A Healthy Appetite
by Laura Berry

Lost in Blue 2 is a 2007 Nintendo DS survival game set on a desert island. Your first decision is whether to play as Amy (the “girl” character) or Jack (the “boy” character). Whoever you choose leads both characters’ escape off the island. Jack can jump twice as high, fist-fight a snake, and cook a better meal than Amy. Amy can swim, gather supplies, and aim ranged weapons. Talk about throwing someone the scraps.                             

By far the most broken part of the game is the hunger meter. Jack and Amy are required to consume ludicrous quantities of fish and guava to survive. These kids don’t eat like they’re stranded. They eat like they’re training for a hot dog eating contest back home. A trek away from homecave requires days of tedious planning, including food preparation in a Cooking Mama–lite mini-game.

The mini-game is styled with red and pink gingham backgrounds, geometric slices of coconut meat and seaweed. Your hunger meter drains, out of sight, as you flip unappetizing polyhedrons on a stone stove. Despite the island’s harsh environment, the overall look is friendly. It’s like you’re packing a picnic instead of fighting for your life.

Of course there’s room for small comforts in Lost in Blue 2, and food could have been that respite. I would have totally dug it if the game acknowledged the weird poetry of pausing for grilled clams and custard pudding when a vicious boar is waiting around the corner. But the player despairs the characters’ depleting energy meters more than Jack or Amy ever seem to despair their own precarious situation.

And what about Amy? Is it cool, actually, that she can’t cook? Did the developers inflate Jack’s stats because they assumed the players were dudes, and would play as a dude? Or did they think Amy wasn’t up to task for the rustic, masculine pursuit of cooking over an open flame? Jack doesn’t just cook to survive, the game tells us. He makes an art of it. Compare this to cooking games “for girls,” which are treated much the same way that women’s cooking is in real life—producing no real value under capitalism, and therefore frivolous.

So, as stressful as the characters’ appetites are in Lost in Blue 2, they’re also my favorite part of the game. Amy may be a terrible cook, but she’s an unabashed eater.

In a 2009 investigation into food as identity expression in the journal Appetite, young Japanese adults rated the “masculinity” and “femininity” of various foods. Gyudon, ramen, katsudon, and steak—filling, high-energy foods—were the picture of masculinity. Women were relegated to cake, parfaits, pasta, and salad: sweet, empty, or delicate foods that could hardly power a rugged trek across a desert island.

There was one detail in the study I found heartwarming, though. Even when women reported those hearty foods to be in conflict with their own identities, they still craved rice and meat.

Eat up, Amy. You’re not getting off this island on an empty stomach. ◒

 

Laura Berry researched food in the Faculty of Letters at Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.