Videogames and food are a common theme with me, probably because I spend approximately 75% of my time in front of a computer. All my meals are eaten at my desk, and there’s so many food layers under the keys on my keyboard, it looks like a trifle made of all the trash I’ve eaten in the past year. With food always on my mind, there are some games I approach with the same caution as I would a grocery store: only engage on a full stomach. And with that, I give you five games that make me think I’m starving.
I’ve previously argued that my character in Stardew Valley eats much better than I do, and 93 hours into the game, my hunger is yet to be stopped. Every time I harvest a new batch of goods, I’m haunted by the gourmet lunches that could be. My farm now produces duck mayonnaise, salmonberry jam, goat cheese, porcini mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, maple syrups, fruit wines, pickled vegetables, and pale ales. The other night I went out for a lobster bisque and I’m pretty sure it was because Stardew Valley made me crave it first. If I get fat, I’m suing videogames.
Remember during the launch of Skyrim when Bethesda parked a food truck at every major video game convention and gave out free turkey legs? Folks, they were onto something.
In terms of player boosts, the food crafting recipes for the fifth installation in the Elder Scrolls series are lacking in creativity. You can easily get through the entire game without them. But if you do decide to make meals at a cooking pot, prepare to salivate, Skyrim-style. The delicacies are fit for feast in the Halls of Valor, from Elsweyr Fondue, to Clam Chowder, Lavender Dumpling, Juniper Berry Crostata, Venison Stew, and Steamed Mudcrab Legs. Each are so tempting in its potential tastiness that roaming a dragon-invested landscape seems almost a fair trade-off.
Ultimately the meals serves an insignificant functional purpose (the performance bonuses hardly merit the effort) and yet, there’s still a sense of satisfaction in pulling a recipe together. I get more of a rush finding all the ingredients for Venison Stew around a campfire than I do killing all the Bandits who own them.
The Sims 3 was the first game that ever really made me regret that I wasn’t born a digital person. There are so many tasty foods in the game, and they make preparation look so easy.
The cooking process in the Sims games never even comes close to accurately depicting what it’s like to bake or cook (WHY IN DOG’S NAME DO THEY MAKE FRENCH TOAST IN THE OVEN INSTEAD OF ON TOP OF THE STOVE) but with menus that include angel food cake, chicken pot pie, teriyaki mahi-mahi, lime-seared prawns, porcini risotto, gummy bear pancakes, butternut gnocchi, spinach frittata, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, lobster tortellini, Monte Cristo sandwiches, and bacon cupcakes, I’m too distracted to complain.
And unlike human people, your Sims are guaranteed the skill to make each of these masterpieces so long as they read enough cooking books and buy enough recipes. In fact, most of the time they need only a fraction of the actual ingredients required to make each dish. The trade-off though is more kitchen fires, so, every rose has its thorn.
If a cooking simulator manages to make you hungry, then it’s probably doing its job well. The beauty of Cooking Mama is that out of all the games to feature food, it’s one of the only ones to give an authentic look into the preparation process. Sure, the recipes in Cooking Mama won’t directly translate in your home kitchen; none of them give you the exact proportions and measurements for each ingredient. But the games do provide a mini-education on the staples of Japanese cuisine while giving a rough idea of the skill and steps behind each. Did you know that people in Japan eat spaghetti noodles with ketchup and peas and ham as a post-drinking comfort food? I do, thanks to Cooking Mama. And next time I’m despairingly drunk, guess what I’m doing? Eating nasty ketchup noodles with canned peas and Spam, that’s right.
For a game called “Don’t Starve”, you’d be surprised how much of the game isn’t actually about food. Avoiding starvation is a key goal but it is only one of the facets of the survival and crafting based gameplay of Don’t Starve. There are many ways to get by without having to resort to culinary mastery.
Nonetheless there’s only so much Foliage and Petals a person can eat. And once you dive down the game’s rabbit hole of quality crafting recipes, you’re a goner. Honey ham, guacamole, meatballs, melonsicles, sharkfin soup, surf n turf: in Don’t Starve, you’re not just survivin’, you’re living. Maybe wanderin’ around in a procedurally generated hellscape isn’t so bad, eh?
Holly Green is a reporter, editor, and semiprofessional photographer living in Seattle, WA. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gameranx, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.