You've probably heard more than once about such a thing as game cookbooks, which describe the process of cooking, for example, from the TES universe, Zelda, WoW or Fallout. Although at first glance this seems like something strange, such cookery game books help to expand the lore of the game universes, making them much deeper. USGamer spoke to famous cookbook authors about how they bring fictional play to reality.
More than ten years after he graduated from college with a degree in chemistry, Brian Connor's life has taken an unexpected direction. Instead of standing in the lab all day, Connor took a surprising turn in his career and turned to video games. But not programming or design, no, he devoted himself to what they ate.
It started when he was still in high school and was into things like Good Eats or Bill Nye the Science Guy. After graduating from university, he honed his culinary skills by working in a dozen restaurants for 13 years, while actively participating in the online fan community of EarthBound. Over time, his desire to contribute to the community led him to come up with an idea for Fangamer to create an EarthBound cookbook. It took several years of work [during which time Connor also created a comprehensive video game and food blog Level 1 Chef], but it ended up on Kickstarter and raised enough money to release an EarthBound Cookbook.
Why game food? For Connor, his passion for video game food revolves around the idea of turning something fantastic into something real.
“In many cases, when someone is cooking, they look at existing recipes in books and on the internet and then copy them. When it comes to food from games, it all comes down to imagination. Food is often made up without any basis in reality. You need to take some incomprehensible ingredients and find out what scents are combined, what you can add to harmoniously combine. Trying to make something that never happened in real life is a fun puzzle, ”says Connor.
The main thing that all authors of video game cookbooks have in common is that they all started out completely differently.
For example, the team behind the cookbook for The Legend of Zelda is made up of people from all backgrounds. These are: sous-chef and artist Alessa Browning, who is currently seeking to participate in a large number of similar projects; writer and editor Casey Corrigan was a journalist who accidentally wrote a cookbook; Chef Peter Abreu is a pilot who has traveled the world with a passion for world cuisine.
Victoria Rosenthal and Chelsea Monroe-Cassel began work on cookbooks after years of successful blogging. Rosenthal created Pixelated Provisions focused on different games. Monroe-Cassel worked on the Inn at the Crossroads blog with fantastic and historic recipes.
They were both asked to create licensed video game cookbooks based on their past experiences with fictional food. Rosenthal has already written a book on the Fallout universe and recently announced the creation of a Destiny cookbook.
Monroe-Cassel is responsible for the cookbooks for World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Overwatch and The Elder Scrolls. But her passion, like Connor's, is expressed in translating fictional universes into reality.
“Cooking is a major part of what I do, but my real interest is in the process of translating something fictional into something real. It involves crazy exploration, creating something from just a photograph, and it all makes one recipe really feel like part of this big world, ”Monroe-Cassel tells me.
How do they translate fictional recipes into reality? Every chef has different methods. Monroe-Cassel loves to make lists; she already had a list of 70 potential recipes when she first applied for a licensed World of Warcraft cookbook. And her lists aren't just limited to food. She has also cataloged interesting visuals that she can use to props in food photography, interesting backgrounds, and lists of individual ingredients found in the fictional world. This is especially useful on worlds like Skyrim, which have many unique ingredients but few complete dishes.
“Whenever I'm working on a book project, I start by really diving deep into everything that comes with it. I listen to soundtracks, I play the project for a long time. Related comics, novels, everything I can get my hands on gives me a better understanding of this world and why fans love it. I think it's important to love what I'm working on. Even if I am not familiar with the universe of the game, when I enter a project, I try to get into it as much as possible. Otherwise, fans may think that I'm just parasitizing on something popular, and I myself have not launched the game. And if that were true, it would be unfair to the fans.
Rosenthal also does a lot of research and says he relies heavily on the Fallout and Destiny Wiki communities to piece together the food knowledge for each book. For her, one of the most important starting points for a cookbook is deciding what to replace meat with. This is an especially important decision when your universe contains creatures like the Fallout Brahmins, rather than real animals like cows.
“Many developers do a good job of making the food unique. The Outer Worlds, for example, has the Saltun fish. Obviously, there is no Saltuna in the world, and the way they describe her in the game is strange. But there is a creature called Saltuna, and it looks like a salmon-tuna hybrid, and I ended up making a canned Saltuna out of these fish. Who would have thought that salmon and tuna would go well together? ”
One of the themes that came up in all of my conversations with the creators of cookbooks is the huge differences in food details in different video game universes. For example, Breath of the Wile includes food names, images, descriptions, and ingredients that appear in Link's hands. World of Warcraft includes recipes with ingredients, but cooking is not a mechanic. There are no images or ingredients in EarthBound - just item names and descriptions. Meanwhile, games like Overwatch and Destiny don't even have food, although Rosenthal and Monroe-Cassel are still collecting recipes for these universes based on mere general food knowledge.
