Maybe we are not what we play, but surely our video games also evolve based on our relationship with the kitchen: how food changes in gaming.
The impact that food culture has on us is visceral. In every place and in every age, we have been able to express this relationship in any form of expression possible, from prehistoric graffiti to Cattelan’s now devoured banana. And it was taken for granted that this relationship would also lead to the most disruptive “medium” of today, capable of earning its artistic dignity in just sixty years from its birth: the video game . The story between videogames and cooking is basically still unripe but don’t think that its evolution cannot already be traced.
If in the golden age of the sector – which coincides with the explosion of the phenomenon during the early 80s – one could find representation of food only in the fruit that Pac-Man devoured or in the different mushrooms encountered by Mario during his adventures, it is with the growth of the industry and the birth of new genres that things get interesting. Above all, it was the so-called management games / simulators and role-playing games that increased the “culinary” experience in video games. In the former, because the tendency to replicate in a small way the dynamics of an army, a city or an amusement park, has necessarily landed on every aspect of human knowledge: “Pizza Tycoon”, from 1993, is probably the first title in which the preparation of a dish (a pizza in all its variations) becomes the backbone of a game, inaugurating a path still trodden by many software houses. In role-playing games, on the other hand, the question becomes even more dense in nuances. In this genre derived directly from narrative textual games – inaugurated with “Dungeons and Dragons” and the fantasy genre, made of paper tables and dice before pixels – the growth of the character accompanies the player throughout the course of the adventure, is quantified in experience points, life bar, damage and many other statistics.
Here the food is only the tool with which to restore part of the lost life, something already seen in the scrolling “fighting games” as “Final Fight” where the finding of a fizzy drink or a hamburger ferried us towards the end of the level. In role-playing games, each fruit, game or dish often has a bonus or even a malus. What to eat therefore becomes fundamental compared to what we will face in the game: we will be able to choose a food that increases our defense at the expense of another that adds something to our magical power; or run into a noxious dish, which will reduce one or more of our values. Starting from these foundations, the relationship between videogames and cooking spread up to the creation of something new.
Among the most famous and important from a historical point of view, we cannot fail to mention “Cooking Mama”. Franchise consisting of many episodes, thanks to the portable consoles Nintendo has managed to involve the public transversally to the point of drawing even people not accustomed to the sector but fascinated by the accuracy of the preparation and management of the recipes. Released on the market back in 2006, it remains the most popular example of the genre. Special mention for “Overcooked”, which transformed the experience of a messy kitchen full of unexpected events into a “party-game” to be played with friends without stopping. The trend inaugurated by role-playing games has also made great strides, expanding and specializing beyond all expectations, especially thanks to survival games. The need to survive has made it essential not only the preparation of a dish (and its effects) but also the finding of ingredients: hunting, fishing, cultivation, research of spices have become constants, so much so as to cross over from the genre of origin and also contaminate others. game types. The examples here could be endless but if we had to choose the most iconic ones, we could not start with “Monster Hunter”, a Japanese-style role / action game that has brought that bonus principle based on ingested foods to a wider audience than users, incorporating some traditional preparations of Japanese dishes. Also worthy of mention is “Don’t Stare”, literally “don’t die hungry”. In this case,
But one of the high points of this climb of the kitchen in the sector was reached by the latest chapter of the famous Zelda saga, “Breath Of The Wild”: although there is nothing really revolutionary compared to what was previously said, the character of the research and culinary preparation is so well represented that it rises to an unprecedented level, absolutely not negligible for the purposes of the game experience. Polygon itself, one of the most famous American newspapers in the sector, asked some of its editors to try their hand at creating, in a real kitchen, the dishes seen in the game. All with some pleasant surprises in terms of palate (as well as many, many disappointments).
The history of videogames continues to be written day after day, under our very eyes. And his relationship with the kitchen continues to evolve. We are eagerly awaiting the tendency to perfect this relationship and, perhaps, to the creation of a title that can truly transport cooking techniques as faithfully as possible, conveying them into the most complete “restaurant simulator” ever created. And that certainly fans of gaming and gastronomy have always been waiting for. (Written jointly with Valerio Graglia).