Monday, 19 September 2016
A Short History Of Culinary Gaming
This is my most recent written piece for Forces Of Geek - the site recently had an overhaul and changed over from Blogger to Wordpress so... I apologise for my crude copy and paste job. Usually I write my posts directly into Blogger and make them public shortly after they first go public on Forces Of Geek. This time I had to send via word document and naturally, I don't have a saved copy anywhere because I forgot to save it in an actual folder and my husband (who is a little bit OCD and loves a tidy desktop) deleted it...
Naturally, this change in my dietary habits (don’t panic, I can still eat bacon THANK THE GODS!) has placed food at the forefront of my mind and as with everything in my life, it led me to think about video games. Specifically, those games where food or cooking are key components. Think of this as a lesson in culinary gaming history.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a game about cooking or really even about food but it felt wrong not to mention it. Though the aim was not to create food, Pac-Man’s aim was to gather pellets and sustenance which happened to be in the form of various fruit because we all know fruit is good for you!
Whether this was nutritional propaganda or not, there’s no denying that it made cherries and bananas seem more appetising as a child. I was an easily swayed kid, an advertisers dream, I would often watch commercials for bread and instantly feel the need to eat a slice of toast. So, it’s unsurprising that I would often crave fruit after playing Pac-Man for hours.
Fortunately, now in my 30s, I know that fruit is evil – not only does too much fruit juice rot your teeth (thanks for the heads up, dentists – anyone would think you were all failed doctors or something!) on a personal note, it also messes with my stomach lining – hence the aforementioned exclusion diet. I mean, talk about betrayal.
Ahh, the early 80s were a simple time, a hallowed time where the premise of game didn’t need to be complicated or overly cinematic.
Nope, back then you could release a game about stacking burgers and people would actually buy it.
The main aim of BurgerTime was to create perfect burgers, avoiding evil ingredients like egg, pickles or hotdogs. As someone who loves pickles (we call then gherkins in the UK because we like fancy/ridiculous sounding names) this game outrages me. Gherkins are food of the Gods!
In its defence, the game was released at a time when food had only just stopped being that weird, unpalatable, gelatine mess with a side of potted mystery meat (which was actually considered haute cuisine in the 70s) – so maybe the creators of the game aren’t to blame after all? It’s all they knew.
Further more, contemporary burger joints run by hipsters would have us believe that you can put any ingredient you like into a burger. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen actual hotdog burgers and English breakfast stacks complete with egg on top. Oh, how the world has changed! Eggs, hot dogs and gherkins are no longer considered ‘evil’, let us rejoice!
Due to the success of Pac-Man et al., publishers Atari were keen to cash in on even more food based video games. Thus, Food Fight was born (or Charley Chuck’s Food Fight as it was also known).
Unlike in Pac-Man where fruit was a reward, in Food Fight, the protagonist Charley must dodge all the fruit and vegetables being thrown at him while eating as much ice cream as possible. Good for you Charley, you eat that ice cream…some of us can’t anymore *single tear*.
Charley must also dodge four chefs who pop up randomly and chase him throughout the game. I can only imagine that’s because he has caused them grave offence by turning his nose up at their delicious Michelin star food, opting to eat ice cream instead. But you know what? If he can afford to eat in a fancy restaurant, he can eat whatever he damn well wants!
The 90s were all about pizza, suddenly kids wanted to have birthday parties at Pizza Hut (myself included…though I never did *cue violins*) and every kid on the playground idolised the fun, care-free attitude of Michelangelo, the crazy orange turtle who loved pizza and skateboarding.
This game was truly a product of its time and it wasn’t just about pizza, it was an actual pizza business simulator. For those kids that had lesser economic ambitions than the ones who dabbled in other, more serious business simulation games.
Though this particular restaurant had a unique selling point, the ingredients available for you to adorn your pizza creations with included snake, ants and grubs. An acquired taste but who cares when you have regular customers that include Ronald Reagan and Lenin? Seriously, the game genuinely included their animated faces! Because kids just love politics. They love it alongside pizza and phoning their friends on their parents landlines.
You could also hire local Mafia in-game to wreck up the joints of other local pizza establishments…not really sure what this game was teaching us…a lesson probably *shakes fist*
*cue laughter or most likely, eye roll*
This game exists because kids these days don’t know how to cook. After all we all know how difficult it is chopping, peeling and boiling everything. Ergh…our modern brains couldn’t possibly work out how to use a vegetable peeler or turn on our ovens.
I often wondered how Mama’s recipes tasted in real life, especially after playing the World Kitchen version on the Wii. I often thought about attempting to make that borscht in real life. That was 2009 and I still haven’t made borscht, but I’ve thought about it and that’s the important part, right?
The Cooking Mama franchise does get a little repetitive after a while and I don’t remember owning it for all that long, I don’t think Mama’s condescending tone and abuse helped.
The worst insult had to be an angry Mama shouting, ‘You’re not mine!’. I think the first time I heard it, my jaw was agape and I had to ask my housemates to verify that the game had actually been that mean. Come on Nintendo, my own mother wouldn’t even tell me that, not while we were cooking at least…it’d be far too dangerous with all those boiling pans of water around.
Long before the iPad and all the fancy cooking apps available, this non-game was released on the Nintendo DS. It wasn’t really a game, more a virtual tutorial cook book featuring recipes from all over the world with helpful tips from DS Chef, a Microsoft Word Paperclip-esque animated chef who provided you with ‘handy’ tips that weren’t at all patronising.
In a world which was pre-Pinterest and just before the height of e-readers, this proto-app was very well executed and gave the DS a new function that proved handheld devices could be used for more than just games. Part recipe book, part cooking tutorial, Personal Trainer: Cooking was a pleasant surprise and definitely not an attempt from Nintendo to reach out to non-gamers like our parents…
Part of me wishes I was making this game up and that it didn’t exist as a premise but Sony released this on the PS3 in 2009 and while it might encourage prejudice toward fat women (which is not okay), many critics of the game overlooked this fact because it was a genuinely fun multiplayer game with a lot of charm. It's funny how much sway charm has over decency.
Controversy aside, the game features multiple modes but it’s essentially a capture the flag based game and up to 32 players can play at once. Each team must capture their princess who is being fed an endless stream of cakes by the opposing team in an attempt to make her harder to carry back to base.
My culinary gaming history ends here I'm afraid but I’m really happy that so many games exist about preparing food, making it or just eating it, you get all the hassle without having to eat the damn stuff. Eating is so overrated anyway, it’s the future damn it! Where’s our nutritional pills that sci-fi promised us?! I don’t have time to cook real food, I’ve got virtual food to prepare damn it!