A Bunch Of Mouth-Watering Pixels: Modern Gaming’s Best Food
Every advancement in graphics technology is accompanied by a new, goofy method of showing it off. Whether it’s 128 versions of Mario running around a globe for the GameCube, a million Toblerone pieces scattering around in Knack, or 1-2-Switch’s lockpicking minigame demonstrating all those ice cubes inside the Joy-Cons, developers often design around the possibilities of powerful new tech.
But this raises an important question: What about the food? According to statistics I just made up, we spend about 15 percent of our time eating and another 82 percent of our time thinking about eating. In contrast, I only spend about 10 minutes of my time each day thinking about 128 Marios running around and getting into trouble. Do you think each Mario thinks of himself as the true Mario, and the others as imposters? Hopefully, he recognizes that each Mario has the same right to individuality as himself. I’m getting off track here.
There is a criminal lack of gaming centered around the most important part of our lives, the part where we shove food in our face. Nintendo designed Super Mario Sunshine around the gorgeous water simulations new hardware allowed them, but they could have designed an equally gorgeous milkshake simulator or acorn squash bisque-drinking challenge. VR lets gamers hold virtual objects right up in their face to inspect; mostly, this is used to observe how various guns do, in fact, look like guns. But this ability could also be used to approximate a bakery, with all sorts of different loaves of bread and croissants to observe. Which brave developer is going to be the first to let me scrutinize a perfectly risen sourdough loaf?
Fortunately, some modern designers have heard my cries. The past few years have been a golden age of food-simulation, with new lighting techniques and physic systems being applied to the most noble of goals: making me want to eat while I play games. Make sure you’ve got some snacks in the pantry, because this list is going to make you hungry.
Final Fantasy XV
I was a Boy Scout as a kid, and one of the best parts of going on a trip was planning all the garbage my friends and I were going to eat. The official rules of camping state that rules of nutrition don’t matter in nature; all that matters is how peach cobbler tastes when you make it in a dutch oven while huddled around a campfire at night.
No one understands this better than the impeccably dressed Ignis Scientia in FFXV. Noctis and his boys are spending long days on the road, fighting wooly mammoths and throwing swords and whatever else a royal posse does on a cross-country trip. At night though, they settle down and Ignis provides them with some legitimately stunning meal selections. Little can pull a group together like well-made food, so it follows that the friendship between FFXV’s spikey-haired lads is one of the most effective parts of the game.
One of my favorite meals from FFXV is the Taelpar harvest galette, a truly mouth-watering remix of a basic fruit dessert. A galette is a pastry that falls somewhere between a calzone and a pie. It folds in on itself enough to just allow a peek at the deliciousness that resides inside. A properly made galette is downright scandalous.
Tumblr user “My main is a cook” concocted a recipe for the Taelpar harvest galette from Ignis’ cookbook. It involves oranges, goat cheese, cinnamon, and that trademark flakey crust. Honestly, if you just told me it was pie-like and involved goat cheese, I would have already been on board. Put all those ingredients together, and you’ve got a dish I’d smack out of the hands of the prince of Lucis.
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter is a game of excess. Characters wield swords that weigh approximately 95 pounds and whack dragons the size of apartment buildings around, just for the chance of getting a scale to make their armor prettier. But stripped down to its essentials, Monster Hunter emphasizes effective hunting by way of preparation and planning. The most important part of hunting prep? A hearty meal, of course.
There are two kinds of living things you don’t kill in Monster Hunter. The first are other human beings. The second are Palicoes, sentient cats that wear clothes and talk to each other who are so cute it should be illegal. No one questions the Palicoes, nor should they. This is simply a beautiful world where humans and cats have similar rights and treat each other with respect.
Of course, the Palicoes are objectively better than humans. This should be obvious – they have whiskers and tails, after all. Even better though, the Palicoes have culinary skills that our meager homo sapien brains can only dream of. Monster Hunter: World’s head honcho is the Meowscular Chef, an intimidating Palico with one eye who commands a small army of other cats. Working as a team, they cut slabs of meat (don’t ask which monster it came from) on a sizzling stone griddle, stir kiddie-pool sized soup bowls, and throw in some veggie skewers for good measure. When the food is ready, hunters tear into it without modern pleasantries like silverware or chewing.
