Jul 20, 2006

Strategic Caffeine Deployment

The idea for this post has been rolling around in my head for quite a while. It's so hard to find time to write sometimes!

Caffeine is a funny subject. Specifically, why is there such a link between caffeine-worship and the geek subculture? Is there some kind of predilection for the geek brain to crave a slow Mountain Dew buzz? Certainly, the average geek probably enjoys a certain level of cranial stimulation - video games, scifi and fantasy movies positively dripping with outlandish special effects and action scenes, and of course the short attention span theatrics of the web. So, does the caffeine hum also even us out, in the same fashion (but to a lesser extent) that Ritalin might a child with Attention Deficit Disorder?

There is also the possibility that we cherish the edge that caffeine provides when we've a controller or mouse in hand and we're looking to unleash virtual electric death on our opponents. Myself, I'm quite convinced that "doing the Dew", as it were, can bestow a boost to reaction time that truly gives on a leg up on one's iEnemies.

I remember a NukemCon (one of our home-grown weekend gaming fests) about a year back when we were all sitting around playing Halo 1 over a network of linked Xboxes. I'd been chugging Mountain Dew all afternoon while we were boardgaming - it had been a long weekend of gaming, with many a late night with dice in hand, and I was trying to perk up a bit. At the point when we sat down to take a break and play some Halo 1, my brain was humming like a turbocharged, 2-liter boxer engine at 6500 RPMs.

Long story short, I was in the zone - buzzing and unstoppable. There was about a 20 minute period where I got my hands on a rocket launcher, and was killing Ken and Bob over and over again, seemingly invulnerable and uncannily accurate. They eventually threw their hands up, and said, "OK - enough of that for a while!" It's not that I'm better than them - both of those guys usually play Halo a bit better than me. My reaction time simply felt hummingbird-quick and my senses preternaturally aware. Quake Shake, indeed! (Be sure to check out the preceding link - one of the funniest PvP strips EVER!)

I myself have been a bit of a caffeine worshipper over the years, so I suppose I play into the geek stereotype nicely. There is a half-kilo bag of pure, food-grade, 100% caffeine powder in my office cabinet at work. You see, I am a coatings chemist by trade, and I'd weaseled a sample of the geek ambrosia from one of the chemical distributor salesmen that call on me (he also calls on food companies).

I'm going to stress right here that this material is nothing to mess around with casually. Ingested, the lethal adult dose is reportedly only about 10 grams. I suppose one's heart might have a hard time handling a pick-me-up of that magnitude... As they say on TV, certainly a "do not try this at home kids - leave this to the experts" type situation. That said, I'm obviously well-versed in measuring and dilution techniques, and in handling hazardous substances, so I consider myself to fit that experts-only bill.

I've messed around with a few different interesting recipes. My caffeinated spring water beverage (active content equal to that of Mountain Dew) is as low-cal as a "soda" can get, and my personal favorite, caffeinated Jell-O Jigglers, is perfect for a snack during a late night table-top gaming session. :)

Back to the Deployment portion of the piece. A while back, I stopped drinking soda on a regular basis, mostly for health reasons. Coupled with a reasonable diet, I lost 10 pounds in a relatively short period. I was drinking one cup of tea in the morning when I got to work, and that was about it. (I'm now mostly on a coffee kick, and a 16-oz travel mug of java love is a permanent fixture in the dash cupholder of my WRX on my half-hour morning commutes.)

Since cutting out the frequent soda, I've had to really watch my intake of caffeinated beverages. If I drink a cup of coffee or glass of soda after 4 or 5 PM, I can expect to still be sitting in front of World of Warcraft at 2 AM - it really affects me strongly now. My one cup of coffee is all I really need anymore, and it lasts me throughout the morning, and on late gaming nights, a single glass of Dew will keep me going till my Subaru carries me to my front door.

Those of you that find yourself drinking soda or coffee all day might consider cutting back, if only as a temporary experiment and/or easy diet method. You may just find out that you don't really need all that go-juice, and that you're really just wiring yourself to the gills and guzzling empty calories needlessly.

That said, the next time I log on to Halo 2 or Battlefield 2, I'll probably still have a Dew handy in my coaster. Take that, Devilfish!


Ken Newquist said...

There's nothing quite like that perfect caffeine high during a really good night of gaming, be it RPGs, board games or Halo. It's one reason I'm looking forward to NukemCon 2006...

Right now I'm trying to keep my caffeine consumption on an even keel, with a small cup of coffee in the morning, followed by a Pepsi or Dew at lunch, and another at dinner. Any less than that and I start lagging big time (but then again, I've got a 5-week-old baby at home, so I need all the help I can get).

Lance said...

Yeah, ditto re. NukemCon. I'm actually planning on bringing along a blender and supplies to mix up honest-to-goodness Quake Shakes per Francis' recipe. Should be funny.