The Game: As a beleaguered bartender, you have to serve drinks to an endless onslaught of bar patrons, never allowing them to reach the end of the bar. You must also pick up empty glasses as they slide back toward you, and you can also grab a tip whenever one briefly appears. Clearing the screen of all pixellated hardened drinkers takes you to the next screen, and other scenarios, including outdoor sporting events. (Bally/Midway, 1983)
Memories: Tapper was easily one of the most controversial games of its time. Originally conceived as a game which would be sold only to bars, it was also one of the first video game product placements for something other than a movie (i.e. Atari’s Star Wars and Bally/Midway’s own wildly successful Tron). Midway’s marketing department approached Budweiser about the possibility of sponsoring the game, in exchange for which the Bud logo would be ubiquitous on the game’s artwork and in its on-screen graphics.
Just one little problem – bars were not the only establishments to buy Tapper machines. Soon, this Budweiser-sponsored, alcohol-oriented game was popping up in arcades across the country, where kids could pop in a quarter and drink it all in (metaphorically speaking). Parents and pressure groups were not amused. Thus was born the watered-down (no pun intended!) version of the game for mass consumption, Root Beer Tapper (minus the Bud logos and beer references, but otherwise unchanged – the game was still set in a bar.)
So, was the outcry necessary? Embarking on a little bit of social commentary – which I know is not what people come to Phosphor Dot Fossils to read – I think the protests were justified. The recall of Tapper fits in with my theory of older-video-games-as-better-video-games because, quite simply, they were more abstract and more pure escapism. Drinking in a video game ranks right up there with graphic violence in my book – it isn’t necessary, it doesn’t make the game more fun, and in my slightly-holier-than-thou opinion (which is heavily influenced by my own experiences with friends’ and family members’ alcohol consumption), these intrusions of reality on gaming are unwelcome. I wasn’t even a teenager in 1983, when Tapper first appeared, but I was aware of drinking then, within the context of my own family, and at that time, I sure as hell didn’t want to play a game which revolved around drinking.
Was Tapper / Root Beer Tapper fun? Well, more or less. It’s almost too easy at first, which may fit in with why Nolan Bushnell decided to make a coin-op out of Pong rather than a complicated follow-up to Computer Space – Pong would be easier for players in a bar situation whose reflexes may have already been diminished by a few drinks. It’s a fun game, but its context, to this day, still bugs me.