Play With Your Food
Play With Your Food was a games exhibit created for the Festival de Clare-té food festival in my hometown of Clare, Nova Scotia, Canada. This event took place at the Château, Université Sainte-Anne's student bar, on April 5, 2019. Find photos of the event here.
I've put together a collection of ten digital games and two card games (Sushi Go and Go Nuts for Donuts) that contain food or cooking in some way, usually as a theme or as inspiration for game mechanics. Some, however, use food to pass on political or personal messages.
For people who couldn't make it to the event, I've dumped the selected digital games and prepared texts below. I hope you’ll find at least a few games among the selection that appeal to you. Enjoy the online expo!
2017, Henry Adam Svec and Chad Comeau
Donair Academy, a collaborative project with writer/artist Henry Adam Svec, is the first educational computer game about the Halifax donair. Explore the historical, gastronomical, and acoustic dimensions of this celebrated Maritime dish.
In the second half of the game, we chose to shift gameplay styles and turn to the future to examine what the donair could represent in today’s political landscape.
PC Gamer writes: “I have never been to Halifax or eaten their local delicacy the Halifax donair, but I understand it's a variant of the doner kebab. Shaved meat with sauce and other accoutrements in a bready wrap, perfect drunk food that you can save half of in the fridge and turn into perfect hungover food. I've learned about the donair thanks to Donair Academy, which pokes fun at the kind of educational games you'd get on CD-ROM in the 1990s by imagining one dedicated to this impressive foodstuff.
There's more to Donair Academy than playing minigames and learning food facts, however. Stick with it and you'll encounter a twist I'd hate to spoil. Like the humble drunk food magically transforms into hungover food overnight, Donair Academy becomes something else once you complete its opening.”
Something Something Soup Something
2017, Stefano Gualeni
This short game tasks players with judging several arrangements of ingredients, utensils and containers to arrive at their own definition of soup. It’s absurd and entertaining, while posing an important question: what defines a soup?
SOMETHING SOMETHING SOUP SOMETHING could be defined as a videogame. We prefer to think of it as an interactive thought experiment: a piece of technology that discloses situations and presents notions in ways that are interactive and negotiable (and maybe even playful).
SOMETHING SOMETHING SOUP SOMETHING it is designed to reveal, through its gameplay, that even a familiar, ordinary concept like ‘soup’ is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively.
SOMETHING SOMETHING SOUP SOMETHING is also designed to stimulate reflection on the possibility to analytically define what a game is.
1982, Data East
This arcade game is an early example of using food as a metaphor for game mechanics. While the levels are a lot more abstract than your average kitchen, the food theme contextualizes in-game actions and lends a certain logic and charm to it all.
BurgerTime hides a certain depth: for example, causing an ingredient to fall while an enemy is on it will increase how far down the ingredient tumbles. Plan your moves carefully, and you might just get a high score.
From Pac-Man to Candy Crush, games using food and eating as contextual wrappers have been around since the early days, and will surely continue to exist as long as we keep consuming games.
Fish Plant Tycoon
2018, Fring Frang Games
Have you ever dreamed of running a fisheries business? Experience this cutting-edge simulator that allows you to do just that! Upgrade buildings, name your ships, and process herring! Now in both Acadian French and English.
Fish Plant Tycoon is a game jam project developed over two days. The idea was to create a management sim / Clicker game in the style of Cookie Clicker or Roller Coaster Tycoon that shows a typical fish processing company (Fish Plant), a big industry around Clare.
This type of systemic simulation can serve to educate, mock, or criticize, the system being represented. In the case of Fish Plant Tycoon, my goal was simply to make something funny yet engaging, not social commentary. See McDonald’s video game for a similar game with a more critical angle.
2015, Robert Yang
In a space known for the oversexualization of women for a presumed straight male audience, Yang’s games stand out as a strong countercurrent offering a much-needed different perspective.
