Golden Jew’s Nuggets of Wisdom #2

Cooking Games

This is a slippery slope I’m about to embark upon, but what do I care, you clicked this link, so you’re stuck with me. I can’t be any worse than doing your job, right?

I get video game escapism. I was a nerdy kid before blooming into my awesome alpha male self, so I understand the appeal of being a wizard, or space marine fighting space aliens, or a pirate ninja. Even though sports games don’t appeal to me, I understand why someone wants to play football and play like Tom Brady, or manage a college football team like the UF Gators, or rape a girl and get away with it like Kobe.

But where I get really fucking confused is when games like Cooking Mama become popular. I understand that there is this genre of “casual” games for people, where instead of trying to decide the proper build order for Protoss to rush Zerg, they want to just hit a tennis ball around with the Wii controller. But the problem with cooking games is two-fold. First, you’re doing something that ANYONE can do. Unless you’re a quadriplegic, in which case you can’t play Wii anyway (I will grudgingly say paraplegics are allowed to play cooking games since the wheelchair may make kitchens hard to access).

Unlike access to an Olympic swimming pool, ice hockey rink or even being good enough to make a football team, pretty much everyone has access to a kitchen, even if it’s your mother’s. Second, your final product in cooking is real food. You can’t get real food from a video game. You could attempt to argue that cooking is at some level art, and the game allows you to simulate art–in which case I say, go fucking download GIMP and make your own art.

Cooking games are just too close to reality to be justifiable to me, and if you want to cook so badly go learn a useful life skill that will feed you and your friends. Games that simulate something with such a low barrier to entry are too far removed from the experiential value chain for it to make rational sense. It’s like the mortgage securities derivatives market of the video game world. But don’t tell Majesco, since it apparently is one of their few profitable games. Maybe that should tell you something about them and their target demographic.

8 thoughts on “Golden Jew’s Nuggets of Wisdom #2”

  1. Has anyone played these games? Does mama actually help you learn how to prepare a meal, including measurements and cooking times? That might be swell as a learning tool.

  2. I haven’t played any cooking games but must admit I am interested in Order Up. It makes you cook but then based on that and some other management stuff (I think) you gain or lose customers. When you gain enough you open bigger place or something. The point is if you mix banality within a larger simulation I’m cool with it.

    Sort of like how Ryo moving crates in Shenmue was acceptable (at least to me) but a crate moving sim probably wouldn’t be.

  3. The gaming industry would take a crate shipping game and make it into Season 2 of The Wire, only not nearly as thrilling.

  4. As someone who’s played at least the DS version of Cooking Mama, I can say that the franchise teaches people to cook in much the same way as DDR teaches people to dance the flamenco- that is to say, not at all. The game does provide a comfortably familiar setting to introduce people to minigame collections, though, and a (in it’s handheld iteration at least) genuinely fun example of the genre.

    I’d say the game actually does provide the player with an experience they couldn’t get from cooking real life crab stuffed dumplings and rice on their actual stove by making everything so simple and easy to do. There’s a unique appeal to condensing the cooking process so the fun parts are frenetic bite size chunks and all the arduous parts are glossed over or somehow made enjoyable by being simple button presses (or wii-mote flailings). That someone has already done comparably peppy and spastic interpretations of equally normal activities (walking a dog, working out, gardening) with financial success shows there’s a respectable market for videogames that offer doing things anybody could do, as long as they feel enough like a videogame.

  5. For a DS game that might actually be useful with regard to cooking, it turns out there’s, which actually is designed to be played while you’re in the kitchen, and walks you through recipes and whatnot.

    I think the big advantage with Cooking Mama, DDR, etc, is that a lot of people think they can’t cook, can’t dance, etc. Yeah the bar for entry is pretty low, but video games can lower it even further, and make you feel like a bad-ass chef in a lot less time and effort than it would actually take to get your soufflés coming out properly.

  6. I may have made too many snide remarks in the past to buy a game in the personal trainer series without feeling like a two faced troll, but I can’t help but think that actually looks pretty neat. Ingredient substitutions, shopping lists, an extra kitchen timer- if it included a wi-fi update feature for new recipes I’d HAVE to buy it. Thanks for the link, Stefan!

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