Cooking in Video Games: The New Food Network?

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Sunny Anderson/Photo: Food Network

I remember, when I was younger, the first thing I would do upon waking up on a Saturday morning was cut on one of two things: Food Network or my Gamecube. I loved cooking. I loved video games. There was no in-between.

So on the Saturdays that my mom wasn’t chauffeuring me to little league soccer games all across the state of Georgia, I was either lying in bed watching new episodes of Down Home with The Neelys and Cooking For Real or trying to defeat Bowser in (one of the greatest games of all time) Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.

Unlike my love for video games, I don’t know when my love for cooking started, but I can remember watching Food Network every Saturday (and Sunday, sometimes) like it was my religion. Saturdays were when all of the new episodes of my favorite cooking shows would drop, and that was also when my inspiration in the kitchen was at its highest.

I would watch Rachel Ray and Paula Deen (I know how we feel about both of them, I know, but little Michelle didn’t) throw together beautiful, mouth-watering dishes in their 30-minute segments, and afterwards, when my mom went grocery shopping on Sunday, I would have a couple of requests of my own.

As time went on, I began to watch Food Network less and play video games more. Did it mean that I no longer enjoyed cooking? No. I just struggled to find a happy medium between the two. Cooking and video games, at the time, seemingly had no relationship to each other. But how wrong was I?

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Cooking Mama/Photo: TAITO

When I first heard about the concept of Cooking Mama, I was a bit confused. How could making food in a video game be satisfying? You can’t eat it! You can’t even smell it, for crying out loud! Why would I waste my money on a game like that? But for some reason, I bought a copy for my Nintendo DS anyway, and…

That game changed my life.

In a period where I was watching less Food Network, Cooking Mama inspired me to try dishes that I’d never even heard of, let alone thought about actually cooking. I had finally found the perfect way to combine two of my most cherished hobbies, and I was addicted. I needed to achieve “gold medals” in every single recipe in the game (still haven’t to this day). I had to be perfect with every dish I prepared. The scoring system turned me into not a “cooking mama,” but instead, a “cooking monsta.” And that’s when I thought to myself: “Cooking should be fun. Video games should be fun. Don’t f*ck this up, Michelle!”

So I calmed down, told myself that it was just a game, and that’s when I genuinely began to enjoy it for what it was. With the calming of my prepubescent tits, I found my passion for cooking begin to grow once more. Who would’ve thought that somewhere in those pixelated plates and digitalized dishes, I would find the inspiration to cook dishes beyond my wildest dreams? I know it shouldn’t shock me, but sometimes I’m still amazed by what video games can make you want to accomplish.

Despite all of this going on, I still watched Food Network from time to time, but after I discovered a new way to combine my two passions, I dived even deeper into the world of video game cooking.

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Cook, Serve, Delicious 2!/Photo: David Galindo

The next big realization I had that made me think video games could be the next Food Network (not star, but the entire channel) was when I purchased Cook, Serve, Delicious on Steam. That game gave me the finger workout of a lifetime, but it was totally worth it! I can’t tell you how many dinners I’ve planned out playing that game. (Apparently, the second one came out last September, and it’s coming to PS4 this year…I need to get on that ASAP!)

It was one thing to watch someone prepare a meal on TV, but to actually be involved in the entire cooking process from start to finish, was something else. That interaction makes all the difference, and until they come up with a VR-version of Food Network, I’ll be just fine with my video games.

Some others games that have inspired me to up my cooking skills, include The SimsFinal Fantasy XV, and Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild.

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The Sims 4/Photo: EA Games

In The Sims, you literally have a bar to measure your cooking skill level, and by reading cookbooks and watching cooking programs on TV, your Sim can go from setting the kitchen on fire to crafting fire creations in the kitchen. It’s one of the skills that I always focus on for my sims. Cooking is so important to me, that I would also force it onto my fictionally-created characters as well. I’m like a dance mom, but for cooking. What do you call those?

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Final Fantasy XV/Photo: Square-Enxi

Another game that changed the way I thought about cooking was Final Fantasy XV. Each night, the group sets up camp, for Ignis (the group mom), that’s when the magic truly begins. As you progress in the game and collect more ingredients, Ignis’ collection of recipes grows as well. From rice balls to curries and everything in between, the man really knows how to throw down considering his limited resources. Not only is he beautiful to look at, but his campsite creations are as well.

And speaking of crafting beautiful creations, in order to create some of the high quality dishes you see in the game, the game’s creators had to actually cook and photograph a lot of the recipes in real life to use as a guide for creating the in-game food. It took an entire team of people tons of trial and error to come up with what seems to be a very minor part of the game, but in reality this food is quite a big deal. From drawing, to cooking, to photographing, to scanning, to tweaking and starting the whole process over again, you can’t tell me, or the creators of Final Fantasy XV, that video game food isn’t a big deal!

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Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild/Photo: Nintendo

The last game on my list of video game food productions is one of the hottest games of last year, Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. Similar to Final Fantasy, the game forces players to find ingredients out in the world and then combine them in an infinite amount of ways to craft delicious or disastrous dishes. It’s quite fun to throw things into a pot and see what you’ve created, much like cooking in real life. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and it’s all about learning for the next time. As an added bonus, the cooking animation is quite fun to watch, so it’ll make you look forward to preparing Link’s next meal even more. (Speaking of fun cooking animations, I’ve also heard that Monster Hunter: World has some nice ones as well, and that they feature some very cute calico cats.)

However you like to cook, be it in first-person or third-person, video games have got you covered. Watching someone prepare a dish on Food Network is one thing, but actually making the dish yourself is another. Sometimes, it feels like video games can prepare you a little bit better for preparing a dish in real life, mainly due to the fact that you’re getting first-hand experience as the chef in-game.

Like I said before, I still watch Food Network from time to time, but even it has been forced to change in order to keep up with our current times. Gone are the days of constant blocks of cooking shows, and instead, Food Network fills up its programming blocks with cooking competitions and Diner, Drive-Ins, and Dives (no one can say no to Triple D!).

We live in a time where YouTubers can create an entire meal in a five-minute video and where there are millions of Pinterest boards full of easy-to-make recipes that don’t involve you having to sit in front of the TV for an hour. In the amount of time that it takes you to watch a cooking program on Food Network, you could have found a recipe on Pinterest, bought the ingredients, thrown the ingredients into the InstaPot and gotten back on Pinterest and pinned several new boards.

It’s amazing how much our world is changing, even down to the way we look at and prepare food. I am glad video games opened me up to this new world of food. I have a list of things that I want to try and create just from playing video games, alone. (Look for those videos on my YouTube channel, coming soon!)

Video games are certainly a source of entertainment, but nowadays, I also look at them as sources of inspiration as well. And one of the arenas in which they inspire me most is cooking. I can’t wait to see where video game food takes me in the kitchen and in life!

Does video game food make you hungry? What dishes have you been inspired to cook from playing video games? Did your creation come out as beautifully as its in-game predecessor? Let me know in the comments.

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