“In the 70s, they called them "Castro clones", after all the gay men in San Francisco's Castro district who dressed alike and still mostly do. This is an ideology my recent gay games have been replicating through their heavy asset reuse of the sole character mesh I commissioned; an emphasis on certain masculine bodies to model for the ‘of a community. You sadly get used to this, as a gay man of color -- the vast majority of gay men depicted in media are white and masculine, and if you don't fit in then you get erased within your own community. How can this possibly be the "liberation" we were promised? For many queer-identifying men, this monoculture feels stifling and we feel compelled to try to escape and seek alternate spaces.
[...] "Succulent" evokes the act of "sucking" and the sensory pleasure of taste, as well as a gender reversal of the legendary succubus.”
2015, Nina Freeman
Mangia by Nina Freeman is an empathy game about the author’s “personal experience being diagnosed with a chronic illness.” This game, created with the Twine development tool, shows how games can be deeply personal, depending on the context in which they are created.
"With every positive response, I feel a little more comfortable being honest and being open. I want people to empathize with me. People coming to me and saying 'oh, I think I know what you felt like', empowers me to keep sharing my stories. I create that back and forth."
"Despite anxiety, illness and years of hiding my feelings, I pushed forward. I felt immense fulfillment watching people play my games. It felt like the only thing that helped me reconnect with the world after being sick, so I threw my life into it. I haven't stopped pushing myself ever since."
Stephen’s Sausage Roll
2016, Stephen Lavelle
Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a minimalist puzzle game about grilling giant sausages by rolling them around each level. The premise and mechanics are very simple, but finding the solution can be challenging and sometimes frustratingly difficult. It does a whole lot with a little.
It’s interesting to wonder if the mechanics or the food theme came first, since they compliment each other so well. Without the grilling metaphor, would the concept of rolling each side of the (sausage) blocks onto the special (grill) tiles make any sense?
[Braid and The Witness designer Jonathan Blow] told Polygon in an email that he finds Stephen's Sausage Roll to be "a very inventive game[,] and it keeps hitting you with surprises all the way through ... but the surprises aren't contrived, they spring naturally from the game as it has already been set up."
Granny Games - Margie
2017, Fring Frang Games
People memorialize their family members in many ways. Could video games serve as a memento of loved ones?
By creating four different games about my grandmothers, I hope to explore this question and discover ways of honouring elders through interactive media.
In the game on display, Margie offers the player some baked goods, commenting on the family baking traditions, as well as discusses some fresh veggies in the garden.
Created during my time as artist in residence at the University of New Brunswick.
McDonald’s video game
McDonald’s video game offers a very critical look at the operations of the fast food giant.
At their core, games are a set of rules that form an interactive system. In this case, the systems represent practices by the McDonald’s company during a certain period.
The goal of McDonald’s video game is to put players in control of the operations and decisions of the company to expose their questionable business practices. It’s a highly political game that harnesses the interactive format to convey its message.
Description from the creators:
“Making money in a corporation like McDonald's is not simple at all! Behind every sandwich there is a complex process you must learn to manage: from the creation of pastures to the slaughter, from the restaurant management to the branding. You'll discover all the dirty secrets that made us one of the biggest company of the world.”
2018, Ghost Town Games
Overcooked! is a game series where players work together with friends to prepare food dishes in the chaos of different kitchens. The food theme plays a very important role in these games, as it is the primary metaphor for the mechanics. Have fun and remember to communicate well while trying to prepare dishes as fast as possible!
Description from the creators:
Overcooked 2 is a chaotic co-op cooking game for 1-4 players in which you must serve a variety of recipes including sushi, pasta, cakes, burgers and burritos to hungry customers in a series of unconventional kitchens. Whether it be a hot air balloon, a magical Wizard’s school or even another planet, you’ll have to be bready for anything. Work solo or with up to three friends to prep orders while overcoming obstacles such as fire, collapsing floors, overbearing waiters and of course, the classic kitchen problem of floating work surfaces.