One of the strangest parts of video game history is food. Food is a practically necessary part of video game culture. It was a given that when you stepped up to an arcade cabinet and played a classic beat ’em up game that you’d need to punch a barrel to unveil a plate of turkey to save your skin and gain health.
Now with the passage of time, we’ve seen food become an even more integral part of gaming. Overcooked (2016) became a smash hit with its increasingly chaotic kitchens. Last year, Streets of Rage 4 continued the old traditions and Bugsnax…exists. Whole cooking and food systems have become a staple in JRPG franchises like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda. Combine that history with the power of modern marketing, and you get a wonderful collection of video game cookbooks.
There are many cookbooks that celebrate the fictional foods of many worlds and one person who’s incredibly familiar with this is Victoria Rosenthal, the author of Fallout: The Vault Dweller’s Cookbook and Destiny: The Official Cookbook.
Starting Out Small
Of course, this didn’t just happen for Rosenthal. It started with learning how to use all the pots and pans. As she fondly describes, “I am 100% a home cook. The main start with food was definitely with my family, my mom always did a lot of home cooking and I’d try to learn basic things from her and it was in college and [when] I moved out of the house that I was like ‘Wow, I need to start actually cooking.’”
Following college and a move down to Houston, Rosenthal started a blog after friends asked her for recipe ideas. Months later, it evolved into Pixelated Provisions, a blog that became the place to showcase recipes born from the combination of her mind and the games she loved. What in particular inspired the idea? “Lots of games were starting to add more food items, and the game in particular that really kicked it off for me was Guild Wars 2. Their cooking system was so detailed, there were lists of different foods, the pictures were well done, the instructions and steps had loads of details of what goes in there.” Now, she is inching towards 400 recipes on the blog, source material ranging from games like Persona 5 to Bugsnax.
The blog became an opportunity for her to grow her skills and do something fun, as she explains: “I honestly didn’t expect that cookbooks would be a thing in the future, I just figured ‘this is a hobby, I have my day job, do this on the weekends, have fun with it.’ But then when the books became a reality, I was like ‘Oh, I guess this is becoming less and less of a niche thing.’” The growth of the blog led to Insight Editions contacting Rosenthal for a Fallout-related project. Thus came the birth of Fallout: The Vault Dweller’s Cookbook and later Destiny: The Official Cookbook.
This begs the question, how does one develop recipes for a specific cookbook?
Reading And Writing
A common theme between both of Rosenthal’s creations is the same as many written works: research. Fallout was slightly easier to approach. “Obviously, with Fallout, there was a lot of research. The game has food in it, there [are] items you can eat and enjoy. Everything’s radioactive so we had to play around with that by making it food that’s edible but with weird twists in there.”
The same approach of recipe planning took place with Destiny, although with more challenges given the initial lack of food the game had, as Rosenthal discusses: “The Destiny one was wild because when they came up to me with the project I was like ‘There is no food in Destiny.’ This was before their first Dawning event. There is spicy ramen, [so] that’s something to build off of. That title kind of caught me off guard but the nice freedom of it was that I was able to look through the lore…and Destiny has a lot of it off away from the game. So, we were reading through things finding any references to food and surprisingly throughout the lore, there [are] little mentions of Blackberry Tea…so it was a lot of picking random elements based on the lore text and converting it to make sense where each item is connected somewhere in the game.”
From there, it was a case of getting recipes approved by the studio. Once that was done, it needed to actually be written. Rosenthal does feel that when it comes to writing these books, there is a key concept behind the writing.
“A lot of it is making sure [there’s] consistency. The Fallout one is a good example. I’m trying to relate items to creatures that don’t exist and in the Fallout book there’s little extra notes. The concept of the book is that it’s written pre-war and then it is found in the future by the Vault Dweller who makes notes and changes, so if it says ‘you need beef’ it’ll say ‘brahmin works here’ instead. So it’s all about making the connection of ‘we have these creatures, let’s make sure we make references.’ If it’s beef, it’s always going to be brahmin. If it’s pork, it kinda gets divided in several places but it’s like different cuts.”
There’s also another key aspect that helps when writing. After all, as someone whose cooking skills have peaked at occasionally making a pasta dish, approaching some cookbooks with particularly large recipes require an expansive and expensive pantry. That is something Rosenthal is keen to avoid in her recipes. “I don’t put my trickiest recipes in the cookbooks. Any really, really tricky recipes with a lot of steps and extra nonsense like the Bugsnax one, I put on my website. I feel so bad for someone working out of a book and a recipe being several pages long and too difficult.” Rosenthal also helps by giving readers the opportunity to grapple with some more complex ingredients but in an accessible way. “I try to, in the Destiny one, write a section explaining some of the trickier ingredients…I’m able to say ‘you can find this here’ or ‘there are some substitutes you can use that might work a little easier [here].'”
This combination of accessibility and research has resulted in the development of these successful cookbooks. For those looking to get into crafting a cookbook or blogging about culinary exploits, Rosenthal advises that good photography can go a long way. She takes all of the photographs for both her blog and her books, and explains “you can get away with a phone, take nice pictures and you’ll be good…I think photography is, in my opinion, one of the more important things that [catches] peoples’ eyes.”
Of course, Rosenthal acknowledges that her books wouldn’t have happened without “all the work I was putting into my blog.” But that work has paid off and video game cookbooks have become a possibility. Hopefully, a Streets of Rage-style turkey will soon find its way as a recipe. After all, we need to test its healing properties.
Words by Alex Green
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