The best parts of Monster Hunter: World’s food is in the preparation. Little touches stand out; the fatty parts of the meat fold over with realistic weight, and blocks of cheese have a satisfying rind. Sure, an Azure Rathalos has been dragging my ass all over the ancient forest. But if I get to come back to this kind of meal every time I lose, failure doesn’t sting quite as much.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
I appreciate Breath of the Wild’s approach to cooking because it closely mirrors my own: throw a bunch of tasty-seeming ingredients in a pan and hope they work. Link just takes a big armful of veggies, meats, and spices and tosses ‘em all in. Like me, he sometimes gets “dubious food,” a pixelated concoction which he chokes down out of stubbornness. More often though, those ingredients come together into something healthy and delicious-looking.
Out of all these games, Breath of the Wild’s food feels the most sustainable for a healthy life. Eating isn’t a special occasion, it’s something we do every day. As such, the mushrooms, meats, and soups that Link subsists on feel tangible, the simple-but-hearty diet of a man on the road. It reminds me of the scene in Princess Mononoke when Ashitaka and Jigo sit in a cave and eat rice porridge. The food isn’t luxurious or complicated, but it’s made by a practiced hand and would probably be perfect after a long day.
For my money, the seafood curry in Breath of the Wild comes out as the best all-rounder. With these kinds of straightforward dishes, the difference between adequate and exceptional often comes down to seasoning. Link’s addition of some Goron spice pushes this one over the edge; the shrimp/crab/rice combo also seems very filling, and the description promises that the spice packs a serious kick.
Not all food is created for the same purpose. Some provides simple sustenance. Some is for celebration, some for mourning. Other times, food is an expression of dominance. On the show Man v. Food, a single man would attempt to consume inhuman portions of everything from hot wings to oysters to pancakes. After seven seasons, the show continues, but the original host has stepped down; food was ultimately victorious.
In Persona 4, you have just one food-based rival, the mega beef bowl. It is described as a “tidal wave of beef.” You’ve got the opportunity to visit the Aiya Chinese Diner and attempt to eat the entire bowl of in one sitting, a feat you’ll only accomplish with very high stats. If you manage to do so, the bowl is free! Hopefully, Aiya also puts your picture on the wall or something.
Persona 4 has the series’ traditional calendar-keeping gameplay. Every day, you can hang with friends and take pop quizzes and shop, just like non-gaming teenagers presumably do (I wouldn’t know). When it’s raining though, many of these activities aren’t available. But rainy days are incidentally the only days when the beef bowl challenge is available. I love this conceit. Everything in the whole city is shut down, the day is ruined, so why not go eat a metric ton of seared meat?
Have you ever watched a cooking video on YouTube where they don’t try the food at the end? It’s infuriating. Watching someone prepare food is an emotional investment, and if I can’t eat it, I want to be able to live vicariously through someone who does. In gaming, motion capture and animation have recently brought us to a place where characters can give believably rapturous reactions to well-crafted foodstuffs. Unfortunately, one of the best reactions to food in games comes from an absolute piece of garbage.
In Wolfenstein 2, BJ Blazkowicz must meet a character who runs an old-timey diner in the middle of the Nazi occupation of America. This diner has everything: cheap burgers, coffee, and a true vintage soda fountain. I should point out that a good soda fountain isn’t the blocky thing they have at every McDonalds and Bojangles. It’s a flexible instrument with the ability to produce drinks like an egg cream and a ginger yip, a throwback to a more personalized era of carbonated drinks. The diner also has the proper kind of milkshake; individually blended in a giant metal cup that the owner might let you drink from once your glass is empty.
So when a Nazi captain who’s even more weasel-y than the typical Nazi walks into the diner and orders a strawberry milkshake, it hurts me in my soul. Not only is this punk in a state of not-being-punched, but he’s ordering a handmade dessert that tastes the way summer memories feel. I’ve had a strawberry milkshake. In fact, I’ve had a strawberry milkshake made by the exact same lime-green blender, from a place called Ox and Rabbit in Durham, NC. That place is now shut down. So now I can’t have a strawberry milkshake, but this Nazi can? It’s an absolute injustice. He closes his eyes and takes a long drink, savoring the chunks of strawberry mixed in with the piercing cold of the ice cream. He looks like he enjoys it.
He also gets his brains blown out about two seconds later. No milkshakes for fascists.