the increased presence of food in games has prompted a shift
October 26, 2019 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Ms. Pac-Man’s Revenge by Soleil Ho [Eater]
“Why has food, which is arguably an essential part of our day-to-day lives, been so marginal in so many games? It could be due to ingrained assumptions about their intended audiences: If these products were meant to appeal to men, why waste effort on rendering food when one could focus on more masculine motifs, like monsters and spacecraft? And yet, one of the earliest examples of game developers’ thinking outside of the box and bringing food to the forefront is one of the earliest games: Pac-Man.”
In an essay for the anthology “Women on Food,” restaurant critic Soleil Ho wonders if gender has something to do with the lack of food in video games
posted by Fizz (46 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
"__________ critic wonders if gender has something to do with the lack of _____ in _____."

Yes, the answer is yes.
posted by tula at 6:56 PM on October 26, 2019 [21 favorites]


I'm a bit confused by the premise because food is a part of nearly every game I can think of. I looked at the last 10 games I've played and all of them have food. The first two games I ever played - Pokemon Blue and Super Mario Land - both feature food in their game mechanics. There is no shortage of food in games.
posted by LSK at 7:12 PM on October 26, 2019 [17 favorites]


Right, but how food is used and how much attention is called to food differs greatly. Open-world games with "survival" mods like Skyrim and Fallout are an interesting case here, I think. In the base games, food and drink are purely utilitarian items that you consume as necessary in order to instantly replenish your stats, and in principle you can run around for days of in-game time without needing to eat or drink anything. The design intention here seems to be that preparing food is a drudgery and eating it is a distraction from the stuff you really want to do (questing, fighting, building, etc.), so all food is modeled as perfectly interchangeable tools with instant practical effects. However, with survival mods, eating food at regular intervals becomes necessary for survival. Food is still a source of drudgery, but in this case it's a drudgery that the player seeks out and appreciates.

I wish the article had mentioned Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, certainly one of the more innovative and idiosyncratic games when it comes to food. Hunting and foraging for food in the wild is a major game mechanic, and there are significant and interesting penalties for not eating enough (like Snake's rumbling stomach giving him away to a passing guard) or eating poisonous food or food that has gone bad (health and stamina penalties).
posted by J.K. Seazer at 7:25 PM on October 26, 2019 [15 favorites]


Are you mad? In Skies of Arcadia, the Blue Rogues ultimate attack will serve you sushi!
posted by SPrintF at 7:50 PM on October 26, 2019


The first verb in a video game that made any money was "bounce". The second verb was "shoot". Then "eat" made a bunch of money, and the next year "jump" did too. Management says "we need more verbs!" (not really)

Meanwhile, Zork players were feeding an elongated sack smelling of hot peppers to a Cyclops.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:51 PM on October 26, 2019 [11 favorites]


I'm a bit confused by the premise because food is a part of nearly every game I can think of. I looked at the last 10 games I've played and all of them have food. The first two games I ever played - Pokemon Blue and Super Mario Land - both feature food in their game mechanics. There is no shortage of food in games.

This is covered within the first four paragraphs, where she sets up her premises.
posted by codacorolla at 7:51 PM on October 26, 2019 [14 favorites]


ctrl + F "Burger Time"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:07 PM on October 26, 2019 [11 favorites]


•Ness took
 the Ketchup packet,
•used it on
 the Hamburger, and
•Paula ate it.
•It was pretty good.
•Paula's HP are
 maxed out!

posted by biogeo at 8:08 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


I put it down to modelling food as a mechanic being surprisingly difficult. (Like, sure, there's a gendered aspect to this, but games have gone through waves where women have been centred, and marginalised, in the medium, so gender is a factor but not the only factor.)

There's a certain minimum level of stuff that you need to have in a game for food to be viable as a mechanic - both items to make food out of, if you're including cooking, and effects it can have. You can have food's effectiveness be how tasty it is, but how do you define 'tasty', and how do you define it so that players don't make the simplest, tastiest thing they can, like a picky eater who only eats chicken nuggets? You can map the various properties of the food to various stats and buffs, which is the popular way of doing it, but you need enough systems in the game so that these stats and buffs are meaningful.

