Culture on Drugs

And now to something completely different. Recreational drugs. Recreational drugs are weird. Specifically, the way we as a society deal with drugs is inconsistent. Also, there might be an interesting change going on in the kinds of drugs which are generally preferred.

A huge amount of substances is not only forbidden by law, it’s also socially stigmatized. Concepts like addiction, crime and different illnesses are a well established part of how people think about drugs. The irony is that other drugs like caffeine, nicotine and especially alcohol have technically the same effects, yet they are socially completely acceptable. I even got into situation where grown people mocked me for refusing to drink alcohol. One of them was a teacher, the other one was a priest. Go figure.

Alcohol has such deep roots in all cultures, we have become almost blind it’s effects. On the recent BBC documentary about the top 20 list of the most dangerous drugs, alcohol scored place 5 – above LSD, Ecstasy, Canabis, Steroids and Speed.

But this might be changing. I have noticed that the generation of my parents consumes alcohol casually and on a regular basis. Especially shows like Mad Men make it blatantly obvious that just 50 years ago, even hard alcoholic beverages were consumed much more casually.

It’s different today. The most widely used legal drug of the geek generation is caffeine. And caffeine in it’s original form – black coffee – is not cutting it anymore. We now have a much richer coffee culture with hundreds of variations – espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, frappuccinos and whatnot. Going beyond that, we have a wide selection on energy drinks – cocktails of caffeine and other stimulants mixed with a high dose of sugar for those long nights. And if that isn’t enough, you can still just go balls out and order pure caffeine and create your own recipes. Caffeine Jello Shots anyone?

Evolution of Drugs

Wait! Does that mean that people will be binge drinking frappuchinos and red bulls in the future?

Why is there a shift from alcohol to caffeine? Well, there are different ways to categorize the effect of drugs. One interesting dichotomy is between Depressants and Stimulants. Most people may be familiar with the slang synonyms – “Downers” and “Uppers”. Generally, depressants inhibit brain activity and have a calming, relaxing effect. Stimulants increase brain activity, increasing awareness and the ability to concentrate. And here is the thing. Alcohol is a Depressant. Caffeine and Nicotine are Stimulants. That’s why Coffee and Cigarettes work so well together.

Depressants were a good choice in the industrial and pre-industrual ages. These were the times of hard manual labor. The people needed a way to relax in the evenings after a day of hard work. The go-to place was the pub – a place specifically designed to consume alcohol in the evenings. But now, we are moving into the information age where work is usually of mental nature. The modern worker doesn’t need depressants, they need stimulants to overcome the fatigue caused by their work. The Stimulant counterpart of the pub is the coffee house. Coffee houses are already said to be associated with the increase of literacy and spread of literature in the 18th century. It only makes sense that they are nowadays places where you can slip in bits of work. You can check your E-Mails, write that blog post while enjoying your double latte.

That doesn’t mean that alcohol will disappear immediately. It’s a gradual shift and the changes are subtle. I have noticed that while my father preferred a beer in the evenings. I enjoy a nice cool energy drink to squeeze that few extra hours out of my day.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

3 responses to “Culture on Drugs”

  1. Ava Avane Dawn

    This is actually funny — I’m drunk fot the first time in HALF A year, and youäre writing sthis post! I prefer caffeine just as just yoy so. Time is of essence. Relaxing is hard. Even whgen im watching something I like, or playing something I like, I want my wits to be with me, alwauys analyzing AND stuff. Is this a generational question then, or just the habitus of my middle clASS wa nnnabe academics born in the 80se lifestyle? Priority is becoming more and more of an importance in muy qworld not to get burnt out. But feeling like an idiot sometimes still has its merits. You know that time at a party when you go to the toilet and feel that wow, i am really drunk, and you wonder if anybody else has that experience and ask themselves just what the hell they are doing? Yeah… Well… yeah. :D

  2. Martin

    But don’t forget “Ritalin”…

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Is that freely available? Without a recipe?


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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