If the current presidential election has not yet driven you to drink, the first of three debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump scheduled for Monday (yes, today) may well prove to be the tipping point. Before it has even begun, it is already infuriating: one candidate is likely to be declared presidential if they manage to avoid a sudden bout of incontinence, whereas the other’s supporters have been preparing for this injustice with their normal reserve. Is it over yet?
The desire to drink through debates is oftentimes a purely rhetorical gesture meant to signal just how frustrating the whole exercise is. Some politicos do, however, drink through the pain—usually with primitive rules. For the discerning connoisseur, however, there is the work of DebateDrinking.com, which is now in its second electoral cycle of producing political drinking games.
“We started about five years ago with the Republican primaries in 2012, and did most of that on Twitter,” says Debate Drinking creator Dan Mueller. When the general election rolled around, Mueller was approached by a livestreaming service, and that is where the drinking-game-as-esport concept came about. “Watching us sit on our couch would not be interesting,” Mueller says, “so we came up with a live scoreboard.” That model, which has now moved to YouTube, has been used ever since, with State of the Union addresses filling the void between campaigns.
“We did all the primaries for it feels like a year and a half now,” he says.
Under the rules for Debate Drinking’s current game, you pick a candidate to follow for the evening, and drink whenever that candidate says one of their pre-selected words. You are not, however, at risk for whatever the other candidate says. Choose wisely. This choice mechanic, Mueller says, puts the game back in drinking games: “A lot of drinking games online, they’re not really games. A game involves competition. If everyone’s drinking to the same words, it can be a fun party, but it’s not a game.”
In addition to their candidate’s words, all players drink when shared words, which reflect bipartisan political pabulum, are uttered. One such word in the latest version of the game is Reagan. “In the past we tried to do a lot of topical things that were in the news,” Mueller says, “but the more we’ve been doing them we’ve had fun with the more filler phrases: the phrases that are more personality based, the things the candidates bring up on their own.”
This, inevitably, brings us to the most contentious part of drinking game design: the alcohol. As a rhetorical device, the joke is usually that you’ll drink yourself into a stupor because politicians so frequently say dumb things. That, however, would be an ill-advised strategy for the designer of an actual drinking game. In part, Mueller solves this problem by defining a drink as a sip of wine or beer as opposed to a more oppressive quantity. “We don’t want it to get too far out of hand but we don’t want it to be a low scoring game,” he says. “In an ideal setting we end up with scores in 30-50 range. We calculate that’s 3-4 beers.”
If there’s one person who won’t be drinking during the Trump-Clinton debate, it’s Mueller. He’ll be busy operating the scoreboard, which is a task best left to the sober. It occupies enough of Mueller’s attention to drown out the actual political discourse as it happens. “I usually end up watching it again on C-Span so I can actually watch and hear what they’re saying,” he says, “because when I’m watching it with the scoreboard I’m just watching for words.”
After Monday’s debate, this routine will be repeated three more times over the rest of the campaign: there are two more presidential debates as well as one between the vice-presidential candidates. Mueller is already thinking of other political events to fill the downtime between elections. He is, however, resigned to those events being more scarce.
“We don’t recommend having a hobby that comes up for a couple days every four years,” Mueller says, “and yet we still feel very unprepared for Monday. But we’ll have fun.”
Find out more about DebateDrinking over on its website.