Or you can do what Stardew Valley does, and just have it not matter. This probably only works for farming games, where your relationship to food is, explicitly, as a commodity.
posted by Merus at 8:10 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Oh yeah, there was also the early Ultima games, where food was a number that decremented every turn. When it hit zero you were permadead, and you could only really survive by stealing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:18 PM on October 26, 2019


I liked the article. Apart from the excellent points about the gendered nature of food as a mechanic, I was also struck by the valuable design lesson here, which is that food (as a crafting system) is more rewarding and interesting when it's modeled after how we treat real food. Breath of the Wild is a good example from the article, where Link tends to occasionally get full recipes, but also gets vauge hints and notions about what makes a good Mushroom skewer, and also has freedom to explore and experiment to figure it out on his own. In addition, there's a rich simulation element tied to it, where the game accounts for however many hundreds of permutations through various levels of buffs and debuss. And aesthetically the designers made an effort to make foods (even ones that serve identical mechanical purposes) pop and be a part of the roleplaying that player can do as Link.

It's quite obvious that this takes time to model and represent, but I think a main point of the article (getting back to the issue of gender) is why it rarely has been designed in such a way. We cook and eat more than we kill, yet complex aesthetic systems like ragdolling corpses have been a staple (even a requirement) for 3D games for going on 20 years. One answer that the author gets at is that cooking, despite being a miraculous and important thing, is made to be commonplace and domestic, and therefore not valued. To say that well designed food doesn't serve a mechanical purpose (despite being wrong) also doesn't follow logically, since so much aesthetic work (apart from pure mechanics) has been done to make killing rewarding. Obviously there is a market and societal logic behind why designers prioritize various common elements of AAA games, which is the main point of the article in the end.
posted by codacorolla at 8:45 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Interesting read! The mention of NPC recipes in Breath Of The Wild which I haven't played had me wondering what if recipes spread (and changed relative to local ingredients) throughout a game world as easily as the various Triple Triad rules in FFVIII did? There's no reason for them not to.

I'm all for enabling expressive play in games, it makes the experience more personal and it makes watching others on the same game much more interesting too. Food can be a part of that, just like crafting Cool Gun #4567 or Carp(e)-ing that diem in the fishing minigame or whatever.

That Pokemon Stadium sushi game that gets a mention can do one though. Played it vs friends in a casual/competitive context earlier this year. "Oh, is it a bit like Pressure Cooker for the 2600?" I asked. "No," came the answer. They were lying. There was pressure involved.

(would have rambled more, but I'm holding forth on "food in games" rather than the gendered aspect, which is the thrust of the FPP)
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 9:12 PM on October 26, 2019


My biggest issue is that often cooking in modern games feels like busy work. Even in games like botw which implement it reasonably well it often feels like a chore to accomplish, popping into menus over and over with some load time each cycle, repeating the same combo ad nauseum. The need for every game to be at least vaguely open world with crafting has pushed cooking forward as a mechanic but often it's just a means to strap on more crafting bulk to an existing system.

I think there are games that can implement cooking well but those are ones that focus on cooking as the primary subject. The super hectic restaurant kitchen game that came out somewhat recently (but the name eludes me) seems like it captures the feeling being overwhelmed by tasks and that certainty feels like cooking does in a fun way.
posted by Ferreous at 9:27 PM on October 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


Open-world games with "survival" mods like Skyrim and Fallout are an interesting case here, I think. In the base games, food and drink are purely utilitarian items

I'm exactly 62% sure that food exists in Bethesda games primarily to enable

placeatme fooditemID largenumber

Whereby the player can cause an avalanche of fooditem to explode into existence.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:28 PM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


That's it! I've come up with a new recipe!


I think a one part of it is you don't inherently have an opponent with food. The early examples have ghosts trying to stop you from eating, or sausage and egg turning against you while the hamburger remains neutral, which is providing opponents that don't naturally follow from eating. But if your game is focused on fighting, your obvious opponent is whoever you're fighting. Food becomes the thing you do to replenish your health after fighting so much.

Tapper might be a good predecessor to the restaurant games like Cake Mania or Overcooked, where you don't have opponents, you have customers.
posted by RobotHero at 9:34 PM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


[Deleted one disputing the genderedness of cooking without really referencing the article or addressing its points. (And one response pointing out toxic patriarchy is a thing, which it is.)]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:39 PM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


The other issue I think towards effective cooking implementation in games is that in real life the fun that can be derived from kitchen work is in the minute details of how you put things together. It's a very tactile and variable thing. You're making dozens of small adjustments in every dish, how long to sweat the onions, which spices and in what quantity to use them, what's the temp of the oven etc etc. Games aren't good at representing something so granular and variable. So eventually you run into the mess of a Bethesda style inventory menu and an utterly mechanical and joyless gameplay system that rewards rote reproductions with some combo that is objectively best.

Regardless of gender bias wrt cooking it's an extremely difficult thing to make fun from a gameplay standpoint.
posted by Ferreous at 9:40 PM on October 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


In Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (DCSS), the hunger mechanic has evolved over time from something to discourage grinding to the pablum that it has become now (limited to very early game unavoidable deaths to limiting spamming higher level spells during the middle game).

