The Cake is Not Always A Lie: Food in Video Games
There are video games about food. There are gamers who recreate food from video games. One game even makes you get up off your gaming butt and make a real cake in order to earn an achievement. I am not nearly as creative, motivated, and skilled to get into the kitchen, and, while I do appreciate food, I don’t love it enough to play games about it. But I do love games that put in that extra gourmet touch. Gone are the days of Pac-Man munching on pixelated cherries. Now the food in video games is a lot more elaborate. While there might be foodies behind the gourmet meals that end up in video games, you don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate them.
Food, or the promise thereof, serves many purposes in games. Sometimes as part of the plot, like the cake in Portal meant to stop the artificial intelligence from killing everyone. More often, it provides a temporary bonus to your main character to aid in your adventures. From restoring health to increasing your lockpicking abilities, video game food can be far more advantageous than real life food.
I first came to appreciate the importance of food in games thanks to my friend who went by the name “Chumm” in Final Fantasy XI. He’s a food connoisseur in real life, so it really wasn’t surprising that among the many crafting choices available in the multiplayer online game, he chose cooking and kept his friends and linkshell mates well supplied with the in-game yummies that would help us perform to our potential. Back then, I didn’t understand much about character statistics and what would make my Red Mage’s spells work best, but I understood that if Chumm said I should eat melon pies, then melon pies were what I would eat. Now I’m much more aware of how stats affect and improve gameplay and will even do some cooking myself in other games I’ve played.
Guild Wars 2 comes to mind, where even my kids got in on the action because cooking is a game unto itself. Gather every ingredient you can find, combine them, and see what comes out! This is sort of how I cook, though the game makes it clear in advance if a particular combination won’t work.
While I lack the skills to create good food, unlike my husband, I certainly do appreciate it. And I appreciate a video game with characters who appreciate it too. I wrote about one of my favourite moments of video game foodie goodness in my The Witcher 2 Diaries. It occurs unexpectedly when Geralt explores various dreams, seeking a powerful dream to break a spell. He finds the dream of Iorveth, the leader of the nonhuman rebels, who waxes eloquent in his native elven tongue.
Is Iorveth dreaming about a future where humans and elves and dwarves can live in piece? Is he dreaming about his beloved Saskia? Oh no, dear reader. Iorveth has something far more important on his mind:
Oh, carrot, tasty carrot,
With even fat/lard on top,
And also chicken with parsley…
In Mass Effect 3, Commander Shepard can wander around her ship to find her crew performing various activities. At one point, James Vega is busy in the mess, cooking up his own version of his abuela’s eggs—though he’s not exactly certain where these particular eggs originate from. Later, in the Citadel DLC, Shepard and Kaidan Alenko share a friendly or romantic dinner of beer and steak—the food of Alenko’s people (Canadians)—cooked in the kitchen of Shepard’s new digs.
Video games have come a long way and have matured in many ways, not the least of which is how they choose to tell their stories. Whether food is meant to enhance your character’s ability or to enhance the story, it is yet another way for games to make us feel at home, even as we battle space aliens or dragons.