Ever watch the show “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern?” I do. In one episode, the hefty host remarks that drinking fresh from the utter donkey milk on a Chilean street is one of those times that a man has to take a moment to wonder what he is doing there, about to put warm, frothy-headed donkey milk in his mouth.
I’m sitting at home, yet I find myself wondering that same thing.Not about donkey milk fresh from the utter, though. Staring across from me is a “Mana Energy Potion,” which the cardboard advertisement in Fry’s Electronics described as “energy for gamers.”
As I have always understood them, energy drinks are the 21'st century equivalents of health-tonics, promising not only an invigorating buzz brought on by excessive amounts of caffeine, guarana, taurine, or some other cocktail of stimulants, but any number of possible benefits, usually related to what is rather nebulously referred to as lifestyle. “Rockstar,” for example, is always sponsoring extreme sports competitions, unmusical music festivals and Girls Gone Wild, letting consumers know that they’ll be able to expend all the energy they need while surfing and ogling drunken seventeen-year-olds without experiencing fatigue. “Mana Energy Potion,” I suppose, let’s gamers experience that same kind of free-wheeling, devil-may-care thrill of boundless energy as they quest to level up their Dwarven raider in WOW. Somehow, even the thrill of snake oil salesmanship is diminished when its selling point is that it will help fat nerds obsessed with their fantasy games continue their unhealthy fixation without pause. They could even bring the mana potion into their larp games without turning any heads.
Unable to resist any opportunity for ironerdic self-reflection, I actually popped open the cute little bottle - as you can see, no larger than the palm of my hand - and downed the disgusting blue concoction while playing the nerdiest game I own, The Nightmare of Druaga, a faux-roguelike RPG of the “mystery dungeon” mold and sequel to a Japanese arcade game considered to be one of the founding pillars of Japanese action RPG’s (and never released in the US).
Were I a food critic, I might comment on the taste, which is sour and tart with faint traces of the B-vitamins that it’s teeming with. The nutrition facts state that it contains over %6000 (!) of the daily recommendation for vitamin B12, which supposedly helps to metabolize carbs (thus providing more energy). It has an aftertaste and aroma reminiscent of what I figure petrol to have. Now bear with me... Imagine your mouth was a vagina, and every taste bud a tiny...
Actually, screw the extended metaphor. It tastes like crap. I’m not a food critic.
I’m also not much of one for energy drinks. I prefer slower, more natural ways of absorbing caffeine. Coffee is good, so long as it doesn’t taste like a sugary-sweet milk shake. Tea is good. I love iced tea, in particular, although not sweet tea. Many southern delicacies have caught my fancy; however, the appeal of sweet tea will always elude me.
Much like the free-association of my writing (and speaking, I’ve been recently informed) I prefer to take my time with drinks that are supposed to have some sort of benefit aside from hydration – and especially with drinks that are supposed to keep me awake. There is an art to brewing tea, even with the Lipton bag variety, a ritual that effects not only the how you experience the taste, but how you use the buzz. Good tea is something to be savored; a taste to contemplate as it is enjoyed, an indulgence to compliment what you’re doing, and to help prolong it. I don’t drink tea to keep myself awake while playing video games, because tea isn’t something to be downed in between turns during your “epic boss run.”
This whole idea is completely foreign to most people, and it appears to be especially so with my fellow nerds. The company claims that they are themselves gamers, making a product for other gamers, and their blog links to an IGN article written in two parts by Mark Bozon and Scott Lowe. I don’t know much about these guys or the brand of journalism that they normally practice, but their article is embarrassingly effusive. The pseudo-irony, hyperactive descriptions, the obnoxious pics of the staff as RPG characters (along with a stat card featuring the stalest of memes) are even more nauseating than the product they're used to describe. The “hilarious” non-sequiturs fully complete the hideous amalgamation of repellent fanboyism, and still don't manage to be the least bit funny.
Go read their “impressions” and return, and if you doubted the inherent truth of what I’m saying, you should now feel like an idiot. I am not taking this too seriously. I am right. “Mana Energy Potion” stands for all that I fear becoming, and all that I fear every one else in the world has already become. If we can actually commercialize and market by demographic – especially the nerd/geek demographic - the putting of something into ourselves in order to keep us going, humanity has truly lost its soul, not to mention its taste buds and possibly its stomach, having replaced it with a fuel tank.
In its defense, “Mana Energy Potion” does do what it promises: it kept me awake for several hours with its massive shot of caffeine. If you can trade your immortal soul and any pretense of good taste for that, than the thirty shekels (it’s not far off: I paid almost four dollars for one) you drop will probably be worth it.