The McMaster Files

Stimulants and Gaming

A repository for games and ennui.


This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #91. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Decades ago, advertisers learned that even though kids don’t have money, they have parents that do. After that discovery, it wasn’t too long before snacks turned into kid lures. Nowadays you have to wade through a sea of goofy cartoon characters to find any nutritional value. However, nutritional value isn’t what we’re after today. No, we’re after energy production for late night or marathon gaming.


Sugar is closely tied to energy in our minds. Think about Halloween or Easter and the next thought is hyper kids. Hell, Snickers has made this the entire concept behind most of their marketing. Does it work? Sorta. The body burns sugar at an accelerated rate, producing a quick burst of energy, but leading to a crash. After the sugar energy is gone, if you’ve had nothing to replace it, you leave your body in worse shape than before.

Example: Mountain Dew has two forms of energy – sugar and caffeine. Sugar gives us a quick surge, but caffeine keeps on going for hours afterwards. The tendency is to drink soda after soda to return to that feeling of “high energy.” There are also a lot of calories involved in chugging soda.


After sugar, there’s one other famous source of wakefulness – caffeine. Caffeine is like the angel dust version of sugar – it lasts forever and can make you very uncomfortable. However, there’s no doubt it works. Once in your system, caffeine can keep going for 12 hours or more.

Example: When people think caffeine, they usually think coffee. Coffee is very popular and millions of people rely on it to wake up and get going every day. Caffeine is a natural source for alertness that has no real competition. What happens if you don’t like coffee? There’s plenty of ways to get the same amount of caffeine as in a cup of coffee. For instance, Compete Energy Bites come in a couple of flavors and taste pretty good, but you have to be careful. [Disclosure: Compete Energy Bites were provided to the author to sample for this article.] Each bite is the equivalent of a 12-ounce cup of coffee, so it’s best to not go buck wild and eat a handful . . . that’s a lot of coffee.


Thought to be a good antioxidant and, when combined with caffeine, to help with mental clarity, taurine has been the centerpiece of several energy producing drinks over the years. Of course, those two effects haven’t been proven by anyone, but both sound desirable. Antioxidants, for instance, remove harmful oxidizing agents in the blood (free radicals) that could move on to cause chain reactions and damage cells. That’s a great side effect, but for our purposes the other use for taurine is what we want – mental clarity. With a clearer, sharper mind you should be able to respond to situations in the optimum manner.

Example: A fad that caught on like wildfire, Red Bull was at the forefront of the American energy drink craze. Though not scientifically sound, the “hell, just throw everything in there” approach of many energy drinks does provide an effect for most people. Making a zillion different claims with a zillion different ingredients, the “drink that gives you wings” is now a major part of a lot of people’s daily routine.

[pullquote]Don’t do meth.[/pullquote]


Hey, better living through chemistry. Ephedrine is a stimulant used in meth! Remember when people were making cold medicine into meth? This is that ingredient! You can thank the Walter Whites of the world for making you have to show your driver’s license to get some Sudafed. Ephedrine gives you heaps of energy. On the other hand, it wires you and you don’t want to eat.

Example: White crosses were available at gas stations and very popular with long haul truckers. At some point we decided, as a country, that we were tired of weaponizing 18 wheelers and removed them from shelves. After that, some enterprising young folks discovered crystal meth and, well, the rest is history! Amphetamines, in any form, jazz you up and fill you with nervous energy. Avoid them, you want to keep your teeth.

So, what should we do?

These products provide people with energy in many various ways and many varying degrees. While sugar, caffeine, etc. have provable properties, our bodies are all different and we all react to things in different ways. If you find one that you like, stick with it! No one knows what works for you more than you do yourself. Unless it’s meth. Don’t do meth.


Jason McMaster is a writer and editor with a lifelong passion for games. When he isn’t working on Unwinnable, he’s either on his PC or playing a board game. Follow him on Twitter @mcmaster

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