Have you ever perfectly peeled multiple potatoes in a 45-second timeframe? Or browned onions and carrots in a minute, sauteeing them rapidly to ensure they cook evenly without burning? It may seem like an impossible task, but in the world of Cooking Mama -- among glowing pixels of digital cream puffs and inaccessible steaming pots of curry -- anything is possible.
Cooking Mama is a cooking simulator where players follow the recipes of the watchful, wide-eyed, bandana-wearing “Cooking Mama.” The game is cute and simple enough: confetti explodes out of the top of the screen upon completing a dish, and Mama applauds your effort through every step by awarding you with a shiny medal. The game skyrocketed to acclaim back in 2006 when it first launched, selling over 500,000 copies in the United States alone. The Nintendo DS game proved that cooking simulations are not only fun, but that there’s also a huge market for them -- an undeniable appeal that combines food with gaming.
Cooking Mama isn’t the first food-related video game. Pixelated chefs have been around since at least 1982, when the classic game BurgerTime hit arcades. That game sent its protagonist, chef Peter Pepper, careening down ladders and building burgers while simultaneously avoiding the clutches of the evil Mr. Pickle, Mr. Egg, and Mr. Hot Dog. There was also Tapper, a 1983 arcade game in which players function as a bartender slinging rounds of root beer for thirsty customers. Hell, it could even be argued that Pac-Man is an eating-related video game.
But Cooking Mama changed everything because the focus was entirely on food; there was no frantic running, no succumbing to untimely falls or villainous enemies, and no real game-ender. The worst that could happen in Cooking Mama was that you screwed up the recipe, and Mama was slightly disappointed.
“I [remember playing] Cooking Mama nonstop when I first got it. It was super appealing -- way better than real food,” said Everest Strayer-Wong, a New York City-based illustrator whose work revolves around food, with the occasional video game reference. “I loved peeling the potatoes and chopping cabbage... I feel like I learned real cooking skills from that game.”