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Food in games

by Tora Teig on 04/29/11 01:11:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I am always looking for an excuse to include food with every activity (swimming, most profoundly -- is hopeless with food). I used to think gaming was too, when I started playing WoW some time back in the old days and I totally forgot to eat. But truthfully, I eventually remembered.

That's not really what I am going to rant about today. I am going to write about the relevance of food to a culture and how this sprouts a reliable universe for a story.

Like, take every book in the Narnia series and count the meals, or Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings. They eat all the time. All the time. One of the few commercial successes not entirely evolving around food must be Twilight, but then again -- they do eat blood*.

I'm not saying that including a couple of mealtimes in your story and your game will sell like hotcakes (or am I?). But I might be suggesting that at the core of life is sustenance, and at the edges of life is civilization of which the core is culture and what dwells in the soft, furry creature of culture is food! So at least to a plausible human universe the subject of a meal should come up.

I'm sure Enslaved: Odyssey to the West would have been a lot more enthralling if they had to hunt for food instead of just screaming and wanting to kiss all the time. On a side note I suppose if Tripitaka was to keep her scrawny figure -- eating bugs and clouds would suffice. Wow, that didn't sound bitter at all.

The thing is that cultural identity as well as our own personal identity as human is built upon preferences and habits that are reflected in all aspects of our lives. If that is how we sleep, when we sleep, what music we listen to, how we dance, if we pray, how hard we work, or in fact, what we eat. 

And together with mealtime comes rules and etiquette and tradition that makes the universe more and more plausible. You can learn a lot about a character or tribe or race from what they eat and how they eat it. Observation and storytelling melting together in a great big pot of potential.

Resting and eating is traditionally "downtime" in games, or a way to get upgrades, we all know eating mushrooms can give us certain benefits, like coming back to life when we die (1up). And there are games where eating is the sole purpose (like Pacman). But it is rare to find mealtime as a rewarding, interesting part of a game. That, even despite the fact that we are obsessed with food as rewards. When told the cake was a lie, the whole world shook from the sheer outrage. Not as much because lying is wrong, but because lying about cake is so wrong it violated an entire generation.

A meal can still be a reward, I quite like the concept of that. But enjoying it and learning from the culture of the meal should also feel rewarding. What is more hearty and comforting than a good meal with good friends? And why should this experience, as basic and universal as any human habits be so understated in games?

Food is identity and mandatory to a culture (at least of creatures that need food to live) and exploring and being creative on this concept should hold interesting rewards.

*On occasion. I wouldn't have the time either if I had such a busy schedule full of sighing and kissing and hand holding.

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