Cooking, For Lovers: A Brief Discussion

Game name? Cooking, For Lovers. Game Developer(s)? Increpare
Note: The below text contains spoilers for Cooking, For Lovers, a game impossible to talk about without spoiling. I would recommend you play the game first. It’s only three minutes long. I can wait. LINK: http://www.increpare.com/2014/11/cooking-for-lovers/

Cooking, for Lovers is a game about making a Pot Noodle. That’s it. That’s the core (and in fact the only) gameplay in summed up neatly and concisely in one sentence. It’s not long either. At most it’ll take you around three minutes to complete; at least it’ll take around fifty seconds.
You play a person, gender never specified. You have a paper bag. Inside said paper bag is a Pot Noodle (or some variant thereof). You put water in the kettle, boil the water, pour the hot water into the Pot Noodle, and then go grab a fork. After that, you sit down on the floor, and nothing else happens. There’s no game over screen, no credits, no cut to black, no fade to black, no cut to white, no fade to white. The game ends when you want it to end and not before.
Oh, did I also forget to mention that it’s utterly fantastic? Yeah, I think that might have slipped my mind. Sorry.
Cooking, for Lovers struck a chord with me I can’t quite describe. It succeeds because it tells the player nothing; it’s all about personal interpretation. You can take as much or as little out of it as you want. You can take it at face value, or you can dig deeper.
Let’s take it at face value: it’s about a person who comes home and makes themselves a pot noodle. THE END.
Now let’s can look deeper. First, the title. The title is painfully ironic. It implies the act of cooking for a couple, a pair of people who love each other dearly, when it’s clear that the player character is most certainly eating alone.
The kitchen you are in is drab and functional. It feels lifeless, cold and impersonal. It’s cramped and I felt claustrophobic as I moved in it. The character moves in such a floaty way and jumps so high, but the environment you are in doesn’t reward those traits. You feel fenced in, trapped even, with next to no freedom. The game allows you to do nothing else but make the damned pot noodle. You can’t leave the room, and you can’t perform any other tasks, not that there are any other tasks worth performing anyhow. This, combined with the grayscale look and minor-key soundtrack helps to create a game with an almost oppressively melancholic feel and one that practically oozes a sense of loneliness and quiet despair. The game rewards (and deserves) multiple replays, and each one proves more rewarding than the last. All of the above is what I got out of the experience, but you could get something completely different out of it, and that’s the real beauty of it.
Cooking, For Lovers is a practically perfect experience. It joins the small group of games like Dinner Date, The Graveyard and Glitchhikers that aim to capture the feeling of a single moment and a single emotion; Dinner Date the anxiety and despair that surfaces after being stood up, The Graveyard the sensation of walking among the dead, Glitchhikers the act of driving along the road alone at night and the thoughts that follow, and Cooking, For Lovers the feeling of preparing a meal for one and only one. And honestly, I think Cooking, For Lovers is the best of the pack. And I mean that. If the thought of seeing a “Christmas Meal for One” at a local supermarket fills you with the same kind of sadness as it does me, you’re bound to make a connection with Cooking, For Lovers. It’s a wonderful, lyrical, beautiful and emotional experience, and one I heartily recommend.

(Postscript: thanks to Cara Ellison for bringing this wonderful thing to widespread attention in her Ten Best Games of 2014 list last year)

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