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Landing the final blow on my foe, before I can sigh with relief my team mate Ignis exclaims, “That’s it!”
“What’s up, Iggy?”
“I’ve come up with a new recipe!”
It was at this moment that I realised my worlds were colliding. That food in video games was becoming a thing.
Food has always been a great source of comfort for me. As a child, it was taking a thermos to school for a hot lunch, or a tray of my mother’s cupcakes to share with my friends (and teachers too). As an adult, it’s folding dumplings with friends, and still getting regular deliveries of mum’s baked treats.
Video games have been there for me too. Growing up, it was staying up late playing Pokemon Yellow to distract me from missing my parents away on a trip; focussing on Final Fantasy X as a diversion from the pain of wearing new braces, and feeling trusted as my sister handed me the controller to defeat a boss. Video games provided me with a dependable escape (except when my Gameboy was confiscated).
The world we now find ourselves in, with dine-out meals and delicious gatherings far more scarce, has me hungry for comfort – an order now filled by my life’s two greatest loves, food and video games, served up in a tidy fusion dish.
"If anything, Death Stranding has made me more appreciative of this moment’s real heroes – delivery drivers."
Just two months before COVID-19 emerged came Death Stranding, a game which some have wondered may have even predicted the pandemic we now find ourselves in. A courier traversing a lonely landscape teetering towards apocalypse, delivering parcels to preppers too scared to leave their homes, while also securing their internet connections – I’m sure you’re picking up on some eerie parallels here. However, along the journey I found bright spots – nearly breaking out into tears when crossing paths with other players during my most desperate moments, and namely in food and drink. Even in a dysfunctional society, people still love to drink, so I find myself ensuring America’s last brewery can continue producing the land’s best (and only) beer. Then come the oddball requests for pizza – which, the patron insists, must be delivered across tens and hundreds of kilometres while staying flat, and arriving still hot. It’s just as difficult as it sounds. If anything, Death Stranding has made me more appreciative of this moment’s real heroes – delivery drivers.
But aside from the serious and prophetic are the light-hearted, less real-life-like escapes. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, presenting an idyllic island escape, makes COVID-19 seem a distant reality. Where fruit grows in abundance and even bestows superpowers, I quickly learned a valuable life lesson. When trying to eat an apple for the first time in-game, just to see what would happen, a prompt pops up to tell me there is no point in eating when not hungry. Virtual comfort-eating aside, the game also incentivises connecting with other players. As your island is only able to grow one type of fruit, if you wish to complete the set, you must fly to other players’ islands and negotiate a trade. Very accessible, it’s a game that even my eight-year-old brother has quickly picked up.
Already-established gaming communities, like the 20 million player-strong online game Final Fantasy XIV, have become somewhat of a haven in these connection-starved times. In addition to working alongside each other to conquer monsters and quests, teamwork is also required in the pursuit of culinary prowess. After negotiating for ingredients with online ‘Botanist’ and ‘Fisher’ acquaintances, my ‘Culinarian’ avatar can produce an array of dishes armed with nothing but a skillet and a chef’s knife. Starting with the basics, including boiling an egg and juicing oranges, it soon turns into serious business with the likes of a crumbed lamb-like meat ‘Ovim Cordon Bleu’ and a Mont Blanc-inspired ‘Sohm Al Tart’ to be mastered. All the hard work isn’t for nothing – sitting down with my comrades to enjoy a freshly-prepared meal, our in-game characters become invigorated and battle-ready. Not unlike a real-life meal, really.
To celebrate Heavensturn (New Year) in Eorzea, Lemon Drop has prepared one traditional mochi inspired by the event art (dango) and one that blends both Eastern and Western food and resembles the cut mochi thumbnail.
An indulgent meal of tender ovim meat wrapped around gooey cheese, battered and pan-fried in oil to give it its crispy, golden-brown shell.
Rich, indulgent cheesecake swirled through with a ribbon of sweet pixieberry sauce.
Long before COVID-19, food from, and inspired by, video games had already been bringing people together.
Final Fantasy XV’s break-out meme star Ignis serves up a 111 recipe in-game menu. With a strong British accent and abrupt but consistent service of his tagline “That’s it!”, Ignis soon became a fan-favourite.
So significant became Ignis’ following that soon a community cookbook was assembled, and food brands were falling over each other to work with Ignis and his formidable culinary reputation - Tastemade even made a video in his honour.
Particularly in Japan, there’s enough business in serving the fandom in the form of themed cafes and food. Of the ones I’ve sampled, they’ve certainly satiated the appetite of my inner fan-girl.
I may have also invested in some much-needed equipment:
Whether it’s finding escapism, connecting with friends and family, or drooling over the actual and photo-realistic virtual foods associated with them, I’ve found video games to feed both my body and soul.
Lead image reproduced with permission from the Final Fantasy cooking blog, A Recipe Reborn, by Lemon Drop.