Drinking Games Have Been Around Longer Than You Think

It might have been Plato who said, "Wherever two or more drinkers are gathered, a game shall ensue." While that quote is not historically accurate, it is true that for as long as there has been drinking, there have been drinking games. Alcohol and competition go together like oil and water. Wait, fire and gasoline? They get along like a house on fire. The point is, they are natural, if a little risky, bedfellows, and imbibers have known this for centuries.

According to Time Magazine, the ancient Greeks played a game called kottabos, which has the rare distinction of being a competitive wine-centric drinking game. Apparently, the Greeks would take the wine dregs from the bottom of their empty, terracotta stemware, and fling the clumpy residue at a small disc, attempting to knock it off a pole. We can't really think of a drinking game in the modern world that's comparable, but maybe throwing empty beer cans at a tower of more empty beer cans comes to mind? Hard to say whether we've evolved or digressed as a society, really.

If you're going to play, play to win

Vincent Obsopoeus was a rector at an elite, German boarding school in the 16th century — a picture of refinement, class, and authority if ever there was one (via History Today). So, when a guy like that writes a book called "The Art of Drinking," you can bet it's going to be a bestseller. The book was, in fact, a three-part poem, written in Latin, with the first two parts offering somewhat of a condemnation of the drinking-to-excess culture that dominated the latter part of the Middle Ages. Convincing, particularly considering it was written at the start of the Reformation as the medieval way of life began to wane. It could have been the call to sobriety that society needed right then; an appeal to change the heavy drinking ways of the prior centuries, in favor of a more moderate lifestyle. Since the third chapter of the book is, in essence, a guide to drinking games, it may not have had the impact that Obsopoeus intended.

"The trick to the art of drinking," Obsopoeus writes, "its supreme virtue, is this: making sure your opponent matches you drink-for-drink each and every time." The poem, written in 1538, goes on to make suggestions as to how a player can be successful when engaging in alcoholic competitions. The attitude seems to be that if drinking games are going to take over our personal and professional lives, as posited by Obsopoeus, then we should at least learn to be better at them. So next time you lose at beer pong, or do a shot because you forgot to remove an invisible alien from your cup, spare a thought for the ancient Greeks and their wine dregs. We've truly come a long way.