What Was The First Video Game About Beer?

What Was The First Video Game About Beer?

The worlds of computer and video games and the world of high-quality, low calorie beer are connected with a surprisingly large number of threads.

Whilst some of the reason for this is that with nearly every activity and craft known to humanity having a virtual version it stands to reason that beer brewing would not be an exception, one of the most successful games from the early golden age of video gaming not only featured but was about beer.

The year was 1983. The pub-based TV show Cheers was in the middle period between its first season slump and second season ratings dominance and beers were increasing in popularity after being superseded by the cocktail from the 1920s until the 1960s.

To capitalise on this success, Anheuser-Busch brewery worked with one of the biggest Arcade machine manufacturers in the United State at the time, Bally Midway, who themselves worked with Marvin Glass & Associates to produce Tapper a game about beer, sponsored by Budweiser.

This not only made it the first video game about alcohol but also the first video game with a sponsorship of any kind, with the earliest versions of the machine having bar taps that resembled the ones actually used for pulling pints of Budweiser at the time.

There was also a planned version designed for the Japanese market that was designed to market Suntory, but it was never released and Japanese distributor Sega denies any involvement.

The design of the cabinet also had a faux-wood panel motif with a mural of the bartender himself that does resemble the faded paintings seen in the introduction to Cheers, as well as a brass footrest that was a common fixture of bars both then and now.

The game itself has the player control a bartender managing four different bar lanes. He needs to quickly pour drinks and slide them to the patrons at the end of the bar before they get frustrated and slide him out of the bar, catching empty glasses coming the other way at the same time.

It follows the Golden Age Arcade trend of being very simple to learn but frenetic, difficult to master and exceptionally fun, and this ended up being more of a problem than anyone realised.

Whilst commercial video gaming had started in bars as an amusement for patrons, by 1983 the video game world was primarily seen as electronic toys for children, which meant that a colourful and fun arcade game about serving beer was seen as deliberately advertising to children who were under the minimum age to drink alcohol.

This would quickly lead to a sequel, Root Beer Tapper, being made in 1984 which replaced the bartender with a soda jerk serving root beer on tap but is otherwise identical to the original game.

This game was especially successful and widely distributed, as well as selling versions of the game for nearly every video game system released at the time, typically featuring either a Mountain Dew or Pepsi sponsorship instead of Budweiser.

Interest in the game revived with the release of the Disney-Pixar film Wreck-It Ralph in 2012, which featured the machine as one of many arcade-themed locations.


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