Return from Fatworld
I've been playing Ian Bogost's new persuasive game Fatworld on and off for the past month. Leaving aside the question of whether or not his games "powered by sarcasm and social commentary" are "fun," which has been at issue in recent reviews of his work in Wired and Slate.com, it seems like there's certainly entertainment to be had in the virtual world that Bogost presents, which reflects many aspects of the prepackaged consumerism that guides the practice of everyday life in mainstream America. As the game says, "this little town lets you experiment with the politics of nutrition -- the relationships between social and economic conditions and health" in which each day represents a year of living, because as the game explains:
Existing approaches to nutrition advocacy fail to communicate the aggregate effect of everyday health practices. It's one thing to explain that daily exercise and nutrition are important, but people, young and old, have a very hard time wrapping their heads around outcomes five, 10, 50 years away.
While many videogames and virtual worlds offer you an avatar that is fit and muscular or busty, depending on your gender, Fatworld often presents you with avatars who are out-of-shape and old, like the sixty-four year old man that I took out through the slick, cartoony landscape of the game. Certainly, Fatworld's built environment is dominated by fast food establishments and convenience marts in ways that made me miss the farmer's markets, backyard produce, and ethic shops to be enjoyed in near my real-life house in Santa Monica.
Doing meal planning with grim lists of pre-packaged foods that were labeled "Atkins" or gluten-free certainly didn't whet my appetite, but there were other aspects of the game in which the procedural logic was more engaging. For example, one could actually do "exercises" in Fatworld to burn off calories that incorporated casual games that frequently rewarded dexterity in keyboard speed and accuracy. Players can also grapple with game economics by shopping for real estate in Fatworld or even opening an eatery of their own. And, of course, I always like to visit the cemeteries when I'm in a new city, and Fatworld has one too.
I thought the emphasis on how urban geography and biologically predetermined genetics that might include food allergies was an interesting response to the ideology of freedom promoted by the billion-dollar diet industry, but I wasn't as sure about the more crass messages to be found in the Govern-o-Mat where bribes were common currency rather than social activism or the tactical use of the media, particularly when the game's creators provided links to a more nuanced range of sources about food politics.
Do make sure to play the game long enough to see the world's scariest load screen, a giant, bulging gut with a tape measure calibrating the inches.