What I'd like to see in the "cooking" minigames is "keepability" or the like. In DCSS, perishable food does just that. iirc, in Nethack there were ways of making food "last longer" by making jerky or something.
posted by porpoise at 9:44 PM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


all i care about are the 1300 camemberts in geralt's inventory right now and the fact that i can eat them all drunk and underpantsed in a fountain in beauclair
posted by poffin boffin at 9:57 PM on October 26, 2019 [11 favorites]


Parappa had the best cooking sim, we just cook while dropping some phat rhymes. (got it? ya beef jerky)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:02 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Something that is cooking-adjacent but not actually cooking: the Atelier series of games heavily feature alchemy as a primary gameplay system, where you go out and collect ingredients in the wild, then take them back to your workshop and make things by inventing/following recipes and tweaking them using skills or by using different varieties of ingredients. The main thing that's missing is that while you do occasionally produce food this way, the emphasis is really on what the food does for you, as opposed to more subjective or aesthetic concerns. (You can occasionally make food that is, for example, spicy or not spicy, which lend slightly different effects in battle, but otherwise don't matter.)

This starts to get at a major issue with gameplay systems to address things like cooking: for whatever reason, thus far gaming mechanics haven't evolved particularly well to handle aesthetic judgement in the same way it does, say, fighting. Battles have obvious end goals most of the time: hit the enemy until its hitpoints drop to zero. By comparison, games are currently ill-suited to judge a would-be video game cook on whether a particular person liked a dish they made.

The best examples I can think of are ones I only know of second-hand from vaguely related fields: games like Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer or Style Savvy, where you encounter characters who make requests of your home decoration or fashion services and give you some vague hints as to what they'd like (this animal might want their living room to feel cute and cozy; that woman would like a sleek look for fun nights out with friends). Those requests get translated, explicitly or otherwise, into a few quality spectrums—cute versus cool, frilly versus sleek, etc.—and then you put together items that have points assigned to each of these spectrums. Sum them up together somehow with some kind of formula, and presto: you have a final grade for how well you did. I can't decide if that's a sufficient model for aesthetic judgement or not, but it's the best thing we seem to have in games.

I definitely think we're overdue for some hard thinking about how to map the appeal of eating and cooking to video games. I feel like with indie games like Overcooked, Battle Chef Brigade and Cook, Serve, Delicious! gaining in popularity, it'll only be a matter of time.
posted by chrominance at 10:40 PM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also this would be very hard to model in a game and would probably have extremely niche appeal, but there is a small part of me that wonders if you could make a video game sim that models the workflows of a restaurant kitchen and asks you to optimize, say, the placement of stations in a kitchen or pre-opening kitchen prep or something. Hey, we have multiple games about being a car mechanic, why not this? (P.S. those car mechanic games are pretty good)
posted by chrominance at 10:43 PM on October 26, 2019


Also this would be very hard to model in a game and would probably have extremely niche appeal, but there is a small part of me that wonders if you could make a video game sim that models the workflows of a restaurant kitchen and asks you to optimize, say, the placement of stations in a kitchen or pre-opening kitchen prep or something.

Factorio, which is very highly regarded, scratches a lot of that same itch. Also, I tend to play Overcooked this way already. I get way too stressed out rushing into a level that I haven't played, especially when I'm playing with a bunch of other people who are familiar with it. I much more enjoy coming up with explicit plans that are easy for everyone to follow, iterating and improving them over multiple rounds.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:52 PM on October 26, 2019


here is a small part of me that wonders if you could make a video game sim that models the workflows of a restaurant kitchen and asks you to optimize, say, the placement of stations in a kitchen
This was what I immediately thought of reading the article; my experience c.1996 as a teenager in the back of a multinational hamburger chain, where our franchisee had read a book about modern management and come up with 'games' in which he could set targets for employees, ones involving economising on materials/ingredients usually. Except that obviously, since the [casual] employees had no input into any of the productive decisions, like which steps went in order in assembling food, or how the machines should prepare the ingredients, the 'games' came down to nothing more complicated than 'work harder'. Gamifying factory work is very easy, alas, it's just that it's not the employees who are enjoying the playing...

