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The RPG Scrollbars: A Meal Fit For A Hero

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“mage food pls”

Gladly! Speaking as a carbon-based lifeform with the need to convert sustenance into continued existence and also poop, I consider myself quite the food devotee. I’m not sure what I’d do without it, except to curl up and die. This, of course, is where most RPG characters have the advantage over us, or at least, have for the last twenty years. Who can forget the Ultima crew, stuffing baguettes and cheese and grapes down their gullet like a production line, only to instantly complain about being hungry? How long ago those days are now. Now, food is typically an optional extra; a way of starting the day with a little more power and a Well Fed flag.

Gosh. If only the same happened when their food entered our realm. As it does, on occasion…

I’ve always had a soft spot for defictionalisation done well, and an almost irrational hatred of it done poorly. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much. I think it’s the intersection between nominally appealing to fans by bringing them a slice of their favourite universe, and the contempt of openly not giving a shit.

Let me give an example – Quark’s Bar and Grill at the long-closed Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. (Yes, right on the cutting edge, I am!) The main exhibit was fine – a couple of ‘4D’ rides, where ‘4D’ translates to ‘3D but they squirt water in your face or other irritating stuff’, with my favourite parts being a surprisingly well-disguised lift that fakes the experience of being transported onto the Enterprise bridge, and a section where for fire safety reasons you have to walk very slowly away without running from a poor actor in full Borg get-up who sort of stands there as you walk away. Fun goofy Trek stuff for the whole family.

After the rides though, you head out onto a very cheap and unconvincing recreation of the Deep Space Nine Promenade that’s actually just a gift shop, with the option to ‘eat and drink’ at Quark’s. At this point, the makers should have a clear run to recreate some of the stuff on the show that’s vague enough that it could be anything, much like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter does by, as far as I could tell, selling melted vanilla ice-cream and calling it ‘butterbeer’.

But nope. No, no, no. Instead of making the stuff from the show, you’re invited to try stuff like, and I quote, “Rom’s Rootbeer” or “Deanna Troi’s Chocolate Obsession” and quite shamefully, the “James Tea Kirk.” Boooooo! Boooooooooo! You had a chance to bring a slice of another reality to life, and you screwed it worse than Nemesis!

No, that’s unfair. Insurrection though, definitely.

Thankfully, while RPGs don’t typically get much in the way of edible spin-offs, they tend to be done a little better. The inevitable stock attempt is variants on health and mana potions. There have been more of these than I can count. At least five. Mana Potions for instance sells funky little bottles for cow-people and Firiona Vie wannabes in two different forms – ‘health potions’ supposedly tasting of apple cinnamon, ‘mana potions’ berry flavoured with ‘a bit of a sour bite’, probably to represent the realisation that magic doesn’t exist and you won’t be throwing fireballs out of your fingertips any time soon (though perhaps you might be able to propel a stream of acid from your throat, depending how many you drink).

Squeenix meanwhile created what it simply called ‘Potion’, available in funky bottles you can imagine people buying to put on a shelf, and in a regular screw-top bottle which honestly I can’t. See also Nuka Cola Quantum from the Fallout universe, a drink whose creators clearly looked at the original with its funky rocket shaped design and decided ‘yeah, we don’t care that much, and also we’re putting our brand on it.’ Tssk. You’ll never become the new Ecto-Cooler that way. (A drink by the way that I have exactly zero memory of, if it was ever released over here, but the internet seems to have decided was the greatest thing that side of Crystal Pepsi. Which I have also never drunk.)

(My personal pick for laziest soft drink tie-in? It’s not an RPG, so… well… sorry… but I don’t think it gets any lamer than the Resident Evil T-Virus Antidote. Which is an energy drink in a can and that’s all. No funky syringe to put it in your mouth/someone else’s hair, no test tube bottle or something, just a can of probably foul-tasting pop with all the raw sentiment of Garfield’s Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. But I’m sure people bought it. Back in 2004, our own John Walker managed to get a thousand or so hits… which is like a million hits these days… for a promotional, out of date, and fairly ratty bottle of Baldur’s Gate branded ale and promotional tankard. I don’t remember how much it went for, but I’m pretty sure it was his most successful online sale until RPS.)

Things inevitably get more fun though when fans get involved, with the goal being to recreate a literal slice of a beloved world instead of selling one. This typically means no fancy packaging, but in exchange, food that actually has things like ‘real ingredients’, and the passion to use them well. These are rarely based on the ‘facts’ of the in-universe recipes, which is probably good when you ponder that Monkey Island grog canonically contains battery acid and axle grease, and the Portal cake that was not a lie features garnishes like fibreglass surface resin, fish shaped dirt and 3 tablespoons of burning rhubarb. It is however based on a real cake, which indeed looks delicious. Likewise, I don’t know what goes into a Minecraft block, but Rice Krispies are definitely an improvement.

There have been several cooking blogs devoted to recreating food from games and other sources, including Fictional Food, which is mostly about making stuff from various franchises in food form, like an edible King’s Landing from Game of Thrones, and Gourmet Gaming, which is more about recreating the foods themselves, like a Dark Souls Estus flask or World of Warcraft’s Winter Veil gingerbread cookies. You can even make Papyrus’s Spaghetti from Undertale, for whatever reason you’d want to…

Then, of course, there’s World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook. That might sound silly, but it’s probably safer than trying to make recipes from the equivalent tie-in book for, say, Hannibal. If any MMO was going to spawn one of these, let’s be honest, it was going to be World of Warcraft, with other-spinoffs including colouring books for both children and adults, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit variants to confuse the hell out of your family, and indeed a sequel cookbook called Hearthstone: Innkeeper’s Tavern Cookbook, featuring recipes like ‘Death Wings’ and ‘Medivh’s favorite martini’, which to my mind sounds like it’s on the ‘James Tea Kirk’ side of the Great Defictionalisation Divide, but never mind. (I eagerly await the third volume, Heroes of the Store Cupboard, with instructions on cooking such delicacies as Anub’arak of Ribs, Blackheart’s Bake, Garden of Teriaki, Sgt. Ham-and-Eggs, and Queen of Breads.)

Still, if you’re in the cooking mood, there’s a lot here, broken down into spices and basics, sides, breads, soups and stews, mains, desserts, and drinks, each described with names like “The Way Of the Nibble” and “The Way Of The Broth”. Cute. As said each borrows from the game for its difficulty level, going from Apprentice to Master, with a list of in-game festivals that you might want to recreate on the fantasy side, and all the usual stuff like a dietary guide on the more pragmatic side. It’s a lovely, very attractively put together, full-colour book, and a cute spin-off. My mage waving her hands and having a picnic table appear is definitely more efficient though.

Sigh. If only it was as easy as popping a mana potion and doing that in real life.

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