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Video games and weed have enjoyed a lovely relationship for decades now, entangling themselves throughout history in both accidental and purposeful ways. For the last few decades, the two have been seen as activities for lowlifes, things to be avoided. Now that each is established, acceptable, and the basis of billion-dollar industries, the two hobbies are so effortlessly connected that, at this point, it’s not shocking to hear that gamers like to get high, or that developers like to put little nods to weed in their games.
Weed and games have grown together over the years, with both being avenues for improving our health or enjoying the night after a long day, ready to relax and fight off fictional enemies.
Sometimes weed is used in video games as a way to advance the story, like when Ellie and Dina got to just let go after a sesh and hold each other, in a kiss that feels like their first again, solidifying the relationship between two gay but also very shy girls in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II. But sometimes, games demonize the devil’s lettuce, or double down on the problematic criminalization of it, or imply that it can literally kill you.
These cringy weed moments in games and gaming history are a reminder that, despite their connections, video games and weed are still figuring each other out.
1. ‘Winners Don’t Do Drugs’
“Winners Don’t Do Drugs” was a message that would appear at the start of arcade games, often appearing in the title credits and/or during the arcade unit’s “Attract Mode,” which is the loop and animation and sound that plays when the cabinet is left undisturbed.
The initiative came from the most cop-ish of all presidents, Richard Nixon, and everything imaginable, from the Ninja Turtles to video games, had to put on a helmet and enlist in the war against drugs. Though it’s unclear on the exact number of children’s lives that were saved by displaying this message before arcade cabinets such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Wrestlefest, one would assume the FBI operation was successful and that they knew what they were doing. No word on how well that worked out, but if you think about the guys who used to frequent your local arcade, I’m pretty sure they dabbled in a dab or two.
The program, which was a joint operation between the FBI and the American Amusement Machine Association, ran from 1989 to 2000, with 17 of the 20 arcade video game manufacturers agreeing to include the message in their games. Before the end of the ’80s, it had been installed on over 10,000 different machines, just one of many anti-drug fixtures on the walls of kids’ lives back then.
Though it’s definitely some dorky shit, including an FBI seal within the “Winners Don’t Do Drugs” screen did make it easier to identify counterfeit arcade cabinets, so at least some good came out of this lame-ass initiative. The egg commercial was good too. I like it when marijuana has the very real side effect of turning my brain into an egg frying in a pan.
2. Far Cry 3’s ‘Make it Bun Dem’
Far Cry 3 puts players in an intense survival scenario, where you’re tasked with staying alive against mercenaries and pirates on a group of islands in a tropical archipelago.
In between dodging stray bullets, fending off violent, local wildlife, and all the other threats that present themselves in Ubisoft’s open-world shooter, you can take part in a quest where you need to burn several marijuana fields with a flamethrower, all while “Make It Bun Dem,” a Reggaestep/dubstep song by Skrillex and Damian Marley, plays. If you were straight in 2012 then you probably thought this was the coolest thing, but all the queer folks knew this was lame as hell, right off the bong (heh) rip. Plus, the song choice kind of encapsulates the entire culturally appropriative experience that is the Far Cry series. I wonder if they got better about that after Far Cry 3…
Ubisoft made up the cringey weed take a bit in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which mocked a lot of ‘80s culture, including the hysteria over drugs.
3. Grand Theft Auto V’s Bad Trip
Though the GTA series has long made conservatives fraught with rage and worry, it hilariously handles weed like someone who’s never inhaled in their life.
There are almost too many cringe moments with drugs to list when it comes to Grand Theft Auto, an adult video game series for adults. The most cringe example from the series has to be in Grand Theft Auto V, when Trevor Phillips, the game’s crazed gun runner and drug dealer character, smokes a joint from a stranger.
So in one of the best-selling video games of all time, when the cool criminal player character smokes a joint, he immediately starts seeing murderous clowns with assault rifles all around him, which puts the player into an immediate, actual fight for their life. You need to dodge bullets and kill the clowns to stay alive, all while, stay with me here because it was 2013, Trevor screams and yells things like, “I fucking hate clowns.” It’s some goofy shit.
You can also literally smoke too much weed and die in GTA Online, which is an interesting choice considering it’s basically impossible. You’d have to smoke “nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within fifteen minutes” to die, which means my editor and I have come close and maybe we should chill out a little bit.
The rest of you are fine. Whoever is in charge of drug references at Rockstar Games, however, is a narc or at least just needs more days off.
4. Smoking during battle and doing drug drops in Saints Row
Saints Row provides players with increased combat powers when marijuana is consumed. (You know, because that’s what happens when I smoke.) It does, however, come with a stamina hit, after the coughing. Hello fellow kids, I too get *checks notes* a hit to stamina after experiencing coughing fits when I sm–oh, okay, well the stamina hit after a dab is true.
