By Gamal Hennessy
According to the Urban Dictionary, pregaming is a synonym for drinking derived originally from tailgating before a sporting event such as a football game. It later became known as drinking before any major gathering. Many people see pregaming as simply a cheaper method for overconsumption. In many cases it can have that effect. What most people do not realize is that the practice also has social and emotional benefits based on bonding rituals that are a natural extension of the activity.
Protection and Identity
According to David Grazian in his book On the Make, nightlife is an anonymous environment. Very few people know who you are beyond what you tell them. This situation is beneficial for anyone who wants to redefine themselves or explore lifestyles that they are not familiar with. This relative anonymity is one of the reasons nightlife is so attractive to young people and counter cultures who are seeking to define themselves outside the framework of conventional society. But that same unknown quality can create a high level of anxiety and insecurity for anyone attempting to define their personae and exploring new situations involving class, age, race, or sex.
A pregame with friends serves two purposes here. First, it creates a social bond for the group that they can turn to for short term support as they venture out. The idea that a young lady won't be abandoned by her girls if she is approached by a questionable man gives her more confidence to go out. A boy who knows he won’t be rejected, isolated or unsupported makes going out easier, even if the bond is largely a facade. The pregame creates that short term bond that makes the rest of the night an enjoyable group activity instead of a nervous isolated one.
A pregame also offers an opportunity for the members of the group to engage in activities that display and reinforce their sexual identity. The subtext contained in the competitive drinking games, sharing stories of past adventures, and the collective preparation for the adventures to come all help to establish each members desired (or perceived) sexual and social status. Because a large part of going out is about projecting image (even more than the actual sexual, consumption or experiential value) the pregame is a vital part of the process because it helps establish image for the night.
Not Drinking Just to Drink
Descriptions of pregame activities reinforce this concept. In Notes from the Night, Taylor Plimpton describes meeting his best friend at a bar for drinks before heading out to the clubs. The experience they share isn’t about the drinks they consume or any conversations they have with strangers at the bar. It is about connecting with each other in a way that prepares them to enter the nightlife environment with more comfort and pleasure than they would have by just going straight to the exclusive venue. Keep in mind, this bonding experience is often not the result of a conscious choice. It is a natural by-product of the activity that would probably be destroyed if the players went into it thinking about the bonding process.
There are many pregames that end in a sloppy mess. There are many nightlife players that are predisposed to overindulge in alcohol and only use the pregame as the first stop on the road to a drunken stupor. But this does not negate or diminish the value of the pregame on an emotional, psychological or social level. The title pregame is extremely accurate because much like the pep talk that players give each other before a game, pregame drinking puts nightlife players in the proper frame of mind to enjoy the night.