[I swore a solemn oath never, ever to work in a job involving food preparation ever again]
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:50 AM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


The 'Tweedpunk' game Sir, You Are Being Hunted requires you both to forage for food and eat or drink regularly if you are not to collapse from hunger or lose the ability to heal. Given the setting, foods you encounter include a flask of tea and a packet of biscuits (alas, there is no biscuit-dipping). There is even a cooking mechanic with game-play implications; your foraging sometimes nets you raw meat, which you must cook by finding and rekindling a fire, but that draws the attention of the human-hating tweed-wearing robots who are hunting you down...
posted by Major Clanger at 4:13 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Warrior Gamer needs food badly!
posted by infinitewindow at 5:27 AM on October 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


a video game sim that models the workflows of a restaurant kitchen and asks you to optimize, say, the placement of stations in a kitchen

SimManagementConsultant? You start off optimizing bodegas and restaurant kitchens to appropriate maximands, move up to small factories and local supermarkets, and continue moving up the industrial ladder until you're basically Global Dictator of Everything, either as the chief designer for Buy 'n Large or Commissar of the Solar Union.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:41 AM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


As a side note the cat kitchen cooking sequence in Monster Hunter World is amazing and never fails to amuse me. Searching the world for ingredients is fun too.
posted by xdvesper at 5:42 AM on October 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


Also, IIRC, Bubble Bobble was specifically designed with a brief of bringing more women into arcades; other than the kawaii sprites and the shooting mechanic being about blowing bubbles, there is an abundance of food objects which one picks up for points.
posted by acb at 5:42 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


> moving up the industrial ladder until you're basically Global Dictator of Everything

oh man do you get to issue edicts from those neat-o Cybersyn chairs?
posted by genpfault at 6:44 AM on October 27, 2019


I wonder if that's part of the reason why 'The Sims' had more gender parity in the fanbase. I loved teaching them to make new and more complicated types of dishes, even as part of a normal boring day.
posted by Selena777 at 7:15 AM on October 27, 2019


I'm extremely interested that there is no discussion about Minecraft in the article. Food is a key part of Minecraft - growing it (or farming animals), crafting food that has better absorption (baked potatoes, golden carrots, cake), and needing to pretty much constantly eat if you're being at all active, or to heal. Certainly not as extensive a system as BoTW, but a core mechanic in one of the best selling games ever. (The MC player base also has a decent gender balance, although of course the game's flexibility means that people can find a play style - creative, pvp, exploration, survival - that fits almost anyone.)
posted by anastasiav at 7:53 AM on October 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


but there is a small part of me that wonders if you could make a video game sim that models the workflows of a restaurant kitchen and asks you to optimize, say, the placement of stations in a kitchen or pre-opening kitchen prep or something

In Rimworld the efficiency of your kitchen and cooks is a central aspect - bad choices lead to starving and/or dead colonists come springtime.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:54 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I loved this, thanks for posting.

The development team was so serious about the realism of the food, they went camping (much of the game takes place as a road trip) and took photos of the food they were able to create outdoors. Part of their quality control was, of course, taste testing: If a dish didn’t taste good to the team, they wouldn’t put it into the game. “Recipes were just one element of the camping scenes, but the catalyst for our obsession was the high quality of the food graphics that the camp team was able to create in the pre-production phase,”

This reminds me of the recent discussion (here?) about the secondary trauma experienced by artists modeling graphic violence in games.

Like how much better to spend time doing this food research, both for the quality of the game, and the designers' mental health.
posted by Gorgik at 7:59 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also this would be very hard to model in a game and would probably have extremely niche appeal, but there is a small part of me that wonders if you could make a video game sim that models the workflows of a restaurant kitchen and asks you to optimize, say, the placement of stations in a kitchen or pre-opening kitchen prep or something.

I think this could work really well! There's definitely a realm of resource management games it could work into. I'd hate it personally, not for the cooking theme. But because it's the kind of game where I'd have a caramelized onion shortage or something early then overcorrect and hire a chef de partie just for onions and onions would be everywhere and it would all just go horribly wrong.
posted by mark k at 8:04 AM on October 27, 2019


I read the article twice because I was certain that I missed World of Warcraft (est 2004), one of the most successful games ever. Namely, WoW's various foods, the specialized buffs associated with those foods, the recipes that reflect the culture and geography of the zone you're in (Vanilla vs Northrend vs Pandaria) and the importance of mages and mage tables, the Holiday achievements that require learning and cooking special recipes, and the actual official cookbook.
posted by kimberussell at 8:30 AM on October 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


ffxv and botw are compared in the article and i love a chance to rant about them, but i so preferred food in ffxv to botw (also everything else in both games) even though they're identical systems - scavenge for regional ingredients that you mostly just pick up as an afterthought as you're running around killing things/get meat as side effect of killing things, find new recipes, choose what to cook based on what ingredients you have in your inventory, get a cute short cutscene, get stat boost.

