With all the drama surrounding GamerGate, it’s nice to take a break once in a while. There’s a whole wide world of people saying stupid shit about video games, and we shouldn’t get so caught up in the fight against social justice that we forget them.
Last week, ABC News ran a segment entitled “New Energy Drinks Target Video Gamers” which managed to pack an astonishing amount of stupidity into a mere three minutes. The thesis of this report—insofar as it had one—is that children are being seduced into consuming dangerous energy drinks by advertisements and branding targeting gamers.
“The Police Are Selling Crack To Your Kids!”
According to ABC, a company called GFuel (which I’ve never heard of) is marketing their energy drink towards the hardcore gaming sector. This makes sense: hardcore gaming is an extremely intensive task that requires near-perfect concentration sustained over several hours. I work in a fairly demanding field, and it’s far more difficult than what I do for my job.
My own hardcore game of choice, for example, is Final Fantasy XIV. I and a group of seven other people meet three times a week, for two hours at a time, and fight a single boss fight over and over again. The fight typically runs between ten and fifteen minutes, and since I’m the main tank (the guy who stands in front of the 50-foot tall dragon and takes all the hits while the rest of the team does its job), a single slip-up on my part means we have to start all over. It’s intense, demanding, and requires perfect focus. Hell, I might pick some of this stuff up.
ABC News, however, is very concerned that *gasp* teenagers might be drinking energy drinks. While they reluctantly agree that adults should be allowed to consume caffeine, the thought of teenagers doing so terrifies them. And the thought of pliable teenage minds being enticed by soulless marketers into consuming caffeine scares them even more.
They quote the executive editor of Adweek, who has this to say, “One third of video gamers are under the age of eighteen. They’re into motorcross, skateboarding, women in bikinis… all of these are used in the marketing campaigns. That’s not an accident.”
The idea that GFuel is perfectly within its rights to market its completely legal, age-unrestricted product to any customer it wants is, of course, never brought up.
Fear! Fear! Fear!
But there’s more to the segment than just scare-mongering and pictures of women in bikinis. There’s also a tortured analogy involving a yogurt parfait. To make the point that different chemicals in an energy drink can interact with each other in different ways, a woman in a white shirt shows a yogurt parfait to the panelists. The yogurt is the caffeine, the blueberries are sugar, and the raspberries as another chemical called taurine. The woman mixes them up, and tells the panelists that “we just don’t know” how they might interact with each other.
According to the woman in the white shirt, there’s just no telling what they might do. There’s no evidence that they do any harm, but they might… potentially! They might cause your heart to explode! You might turn into a donkey!
At this point, one of the panelists (evidently brighter than the rest) interrupts the woman and asks, “There’s no research that says that these drinks have the possibility of linking to other problems?”
“Right,” the woman in the white shirt replies.
This would seem to undercut the entire point of the segment, but ABC News isn’t going to let that deter them. The woman in the white shirt goes on to list all the problems that are “associated” with energy drink consumption, and she does it so quickly that unless you were paying attention you would think they’d been proven effects rather than obvious correlations.
Consuming caffeine-laden energy drinks is associated with decreased sleep, she says! And playing more video games! And smoking! Alcohol use! Poor school performance!
Beyond the obvious (yes, consuming caffeine is associated with decreased sleep, that’s the point), no causal mechanism is suggested. How might drinking energy drinks make you play more video games? Are there viruses in them that take over your brain and make you play Diablo? How on Earth would it make you start smoking? Or drinking? The mind boggles.
But informing the audience isn’t the point, obviously. The point is to scare people and make them reliant on ABC News for information. It’s the same mechanism the evening news always uses (“Crazed murderer escapes asylum and stalks local neighborhood! Find out which neighborhood on the 11:00 news, tonight!”)
Hands Off My Red Bull
Thankfully, the days when stupid news segments could threaten the gaming industry are long past. Sales of GFuel and other energy drinks will continue to climb, and in a week or two, everyone will have forgotten about the time ABC News told its viewers that drinking Red Bull would make you start smoking.
(By the way, for all the talk about the dangers of evil energy drinks, they actually contain comparatively little caffeine. GFuel contains 150mg of caffeine per bottle, while a large Starbucks coffee contains over 400. Curiously though, ABC News has yet to run a piece on the dangers of Starbucks…)
And as for the claim that no research has be done on how the chemicals in energy drinks interact with each other, and “we just don’t know” how they might work? That’s a lie, of course. A 2014 paper found that taurine, one of the principal components of energy drinks, inhibits the heart-damaging effects of caffeine. Between the Red Bull and the Starbucks, the Red Bull is almost certainly safer.