Booze Banter

Dr. StrangeGame (or How I Trained My Dragon to Drink Whisky)



My son is your typical middle-aged teenager. His room is decorated in early Nuclear Devastation. He watches too much TV, plays too many video games, hasn’t met a chore that he likes, and has to dig pretty deep to say anything nice to his sisters. But he’s also a great student, caring soul, avid reader (Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are his recent reads), and science geek. But most surprisingly, he occasionally listens to me. Not often. Occasionally.  And when this rare phenomenon occurs, like a day at work with no headaches or a two-headed turtle, I smile proudly relishing in my fatherly abilities, pat myself on the back, and think, “there is hope for the future.” Then I trip over a skateboard in the garage.

Recently the boy walked up to me with his phone properly welded to his hand and said, “Is there a whisky called Bowmore?”  Stunned, I said, “Yes.”  Then he followed up with, “Is there one called Lagavulin?” This time I was a little wary with my “Yes.” Where was this going? Should have never got him that iPhone. Probably already has hacked into my Amazon Prime Wish List. Punk. He then started to explain (and completely confuse me) about a mobile role-playing game (RPG) called Puzzles and Dragons. He then showed me a series of Whisky Dragon characters (think baseball cards and Pokemon) available in the game all named after…wait for it, Hawkeye…Islay distilleries(!). Insert double take, spit take and Chevy Chase pratfall here.

Each dragon has its own attributes and powers, and colorful artwork. All look menacing and fire breathing (duh) with stalks of barley as part of their bodies creating an interesting metaphor.

I was and am still perplexed. I know nothing of this game and can’t fathom why there are Islay whiskies in it, let alone any distilled spirits. My son can’t explain it either as the other cards are more reasonabe sounding for a RPG game. Why Scotch? Why Islay? I thought Peat must be the thread. Peat>Fire>Dragon. If it is the thread, it’s not completely obvious to this RPG novice. My next thought was that there’s some developer on the team who must be a whisky/Islay geek and was just showing his affection by naming the dragons appropriately. This surely brings new meaning to “product placement.”

Puzzles and Dragons is from a Japanese company, GungHo Entertainment, that had about $1 billion (yeah, with a B) in sales in 2013 of which 90% came from Puzzles and Dragons. That’s a lot of downloads. The son tells me it’s the only game his demographic (aka “friends”) plays. Wildly popular and highly addictive, it’s “killer” per the house know-it-all who has played many of the non-mobile RPG’s like Magic: The Gathering and War Machine.

A little research, and I mean a little, came up with this about the actual dragons: “Ancient (“Whiskey”) dragons’ low cool down Active skills are the main reason to include them in a team, but their team cost of 60 can often be prohibitive.” Huh? That last part is oddly like real whisky shopping. The first part might as well be Greek or Sanskrit.

And then there’s this about Fire Dragon, Ardbeg right from its card: “A well-balanced dragon. With maxed skill, it deals 25,000 damage to all enemies every 4 turns.” Well, now. Ardbeg 10 or Uigeadail? Both are well-balanced dragons in their own right.

So, someone likes peated scotch at Dragon Central in Japan. No fault in that at all. In fact, if I was ever inclined to start playing a game in this realm, I’d more than likely choose this one due to its whisky dragon menu. It’s how I choose bars too. It’s a free download but those in-app “Magic Stones” purchases add up to almost a $1B apparently (yeah, with a B). It’s like a bar really. Free pretzels. Next thing you know, you’ve spent thirty bucks on a couple of pours of a whisky. As my dad used to say, “That’s how they get you.”


Product placement has always been an odd little realm in the marketing world, and whisky has its own fascinating examples. We see it with bottles of name brand bourbon and Scotch in TV shows like House of Cards (Blanton’s) and Justified (that list is endless. It even inspired a drinking game), and fake ones on Archer (Glengoolie) either in the background easier to recognize or right up front being guzzled as the name is screamed at you. The whisky geekaphiles drool over this stuff (have you read The Malt Imposter’s review of The Glen McKenna 50???). Product marketing cuts both ways. Celebrities and athletes in ads wearing ads on their bodies. Products cleverly in the background and foreground in TV and film. It all blends together for us. We really don’t think about it much anymore as the incest is just standard operating procedure. It’s a far cry from watching Jock Ewing slug down a bourbon (was it supposed to be bourbon?) before cursing out J.R. leaving you wondering if it really was dark ice tea in that tumbler. Today, old man Ewing would be throwing back a Four Roses Single Barrel with the bottle clearly in the camera eye, and Twitter would be all atwitter in seconds.

But seeing what amounts to soft product placement inside a virtual game is a new game. Or is it? Before those athletes and celebrities were paid to smoke a Camel or wear Chanel, they in essence were selling the products by just using them. Adoring fans caught notice and sales went up without a dollar spent on marketing. Free advertising. The power of word of mouth boosted by a famous user. Soft product placement was born out of Celebrity. Celebrity brought us hard selling endorsement. And now we have product placement within the celebrity’s art. Remember New Coke? I barely do. And Coca-Cola would like to forget it. But they had TV spots with a “virtual” character from a TV a show played by an real human actor (Matt Freuer). M-m-m-m-Max Headroom selling New Coke. A digital character selling soda pop when he wasn’t acting through a television monitor on a television show. Weird, huh? And now we have a digital game played on a semi-smartphone with whisky softly sold in the not so background either intentionally or not under the guise of being a dragon. Put that in your RPG and smoke it, if you don’t have a Marlboro close by.