I am able to focus better on video games when I’m high, though, and Saints Row giving you a nice boost in damage resistance when consuming weed feels like a handshake between the two of us. But smoking weed also gives me and the Saints characters mania—I mean a distorted and cloudy perspective. So, okay, there’s a little bit of truth to the wacky weed antics of the Saints Row franchise, but that doesn’t excuse its lame drug-dealing side quests.
What are these? And how did VIDEO GAMES, of all things, manage to make DEALING DRUGS not cool, when even the text-based DOS game Drug Wars made that kind of cool???
In 2022’s Saints Row, where you play a capable member of an outlaw gang, there are quests called Drug Pallet Pickups.
These are an amalgamation of fetch quests and the infamous “Press F to Pay Your Respects.” There’s no meaningful gameplay interaction, other than finding the locations in the environment on your own, or with the help of the in-game map. You press a button to interact with the pallet and it simply disappears, leaving behind money. It’s the “Bingo!” for me, tbh.
We don’t even know what kinds of drugs are packed away on these palettes, but fetching them is so boring, I don’t even want whatever’s in there.
5. Weed Shop 2, Weedcraft Inc, and all the other lame-ass ‘Hempire’ games
I’m sorry. Sure, any Farmville clone is automatically at least sus, on notice, and likely to be called lame, but all “Weed Tycoon” games are particularly pathetic, looking like an amalgamation of AMC’s Breaking Bad and every single Facebook farming and mafia game your mom plays all day on her iPad.
In the cringe and very square Weedcraft Inc, players must manage a weed empire and ugh, how do developers keep making drug dealers so boring? Weedcraft, Inc. puts you in a weed hempire mogul role, where you point-and-click your way to the top by producing, cultivating, and selling marijuana. You need to avoid hits to your profits by making deals with cops, cutting deals with politicians, and finding a way in on every angle for a few more bucks. It’s like a point-and-click business game that happens to feature weed.
Weedcraft, Inc. having the “incorporated” at the end of its title is just so fitting and encapsulates the entire experience. This is just a weird business game that happens to include weed. It’s boring. It’s square. Resource management and profit margins make me want to take two kinds of blunt rotation to the head.
6. All of the stoner swag in Call of Duty
Whether you choose to spend money in the Call of Duty: Warzone cosmetic shop, there’s no denying that there’s a plethora of choices when it comes to customization. Activision Blizzard has created some memorable pieces of digital garb to wear as you slay across the warzone, from ‘80s workout gear to soccer uniforms, but it’s their weed gear that makes me cringe. I’m talking cringe weed references that look like the parts of a Spencer’s store that would make you and your mother uncomfortable. Tacky pot leaves, multi-colored smoke, and more can be added to your character, weapon, and avatar, which is almost all uniformly lame on top of being jarring imagery to see plastered all over the “kill-people-for-points” military imperialist gun game. I don’t know. Maybe I go for a different vibe than you guys when I smoke?
Also, fuck Activision Blizzard for treating their employees like pieces of property, rather than the hard-working individuals and human beings that they are. Someone get Bobby Kotick’s whiny, union-busting ass a joint so he’ll find a person inside himself.
I’ll add a disclaimer for Snoop Dogg’s inclusion in Warzone. Snoop is the exception. Snoop is cool. Obviously. It’s Snoop Dogg.
7. NARC, a lame-ass cop game
In the original 1989 NARC, not only do you play as a “Narcotics Opposition Officer” but you also gun down homeless people, drug dealers, and more with a machine gun. And yes, players are also equipped with missile launchers, allowing them to send bloody appendages flying all over the screen.
I can’t imagine how many current cops played this game and thought, “I can’t wait to terrorize marginalized communities and unhoused people, all in the name of ending the war on drugs.”
The 2005 remake reimagined the original premise with new characters and features. In either the most accidentally based commentary on police of all time or just something someone thought would be cool, players can even make money by selling the drugs that they procure from those that they arrest. Yes, you can take the drugs from criminals, use them as power-ups for stopping people with drugs, and also sell them to use the profits to stop people that also have drugs. Just like you.
It’s a little difficult to play either version now, because the ‘80s NARC has not been re-released or ported since Midway Arcade Treasures 2, which released in 2004 for the Xbox, Gamecube, and PS2—but it’s worth playing if you’re able to.
Or you can watch Game Informer’s 2011 Let’s Play where the team plays and reacts to this chaotic piece of gamer history. Helicopter explosions, missiles everywhere, and some of the zaniest antagonists that I’ve ever seen in a video game make for an accidentally enjoyable experience when stoned, despite its subject matter.