A look at eating in videogames

Hamburger lovers let me hear you say ‘Ho’

Physical violence is one of the most commonly used game mechanics. There are a few good reasons for that. Violence is an instinctual and direct method to interact with objects, virtual or otherwise. It’s something that involves visual, auditory, and tactile feedback to suspend belief around in-game actions, making them feel real despite our conscious awareness that they are not. When done right, violence feels good and it feels real. That’s a near-universal truth. 

There are a lot of other things that are just as widely enjoyable. A good nap, hugs, and eating a delicious snack are a few. Sadly, we’ve had a lot harder time translating those experiences into satisfying game mechanics. We’ve probably come closest with food. While there is only one first-person eating/drinking game currently on the market, there are plenty of titles that contemplate eating and show the pros and/or cons of chowing down. 

Cubivore

Like Pikmin, Cubivore deals with many of the harsh realities of being alive by coating death and Darwinism in a thick, cute layer of cartoon surrealism. It’s a game about eating other animals before they eat you. You don’t have to necessarily eat the whole animal either. Just eating one of their limbs can yield new powers and abilities. Don’t forget to poop though or else you wont be able to eat more of your peers. 

Metal Slug 3

Metal Slug 3 is one of the best looking videogames ever made. The attention to detail in the game’s visuals are second to none in the dot-art genre. No other game makes the mosaic world of low-res sprites feel more real than Metal Slug 3

These details come in a variety of ways. One of my favorites comes in the form of surprise fatness. In most games, food gives the player points and/or health, allowing the player to somehow process calories into numbers and/or life meter. In Metal Slug 3, those calories don’t just go to your score. They also go to your waistline. Eat enough food and you’ll find yourself fat. Like in reality, your extra weight has its pros and cons. Taking up more space makes you easier to hit, but in a miracle of videogame science, being bigger also makes your bullets bigger. It’s as though your gun is an extension of your body, and blowing out big bullets will eventually help you lose weight. 

If only that worked in real life. 

Tobal 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3

Quick aside — Tobal 2 is my favorite 3D Fighting game ever and it would be a really good idea for Square Enix to finally bring it out on PSN. If Vib Ribbon can do it, so can Tobal 2, right? The game combines elements of Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Street Fighter, and Pokémon into one cohesive whole, and has character designs by the creator of Dragon Ball. That’s about as marketable as it gets. Even the game’s PS1-era graphics hold up well, thanks to the 60 FPS frame rate and flat, texture-free character models. It’s as fun to play now as it was when it was first released in Japan in the late ’90s. 

One of the most interesting things about Tobal 2 is its adventure mode, which sends you out into a series of randomly generated dungeons with limited supplies. The combat and exploration aspects of the game provide a daunting enough challenge on their own, pitting you against robots, owlbears, and various forms of penguins. It gets even tougher when you factor in the game’s food and hunger systems. Like in Metal Gear Solid 3, food is as important to your struggle to staying alive as self-defense is. Get too hungry and you won’t last long. Meat isn’t always safe either. Eat rotten meat and pay the price. 

Though it sounds like a lot of work, there is something about managing your fighting skills, your ability to navigate a complex environment, and your caloric intake all at the same time that provides a sense of mastery and accomplishment that’s rare in games today. 

Animal Crossing

Though it’s changed in recent iterations of the series, the first couple Animal Crossing games provide the player with a Thanksgiving feast that borders on cannibalism. While the in-game celebration isn’t exactly about eating, it is about who and what we eat, putting the idea of food versus friends in perspective. 

If you boot up the game on Thanksgiving, you’ll find a new visitor in town — a terrified turkey named Franklin who appears to be in fear for his life. Food is a standard part of Animal Crossing, though it usually comes in the form of fruit or candy. On Thanksgiving, it’s implied that animal meat is on the menu — specifically, Franklin’s meat. 

Like in Pokémon, the Animal Crossing world has blurry lines between the difference between special animals that can be your friends and animals that can be your pets/food/etc. You can catch an octopus in the ocean, and then talk to a giant octopus that lives in your town. You can eat an orange, and then talk to a cat that appears to be part orange. These lines are at their most blurry during Thanksgiving, where it’s up to you to decide to either ignore the plight of you friend who may be dinner, or actually help your neighbors prepare their cannibalistic feast (in exchange for furniture, of course). If Animal Crossing is a subtle critique on capitalistic culture and mindless consumerism, then Thanksgiving in Animal Crossing is that critique at its most biting. 

Lone Survivor

I recently wrote about how Lone Survivor is one of my favorite games about psychosis. It’s also one of my favorite games about food, and how what you eat reflects on how well you take care of yourself. It’s something we rarely think about in games, and something we could all probably stand to think about more in our actual lives. What does it say about how much you care about what you put into your body? How is it going to affect you in the short run? How about in the long run? Are the risks going to outweigh the benefits? Will my cautious thoughts be enough to keep me from shoving a bunch of fried fish snack into my face? 

These questions are a little easier to answer in Lone Survivor than they are in real life. In reality, eating junk food offers physical rewards that aren’t present in games. Not yet anyway. We can bet that once we have the tech to induce targeted gustatory hallucinations in games, then the “eating genre” will be a lot more heavily populated. 

Those are a few of the more interesting games I’ve played about food. Are there any I missed that handle the act of eating in a fun or noteworthy way? I didn’t touch upon Kirby because that’s sort of played out, and I’m still not sure if Yoshi’s eggs are poop or a failed form of reproduction, so I left those out for now. I’m sure there are plenty I missed though, so let me have it. 

Jonathan Holmes
"Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Just like in a Gameboy game... a nice tight little world... and all its inhabitants... made out of little building blocks... Why can't these little pixels be the building blocks for love..? For loss... for understanding"- James Kochalka, Reinventing Everything part 1 "I wonder if James Kolchalka has played Mother 3 yet?" Jonathan Holmes