Rush drummer, Neil Peart once wrote, “Bright images flashing by, Like windshields towards a fly”.  Boy, that says it.  Flies ‘r Us trying to absorb all that is coming in.  The bombardment of images upon us is constant.  We see them coming at us and we don’t see them coming at us.  Many come not from someone or something telling you to buy something directly.  No, it’s far more imbedded than that, like whisky dragons in a game.  There’s a whole lot of “look at me” behind so much (maybe most of) what we see.  Look at what I’m wearing.  Look at who my hockey team is (#GoKingsGo).  Look at what cellphone I have.  Look at what whisky I drink.  Just look in your drawer at all of the emblazoned t-shirts you have, or in my case, hung up in my closet, alphabetized by topic and subcategorized by date, color, and number of holes. We’re all billboards to go along with all of the real ones out there.  If Lady Bird Johnson was around, she’d have us all torn down to beautify the country.

The push of images upon us can be downright blatant and annoying. Thanks, Packers guy, I get that you’re a fan and like beer.  Please take the cheese wedge off of your head and stop yelling at me!  Far more interesting is the subliminality (I just made that up) of images that hit us right in the third eye.  We don’t even know it’s happening and before you know it, you’re ordering a Lagavulin when you normally drink Highland Park. It happens.  Talk to Freud.  And blame your mother.  Whenever I see a coat laying around, I put it on because the voice in my head (“put a coat on before you go outside!”) won’t go away.  It could be easily argued that the image-thrusting happens more in the new digital age.  On phones, in games, on dashboards.  They hit us little ole soft targets without too much stealth like drones but at eye level and camouflaged as smartphones or Hello Kitty backpacks.  Intentional or not, we see them and act on them probably more than we’d like to admit.  I can only hope that the teenager encased on my couch isn’t affected too much by semi-soft images directed at him from his phone, and isn’t now breaking into dad’s liquor cabinet (assuming his fingers aren’t in a pre-arthritic state unable to open bottles yet still able to defend against orcs, Spec-Ops and tribal warlords).

All of a sudden I have the urge to sit back with a dram of Glengoolie and watch Daenerys Targaryen and her whiny dragons slaughter some poor tribe that’s only armed with sharp branches, steely eyed glares and dirt clods.

9 replies »

  1. This is product placement that I can totally get behind! My eldest has the Magic The Gathering stuff and Pokemon stuff. I wonder if he knows about this one. Hopefully he doesn’t, otherwise I’ll have to start locking up the booze.

    Great stuff Aaron! You have a way with words. A fantastic read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Once the offspring is hooked on the Magic/Pokemon/Puzzles, you’re semi-free(!) until they start hitting you up for power packs, more this, more that, etc.; you know, to build a better a army. Very important stuff. Like whisky.


    • Yeah. I get it all the time. “Daddy? Can you download this for me?” “Daddy? Give me your credit card!” “Daddy? Daddy??? DADDY! Stop ignoring me!”. Maybe for Father’s Day we’ll get a few hours of “Daddy? Can I ?” free time as a gift. I’ll buy my own damn ties, socks, whisky, etc!


      • And, why is it never “Daddy can I freshen up your drink?” Or, “Daddy do you need another beer?” Or, even “Daddy teach me how to muddle and zest?”


  3. Well, that was quite a trip. Lady Bird Johnson, Max Headroom, Rush and the Fountainhead? Rather eclectic bunch of references for a beer & whiskey blog! I don’t know if it was properly explained to you but our typical ruminations involve a fancy photo from G-LO, some sort of reference to the shiny packaging, shouts of “Me likey whiskey” and then the ensuing pool of drool. Thus, no matter how well written, the premise makes me think and thinking (not one of my strong suits) makes my brain hurt. I would ask that any future post avoid the inclusion of any sort of learnin’ and focus more on transcribing various grunts. Thank you and Good Day! I said Good Day!


  4. Thanks. I’m flying pretty blind here. The job description that G-LO sent me was a blank e-mail so you get what you get. FYI Future posts will include footnotes, the word IBID, plenty of parenthesis marks, and references to the Peloponnesian War, Cher before she sold out, the case for vaccinations, Dennis Miller, and foot binding. Deal with it or wait for the Cliff Notes. Have a nice day, as well. Don’t pick up any wooden dollar bills.


  5. Lovely, lovely post. And I would have paid money to hear the pronunciation if your son would have asked if there’s a distillery called Caol Ila.
    Personally, I can’t pronounce anything correctly until I’ve had about two drams. Gotta loosen up the tongue.
    And I stay as far away from most products that have a large enough marketing budget that can reach world-wide. I prefer the fairly undiscovered gems for as long as possible. If millions of people love it, I probably won’t.


    • There is a Caol Ila dragon and it wasn’t pretty hear him mangle it. I stopped him before he hurt himself. Excellent Rule of Consumerism and generally one that I follow. I quite happy with my diet Koka-Kola and Levy’s jeans, thank you.

      Thanks for the kind words!


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