Beer Pong: Play, Game, or Sport

NBPL tournament

NBPL tournament

The night is still young, yet the tension is high. Who is going to be defeated? Who will annihilate their competition?  It is the Cup Killers vs. Smash and Dash. At this moment it is tied, each team has two cups left. Cup Killers just received the balls back, having made two cups in a row. They are ready to stick it to em’, trying to gain insight on the most optimal trajectory in order penetrate the ball into one of the remaining cups. The crowd is going wild, chanting, cheering, and yelling obscene remarks in effort to distract, but like a well-oiled machine, the ball effortlessly enters the cup. Missing the second shot, Smash and Dash are up.  Winding up for the shot it barely misses the cup, hitting the rim! Rim shots are such a tease. The second shot, beautifully executed by Smash and Dash, ties up the game. Fast-forward and the game is now in sudden death, next person who makes it wins. The prize? Well, that is obvious; it is the pride in knowing you dominated even amidst your utter intoxication.

            Beer pong. The game that is played and enjoyed pretty much anywhere there are raging hormones and a sufficient amount of alcohol. The game has been around for many years and played by most of my generation. It has become so popular that they have large tournaments with prize money, specific parameters for table size, specific rules and regulations to abide by, and is institutionalized (NBPL). The question that I am asking in this blog is, does it constitute play, game, and/or sport? I would like to take the views of Suits and Meier and analyze the popular game based on their definitive assumptions of the three categories.

Lets begin with play. For Suits play has two categories primitive, play for its own sake, and sophisticated play; play that lacks spontaneity and centers on skills developed and used for their own sake. Each category is considered an autotelic activity and is only played for intrinsic gain. Play is said to have been one of the ways sports and games were originally derived, the other being work. Being an activity that is performed normally, with no extrinsic gain, in the eyes of Suits I believe beer pong would be considered sophisticated play. For the sake of redundancy, I believe that Meiers would also agree.

Next we have games. In the eyes of Suits, games are a derivative of play, but now have barriers and constraints, which lead to new skills or the refinement of old. I can just picture the development of beer pong, two guys sitting on a couch and one said to the other “hey dude, bet you cant make this rock into that cup over there.” From then a simple skill, with added rules, provides the structure for a game of skill to be born. In Suits article he noted different types of games, as seen in the figure to your left, I have placed beer pong under amateur games. In a situation where the game is being played for intrinsic gain, accompanied with rules, and is considered a referred event, I think that is an appropriate place for beer pong. Taking a closer look you will also notice that amateur games are also considered sport. The final question will be whether suits would consider beer pong an amateur sport or sophisticated play?

Meier has a similar take on games, he believes that “play is an autotelic activity, an activity voluntarily pursued for predominately intrinsic reasons” (Holowchak pg. 50). In observing the figure below, in retort to suits diagram, Meier takes a slightly different approach, He states that games are 1. A goal directed activity 2. Rules limit the permissible means of goal attainment. 3. Rules prohibit more efficient in favor of less efficient means. 4. Rules are accepted to make the activity possible. In the game of beer pong the goal is clearly to make the ball in the cup, by marking the distance at which one must throw the ball it limits the means to attain the goal, and if you have bad hand eye coordination, well I guess you are out of luck. The population adhering to the rules and regulations made the success of beer pong as a game possible.

Finally, the last element of speculation is what constitutes a sport? Suits and Meiers views differ in a few ways. As seen in the previous diagrams Suits does not consider all games to be sports nor does he consider all sports to be play.  He also breaks down sports into two categories; those that are based off of performance, in which you would need a judge, and that which is rule-governed, which requires a referee. When taking a closer look at beer pong you have elements of all three depending on the environment in which it is played.  If you are in a tournament playing for money, then it is not play, because there is an extrinsic reward. Beer pong does consist of a skill that can be practiced and is also rule-governed. In my opinion, if table tennis is considered an Olympic sporting event, why not beer pong?

Meiers believes that all sports are games, but not all games are sports. As seen in the picture above, Meiers deems the only difference between a game and a sport is that sport requires the demonstration of physical skill and prowess. As previously stated, there is an element of appropriate skill needed to be successful in a game of beer pong. Considering the element that Meiers believes constitutes a sport, I believe he would agree that beer pong would be considered a sport.

No matter what category Suits and Meiers consider beer pong to fall under, it is still a game of skill and will continue to be played in houses, garages, tournaments, with various size tables and cups no matter what it is labeled. Just like in other countries kids will play soccer or basketball with whatever means necessary.  In the end it is subjective, when deciding whether a game or sport may or may not involve play Meiers believes “context is more important than content”. It is all in the eye of the beholder.

– Kristina Macias

















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