Better Living Through GamingThe Joy of Videogame CookingBetter Living Through Gaming - RSS 2.0
The gameplay in Order Up! is a surprisingly accurate emulation of what it's like working in such a food prep assembly line. Using the Wii remote to flip virtual burgers, slice tomatoes, drop trays of fries and chicken into the deep fryer and assemble greasy dishes is realistic enough to bring back memories I'd care to leave in the past. Running the kitchen is about as stress free in the virtual world as it is in the real one. It takes a lot of work to placate the picky palates of your churlish customers, who violently shovel food with their bare hands into their open mouths. This is one unusual instance where actual life experience may have given me a boost in the virtual kitchen realm.
Inspiration to strive for culinary perfection can come from unusual sources. Nothing lights a fire under your ass to do a decent job quite like the threat of a good verbal reaming from vitriolic reality TV chef Gordon Ramsay. Hell's Kitchen builds on the cooking game foundation laid out by Cake Mania and Diner Dash, but ramps up the intensity tenfold - mess up too badly and you'll embarrassingly find your entire restaurant shutdown. Dealing with the complexities of preparing multiple dishes in the kitchen while Ramsay curses you out for any minor misstep is crazy enough to begin with; simultaneously seating, taking orders, serving meals and busing dirty dishes for a constant influx of impatient diners on top of that borders on insanity. A few hours of head-spinning culinary labor in this pressure cooker will steel your nerves to the point where you won't flinch at the thought preparing actual food in a crunch. More importantly, Hell's Kitchen sneakily incorporates actual recipes into the game, something many players will overlook but a few will actually write down and use. It's been a gradual process, but cooking education is increasingly worming its way into our games.
Jamie Oliver's pretty-boy charm and delicious recipes couldn't save his convoluted attempt at a half game, half digital cookbook experience from failure, yet the title's aim is a noble one. What's Cooking? with Jamie Oliver bridges the gap between games about cooking and software geared towards teaching players how to cook. Though it fails to achieve either with great success, the title marked the next brief phase of the genre's evolution. It also set the table for Nintendo's Personal Trainer: Cooking - the holy grail of gaming programs for those of us who truly suck in the kitchen. Having hundreds of recipes, tools and snippets of helpful information at your fingertips is a blessing for the cooking impaired. A few stovetop sessions with the gentle guidance of the title's digitized chef can yield some tasty dishes. Best of all, the package makes the prospect of slaving over a hot stove considerably less daunting and miserable.
After several solid years of shoveling down byte after byte of cooking oriented videogames, one might presume my abilities in a virtual kitchen would translate to a certain measure of increased skill at the helm of my own stovetop. In reality, certain habits, both good and bad, have crept their way into my food preparation routine. I may set a few less inadvertent fires, ruin a few less meals and occasionally make a dish that's even considered edible, but my best culinary work is still done with a controller in hand. For everyone else's sake, that's they way it should stay.
Nathan Meunier is a freelance writer and game journalist. He still owes his wife a new set of cooking pots.