Food is not just a basic necessity of life. Food is intertwined with culture, traditions and social activities. Eating together mates, and friendships form while enjoying a good meal and a cold beer. In fact, the whole world revolves around food and games are pretty much the only place for me to escape from that.
Trigger warning: This column discusses the (consequences) of an eating disorder.
For those wondering why this is (or was) important to me: I have an eating disorder. About eight years ago I was very concerned about exact calories, macronutrients, meal times, fat percentages, etc. It started as a healthy hobby, but it slowly turned into hell. Fortunately, the end is looming, slowly but surely making it possible to revisit that period, and in particular the role that games played in it.
Games, of course, are an excellent way to escape from reality. Anyone who has had mental problems or has been unwell for a while will probably realize this. Forget all the nonsense for a while and dive into a fantasy world; teach that one chief usages; Shake the trees on your dreary vacation island. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s something different.
Games are fun for me for one very specific reason. Have you ever noticed that game characters usually eat very little? I do, because I work on it all day. Just as women in particular note that cartoon characters never change their clothes and dentists that the teeth of people in medieval films and soap operas are well-groomed.
It was very nice of me to put on the shoes of a virtual character and not have to worry about all the issues that come with my disorder: but I have the energy for one activity a day, I take a balanced food with me everywhere, blue nails from the cold and so on. Running and jumping for hours without the risk of dying from a lack of reserves was the definition of escape from reality for me.
However, food often plays a major role in games, even if you rarely see it actually being eaten. Food is often reduced to a way to heal or gain strength temporarily. In RPGs and adventure games, you’ll be carrying bags full of questionable potions, ham, and native plants that I won’t actually touch on, but within the game (usually) it only has positive effects. This is in contrast to the stress that accompanies it in real life.
Collecting and preparing food in a game like Zelda: Breath of the Wild suddenly seems like a very natural thing. As an adventurer, you’re outside all day rather than sitting behind a curtain, so it only makes sense that your body is asking for food. Plus, the game takes the stress out of cooking – weighing each ingredient down to the gram, reading endless packages to check out the contents – completely. I can try dishes without worrying afterwards that I have eaten too much or something is wrong, or that my food will spoil in the sun and I will suddenly be hungry away from home. Even in the mess – I’m a crazy cook – you get at least one heart in Zelda.
By the way, survival games with a “hunger and thirst meter” are a completely different story. This is why I stay away from games like Don’t Starve, which are constantly pushing in your face how much fuel you have left in your body and whether you’re really in danger of dying from the cold. Am I eating enough, or too much? When should I eat again? Do I have enough for the road? It’s the constant chaos in my head, displayed on the screen.
The only time I encountered this in a game was during a preview session of Metal Gear Survive. This game based on a maze of meters asks you to take into account not only your hunger, but also your oxygen level and water supply. Drinking large amounts of water to fill your stomach is a common symptom of eating disorders, so your gaming session with Metal Gear Survive has never been so fun. The final product turns out to be Very modestFortunately I didn’t miss anything.
Eating, of course, is also a social affair, and also plays a major role in almost all other social occasions. With the above problems, they quickly become out of reach and often people immediately look for an explanation. A relative once shouted in a house full of strangers “Do you drink alcohol or do you still have anorexia?!” So I became very good at avoiding such confrontations. The first time I found an excuse not to go to a party, I found it hard, after that it got easier.
This created a social divide, and a particular form of loneliness the games were very good at absorbing. There are no games with random people online, but with virtual characters who do not control. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came out at the perfect time for this: a game full of brilliantly written characters and stories in a time of social isolation. Without actually leaving my house unless absolutely necessary, I still go to parties, make new friends and have adventures.
This is critical in such a case. While the friends developed themselves socially during the transition from high school to college, I stood motionless. In fact, after talking to people for about two years, I’ve forgotten most of my social interactions. It also costs me more and more energy, as if I am slowly changing from an extrovert to an introvert.
The concept of play suddenly took on an added meaning: literally the “practice” of real life. Without delving into the real world, I slowly learned to connect with others and my status again thanks to video games. Life is Strange has taught me that it’s okay to ask my friends, who have no idea what’s going on, for help, even if it takes a while to fully understand the situation. As Geralt of Rivia, I’ve learned to deal with confrontations where you’ve been out of place, and that some people will never accept you. Celeste taught me to take small steps forward and that “failure,” in my case a relapse, is totally okay. As long as you breathe calmly.
It’s so much better now and I’m pretty much liberated from that annoying lump in my leg. This is largely due to the professional help I received. Let me start by saying that asking for help in these kinds of situations is very important and games can in no way be a substitute for it. However, I think it is special how they contributed to my recovery in their own way. They helped me not only change my mind, but also learn to live in a world where food is central.