The sun sets earlier and earlier every day. As we approach the shortest and darkest days of the year, we fight back with bright candles, colorful lights, optimistic songs, and delicious meals.
But in times like these, it’s more than just the long nights and wintry winds that threaten to undo us. Every hour, there’s a new piece of news that tugs at the seams of our very beings.
To fight back the feelings of hopelessness, dread, or fear that follow us every day, we look for escapes. Sometimes that’s a new movie where the protagonist finds true love. Or a book where good triumphs over evil. A Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives marathon. Or even our own happy memories, of a particularly good bite of food or a concert that exceeded all earthly expectations.
Throughout it all, we find moments of bliss; the little details or morsels that bring us joy.
In focusing on details, we’re reminded of humanity — not the humanity that writes vindictive, selfish policies without a second thought, or abuses its power for debaucherous gratification, but the humanity that took the time to add a little extra something to make a moment unforgettable.
Considering the attention they demand, video games are an incredibly effective mode of escapism. And within many games are details that bring us comfort and make us smile when we see them for the first time or revisit them years later.
One pervasive element that appears in 99% of video games is food. Despite the fact that there are no rules within the video game development handbook that say you need to make your characters eat food, tons of games give you the option to eat tasty-looking dishes or power-enhancing snacks.
In the midst of Thanksgiving — a holiday built around food, family, and remembering what we’re thankful for, I’m giving a big thank you to foods in video games — without which our experiences would be devoid of wholesome humanity.
Whether its Yoshi grabbing an apple from a bush with his absurdly long dinosaur tongue in Super Mario World or your gang of bros in Final Fantasy XV sitting down to eat the most ridiculous ham sandwich ever devised outside the realm of a Scooby-Doo! episode, food is one of the most extraneous-yet-important aspects of video games.
Some games are littered with food just waiting to be picked up and eaten for an extra boost of health or stamina, cooked into a delicious dish, or sold for currency (the worst option).
En Cruce de animales, towns are defined not just by their layouts but by the singular fruit the trees in that town are capable of growing. Although they’re little more than quick ways for enterprising scavengers to make a few bells from Tom Nook in a pinch, they can be shared between towns, with exotic fruits fetching a higher price and encouraging interactions with out-of-towners. They can also be eaten for no benefit, if you’re into that kind of thing.
There are games like La leyenda de Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where fruits, fish, mushrooms, meats, and herbs can be combined in seemingly infinite ways to create a wide variety of helpful meals. There are seafood risottos, honeyed apples, meat pies, and mushroom skewers just waiting to be cooked as you work your way through Hyrule.
And then there are the games that surprise you with food. Out of all the video game foods in video game history, the most notorious hidden food comes from Castlevania.
Near the beginning of the game, after entering Count Dracula’s castle, the protagonist Simon Belmont fights his way past a handful of denizens defending the castle. With his trusty whip, Simon can take care of them and find useful health-restoring hearts in the torches that line that walls. He can also fling it at a nondescript wall to find a pork chop.
Sometimes referred to as “wall chicken” or “wall pork chop,” depending on how you look at it, this bricked-up plate of meat is the perfect savior in a time of need, and the fact that it’s hidden inside of a wall just adds to its delightful mystery. (Who made this pork chop? Who put it in this wall? Is it actually safe to eat?)
Some games have a more realistic view on food, like Grand Theft Auto, where you need to seek out hot dog stands or fast food joints like Burger Shot to get your fix. You don’t just eat what you find on the ground in real life, so why would you do that between stealing cars and driving off of buildings in GTA?
Whether a game merely references foods on occasion — like the onion-inspired pachimari plush toys in Overwatch — or centers an entire segment around cooking a dish — like Princess Peach’s cake-baking objective in Paper Mario — food matters in video games.
No matter what form the food takes, it reminds us that, although we’re controlling digital characters as they progress through largely pre-determined paths, there are good things in life. There are details worth taking in and focusing on, even if just for a second.
Between fighting monsters, jumping with precision across bottomless gaps, and grinding through zones, food is always there to calm things down.
And if there’s no food in the game you’re currently playing through to forget about the nightmare that is reality, bring your own snacks.