“A lot of people don't understand why I'm making a Destiny cookbook. There are references to food there, like spicy ramen, but in general there is not much of it. So I had to come up with new recipes that would fit the style of specific characters. This is a book written on behalf of Eva Levante, who is a character in the game. She studied different cultures for a long time and learned many recipes. ”
However, Rosenthal says she prefers to have a good "nutritional base" in the game and not alone. Browning agrees it's easier when you see which ingredients are dumped into the pot, although she tells me about the recipe she made for the Zelda Cookbook, based on one comment Tingle makes about mushrooms growing on his pillow in prison. The Monroe-Cassel recipes in the Official Overwatch Cookbook are based on the characters in the game: where they come from, their values and history.
Connor has a different way. He is the only one who prefers to cook food for a game that is not clear about what the food actually is, given how weird some food on EarthBound can be.
“Take Peanut Cheese Bar as an example, it's just peanuts, cheese and a bar. These are three parameters that you have, and then you take them and create something delicious in a given form. This gives you plenty of free time to experiment with different ideas. Peanut Cheese Bars were made by other people a couple of times before I tried making them myself and it was interesting to see the different interpretations others have come up with.
However, not every item in the game ends up in that game's cookbook. There are some that are too weird, too complicated, or, in some cases, too boring. For example, Connor dropped Plain Yogurt from the EarthBound cookbook because it is plain plain yogurt. Rosenthal crossed out the complex and relatively unattractive Wasteland omelet from the official Fallout cookbook, but posted it on her blog. Browning works with the rule: "How realistic is it to do, and can I put it in my mouth?".
But even readily reject recipes that just don't work, some rather complicated and unusual dishes have made it into all of their cookbooks. Connor ran into another specific problem with the localization of EarthBound:
“Food is something that is very culturally attached, so often food is one of the main things that changes a lot. Earthbound's "Piggy Jelly" in the original Japanese was "Pig Youkan", which is a dish made with pasta, red beans, agar and sugar. But "Piggy Jelly" is something else.
I ended up going back to the cookbooks from the 60s and 70s where they made this dish. It took four different tries ... using all these old recipes, which were just terrifying. Piggy Jelly ended up turning into jelly with a ham inside. It's not the tastiest thing, but it's definitely one that fully exists and is very suitable for the game's universe.
Between cookbooks, food blogs, and YouTube channels, video game recipes are starting to get more and more popular among fan communities. The creators of game cookbooks have different theories about why this is so. Connor suspects this is due to cooking mechanics increasingly appearing in video games themselves. Corrigan thinks it's just a matter of cookbooks being unique as fan merchandise serving as collectible, art books, posters, and functional cookbooks all in one.
Rosenthal's theory is that gamers are collectively aging, with more and more fans of many games starting to live at an age where they have to seriously consider providing themselves with food.
“Eating somewhere every day is expensive; It's cheaper to cook at home, but the kitchen can be intimidating. Through the connection to food and games, it encourages people to say, "I've seen this recipe in-game and it doesn't look too complicated, I think I could start cooking." While many content creators say, "I play games, they have interesting food, let me make it so that other people can cook it at their place." And game developers are at the age where they are interested in cooking and are bringing their passion to work. I think this is the main reason why cooking and video games have exploded with cookbooks and all that, ”she says.
Rosenthal's view that people who may not necessarily have cooking experience would want such a book is something that other authors share. The Legend's Cookbook team specially made their book to teach novice chefs even the most basic basics. The book includes sections on how to sharpen knives, information on cold cuts, and even how to boil water.
“I don't want people to be intimidated by cooking because it’s a necessary skill. If you play Breath of the Wild, you understand how important cooking is because it helps you stay alive. I hope you see something delicious that will make you cook for this dish in the kitchen, from boiling water to homemade ice cream. ”
“We're really trying to make sure you can cook everything in this book. We don't want to give you a book that you can only use 20% because of your skill level. This is not interesting to anyone, ”says Abreu.
The love of a particular game or fandom encourages readers of such books to explore food in accordance with their passions. But they get a lot more than a few fancy recipes to show off at a dinner party. Playful cookbooks can inspire broader exploration of the kitchen as a whole, serve as a springboard for new skills, and the desire to try even more recipes.
“In the society we live in, it's so easy to prepare food for you. Cooking is becoming more of a niche hobby rather than a necessity. But I think people can really get into cooking if they have a gaming environment that makes it fun for them. Maybe some people who have never been to the kitchen before, after trying a recipe or two, will realize that the passion for cooking is fun and can use these cookbooks as a starting point to feel more comfortable or learn more. Not everyone who buys books has to become a chef, but the skill in the kitchen is what is impressive, ”says Connor.
The Topic of Article: How game cookbooks help develop lore.