Gamasutra: Anouschka van den Berg’s Blog

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Survival games have seen an influx in popularity over the last decade. With titles such as Ark Survival Evolved, Raft, Rust and Green Hell, developers who are active within the genre have set a standard for future developers to follow. As part of the subgenre of action games, survival games, present a set of circumstances where the player is drafted into a situation that requires them to stay alive while completing the goal of the game. Under this definition, the video game Pong is eligible to be categorized as a survival game. What differentiates survival games from similar genres, such as survival horror, is the blend of exploration, resource gathering and crafting in an environment with a potential risk or threat which the player must overcome while completing the goal of the game. 

Often, players are presented with a wilderness environment where hunting and foraging are available methods to find food items to keep the player avatar alive.

Water is often incorporated as part of the survival mechanic that separates the method needed to stay healthy within the experience. Aside from food and water, survival games also incorporate stamina and sanity as indicators of the health of the player avatar. The way food is represented in survival games is different than how they are portrayed in games like Cooking Mama. Survival games often display crafting, open worlds, resource management, engagement with the environment and a health parameter that is directly linked to the consumption of food and/or water.

The visual interpretation of food According to Final Fantasy VX art director, Tomohiro Hasegawa, “It’s actually pretty difficult to make something look tasty in the game,” Hasegawa says. “And I believe what beats even the best photography is the personal experience.”

While survival games often involve the player to immerse in a realistic survival situation, the visual representation of the food assets in survival games often lacks a realistic, visual element that could immerse the player even further. In Final Fantasy VX 

the player is part of a group that goes on a road trip like adventure. To go a step further in the development of food as part of the gameplay, the Final Fantasy VX team went camping themselves. The food we see in the game are derived from photographic counterparts that the team prepared themselves. The reason for this trip, Hasegawa argues, “You know how even the simplest foods can taste really delicious when you’re out camping? We wanted to focus on that same feeling while we created them.” In the fantasy adventure game, Monster Hunter World, the game shows scenes where cats prepare food for the player’s avatar. The different food items are brought to a location in the game where cats will start preparing the food. Depending on what dish is created, it will change the player avatar’s health, stamina, and various other parameters. The game also includes the activation of certain abilities in the form of skills that are activated after consumption of the dish. These scenes include visual representations of steam rising from dishes and sizzling fat bubbles appearing in dishes with meat. Although not depicted as a survival game, the mechanic related to the consumption of food in Monster Hunter World is directly related to the health parameter of the player avatar.

Taking the above elements into consideration we can ask; Is there a possible disconnect between the way we see food in real life as well as how games compared to how we see food in video games? Is there a lack of visual quality in survival games? What mechanics have been identified that developers could use in survival games?

The goal of this research is to explore the void that food represents within survival games. Food and water being necessary status indicators are what sets survival games apart from action games. Although the intended research focus lay with food being the next step in possible innovation, there is not enough academic research on this topic to create a definite conclusion. Survival games hold a plethora of unexplored territory in both design and art disciplines. From the data analysis it can be concluded that both food and water are equally important. Developers should feel inclined to use both status indicators when developing survival games. Participants value exploration and systematic realism above spatial realism. When mechanics seem too fantastical, participants indicated that the systematic immersion is lost.


Thank you for reading.

the following link will take you to my thesis on Research Gate: