If you attend Grinnell College and have ventured outside of your dorm room, even just to go to the bathroom, you have probably encountered a game of beer die.
Beer die, for the woefully uninitiated, is a beer-based drinking game played amongst four individuals wherein teams of two are seated at opposite ends of a folding table, each player with a cup of beer in front of them. The four players then take turns throwing a die in the air, with certain restrictions on the manner and height of the toss, and try to sink it in the opposing teams cups (a splash), or bounce the die in such a way that the opposing team is unable to catch it. There are more rules but suffice it to say the game is simple enough to pick up within a few minutes but complex enough to require a degree of practice.
Die is extremely popular at Grinnell College, particularly among its male, somewhat athletically inclined members. The typical beer die scene includes four men gathered around the table, with miscellaneous women lounged on chairs surrounding the central game. The spatial relationships of the dorm room within which the game is set echo the relative social capital of the gathering: die and its players are central, take up the most room, and define the nature of the hang; women are peripheral, unnecessary to the game itself but add side interest, background noise, and sexual credibility to the central activity. Beer die can be played among only four guys, but is often defined by spectatorship, that the feat is somehow impressive enough to merit an audience.
And within this gendered power dynamic, lies the truth of the game: that beer die is the gamification of male mediocrity (the normalization in society of accepting mediocrity from men while allowing them to maintain their position of social dominance). There are two components to this thesis: the essentially male nature of beer die and the mediocrity it emblematizes.
First, the male nature. This part is easy; beer die enthusiasts will often inform you that the game is “a gentleman’s game,” in that there are an abundance of rules that should be respected, in a gentlemanly manner. Although women are of course allowed to play, the invocation of this phrase symbolizes the fact that ultimately the game is for the boys, the bros, who gather in any of their respective rooms any time from 11 am on a Sunday to 10:30 pm on a Tuesday to indulge in their favorite past time.
Next, the mediocrity. Beer die inherently professes to exceed more simple and athletic games such as pong or rage cage due to its slightly more complex rule system and seated positioning. With die, players elevate themselves above the jock-savage archetype of the frat guy, only brawn no brains, to which many die-playing Grinnell boys would profess themselves superior. Yet, even if you accept that reasoning, beer die doesn’t actually have any superiority culturally, personally, or intellectually to the games enjoyed by frats everywhere. By its nature, die precludes substantive conversations, unstructured interaction, or creative activities—allowing men to avoid any effort to be interpersonally interesting or get out of their masculine comfort zone.
And thus men gain the benefit of dominating weekend activity without actually having to contribute anything. This is male mediocrity in action. This is beer die.