but food in botw is, for me, standing at a pot and mashing buttons for 10 minutes and then slamming kabobs in battle, and food in ffxv is camping with your friends after a long day and maybe its still sunset bc you just wanted to turn in and get xp or maybe it's 3am because you were too far from a camp or maybe it's sunrise bc you got stuck in a dungeon overnight, and you get to choose one of you or your friends' favorite meals to cook or you can decide to punish gladio and make everyone eat toast, and you get to see different cutscenes of your overworked friend cooking and sometimes we help him and then everyone eating together with contextual animations and i love it!!!! and you can feed your pet bird at dinner! and there's cheap fast food and expensive fancy restaurants to eat at!

but ffxv has a whole list of gender problems which is especially funny/maddening to think about reading here that they did so much wild, involved research into the cooking system, which is also true of other fantastic mechanics in the game i've read about, but couldn't make their story, like, good (and it could've been!). There is also the dark possibility that it may be a way for developers to superficially pander to female consumers without having to, say, include well-written, gender diverse characters into their narratives is this game in a nutshell.

and there's a character with huge body image issues and every other character in the game sometimes shames him for eating the exact same stuff you're eating, which, hm, kills how enjoyable the socialness of this game is.

anyways. also fascinating in the article is the joylessness/utility of food in most games next to how Gamers are eating Gamer Foods for Gamer Fuel and forgetting to eat entirely while they play, which is relatable to me and my friends but because we're depressed. i'm pretty sure a game that showcased accessible and delicious/interesting recipes would totally induce a pavlovian response and get me to eat willingly a little more often.
posted by gaybobbie at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


Video games taught me that you should eat the sushi that appears after you punch a garbage can.

But as far as food-centric games, I recall enjoying Restaurant Empire.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:12 AM on October 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


I loved teaching them to make new and more complicated types of dishes, even as part of a normal boring day.

i like it when it takes them 4h to make spaghetti and then they die bc i forgot to let them pee
posted by poffin boffin at 12:24 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


capitalism simulator
posted by poffin boffin at 12:24 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Play a role in nethack that starts with no food, no poison resistance and a hungry pet and you will indeed appreciate comestibles...
posted by jim in austin at 3:28 PM on October 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm still waiting for my dream humble tavernkeep game!! I've since acquired an Xbox One, which increases my options somewhat, but I still haven't seen one that lets me make food for people and care about their lives. There's a lot of restaurant sims but they don't really have any kind of meaningful customer-side interaction. VA-11-HALL-A is actually pretty close now that I think about it - gimme that, but food, and maybe also in an MMO so I talk to real people. Stardew Valley et al come close but don't quite scratch the same itch.

(Speaking of which: my kingdom for a Stardew Valley style game but set in the world of Chinese village girl YouTube)

I did try Adventure Bar Story because it seemed like it would come close, but the combat system (which just seems tacked on for the sake of having a combat system) was so hard and I kept dying so many times so I gave up. It's also what worries me about MMOs, even ones that have a more nuanced shopkeep/tavernkeep system than just "trade random items for money" - there's still all that combat to handle. Let me just forage for my food and make nice meals to sell to my loyal customer whose lives I get to know gah.
posted by divabat at 7:24 PM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm not entirely sure why people would hang out at your in-game bar when you're probably also available on Whatsapp or something.

But I think you have a point that there's an untapped market for shopkeeper games to have a more elaborate resource gathering game that's not some vestigial combat system. Most of the ones I've seen have had combat as a way to give you something to work towards, or they've been essentially city-builders. I think people would enjoy a game where you build up a complex supply chain (and establish relationships with your suppliers) - Moonlighter does this a little bit, but it's not that complex.
posted by Merus at 7:46 PM on October 27, 2019


I'm not entirely sure why people would hang out at your in-game bar when you're probably also available on Whatsapp or something.

For the same reason people play MMOs in general and make friends through them? With an added layer of doing tasks as part of a game world and embodying a character on my own time, rather than just a group chat? I'm not sure what the question actually is here.
posted by divabat at 8:20 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Overcooked
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:08 PM on October 27, 2019


The manuals on various coin op machines back in the day told you what dip switch combinations set the food level with some of them showing a relationship of the setting to the time an average game was to last.

A well known example of this would be Gauntlet and what came to be known as "the food chip mod". Because an elf could spend hours at the machine on 1 quarter up until the game stopped holding the corners for you.

In those settings food is just a way to seperate you from your quarter.

For all the focus on food in games so few have the characters deal with the final fate of the food. The SIMS avoid it by just using the proxy of bladder. Guess its just a coding job no one wants.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:00 PM on October 28, 2019


« Older Gothtober fun!   |   Goodnight, sweet prince Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments