

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One of the major triumphs of this game is that it presents both sides of the situation. Yes the life shattering effects on the family and home are a heavy focus, but the changes to a person who is reliant on alcohol are also portrayed through the the dialogue in each scene. In particular the image of a child hiding under a bed while the father questions his tears in the third scene, made me not only feel sympathy for the child but also the father. Drink deliberately reveals the blindness and eventual regret,  rather than disparaging the father figure and alcoholism, the player is allowed to formulate their own viewpoint on the topic based on the in game perspective.

The fact that in this game drinking is essential, a requirement and a need to be able to move forward gives me a sad and sick feeling whilst I realize how entirely clever this is. Whether or not it is intentional, I did not at first realize how many times I had hit the spacebar to ‘drink’ since the instructions in the opening scene disappear after you start playing. By making the drink mechanic so simple, it was easy to forget what you were actually doing. I had to go back and count to realize I had 16 drinks to complete the game, which easily classed as excessive. In retrospect this comparing drinking to the ease of hitting a space bar was a subtle yet profound gem, that shares a small insight into  alcoholism  and how it changes a person’s long term judgement and perspective.

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As the game’s last frames play out,  a small flower appears on top of the fathers grave. The flower is a small piece of evidence that someone still cared enough to visit and in my interpretation is a symbol of forgiveness towards the father character. The artists statement  specifically refers to this flower being representation of his feelings towards his own father.

Overall Drink, as a vignette, succeeds in providing the player with an experience that leaves lingering questions about the content and topic. Rather than reinforcing common or biased perspectives the author has used the tools at his disposal to ask the player to consider all sides of the story, to realize that everyone makes mistakes but not all of us get a chance to fix them.

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