The Gamification of Dining.

Currently I’m a widower to Pokemon Go, as are many. My Delightful Boyfriend, who is a nerd who likes shooting things on the TV while swearing, and has been known to RPG (unlike me: I am the very cool kind of nerd who has lots of emotions about dead people and Knows Facts About Bees), has been sucked into the vortex of “walking around places with his head down” game, which doesn’t much differ from his “I can’t use Facebook and walk at the same time but never say never” approach to life in many particulars.

I’ve never been tremendously into games*, for the following reasons: I dislike losing a lot more than I enjoy winning; I am hopelessly allergic to anything involving teamwork; sudden loud noises stress me the fuck out; I have spent most of my life with abjectly poor hand-eye and foot-eye coordination; team-bonding’s neurological effect actively scares me; I don’t have the attention span; I want to control absolutely everything or absolutely nothing but find the middle ground frustrating; I am terminally averse to getting things wrong the first time.

*Disclaimer: I have had crippling addictions to: Tetris, a card game called Montana,  Soltaire, Hoppit, a match-three game for the Acorn called Reaction, Bejeweled, Bookworm, and still routinely spend hours mindlessly thumbing through 2048. 

However, I’m also a sucker for: prizes; food; new stuff.

And recently I went to Shuang Shuang in Piccadilly. It’s a hotpot conveyor belt restaurant, combining the simple delight I experienced for the first time 14 years ago when I went to Yo! Sushi in Paddington Station and got FOOD ZOOMED PAST MY EYES with the equally great satisfaction of HAVING FOOD COOKED IN FRONT OF ME ESPECIALLY FOR ME at Abeno Too some eight or so years later, and the no lesser delight of “pick your own ingredients and we’ll make the thing for you” buffet-style restaurants like Tiger Lil’s and the Mongolian Barbecue (now I think both sadly defunct) that were popular in the 2003-5 period. In that you get your own temperature-controlled hot pot of the broth of your choice, a conveyor belt of fresh ingredients, and a guide to roughly how long you should let things cook for.

As I said to my date, fellow flaneur, London history nerd, enjoyer-of-gadgets, and the person who introduced me to Sci Fi Nutrigruel (and to the glories of H G Wells), I fall squarely into the opposite camp to We Want Plates. My requirements for eating out being:

  1. Is it good food
  2. Is it good food I probably couldn’t make myself
  3. Have you done something weird with it

Why yes, I do slavishly watch Heston Blumenthal while chuckling quietly about him being mental. Thank you. I do find the words “good honest grub” tedious in the extreme. I can make that at home. I came out to your cavern of hellish socialisation so I could be treated to Exciting Shit. Make some dinner theatre happen!

This, for example, looks fun.

lego breadbasket

Image from WeWantPlates.com

Admittedly I’m bored now with what I think of as Nerd Fun With Food; “caffeinate everything”, “what can we make taste of artificial bacon next”; “look it’s a really massive version of some highly overproduced snack food you barely like anyway”, but I feel in terms of presentation and excitement, stuff like Supersizers Go… knows a thing or two about how to make eating out interesting.

It was ruminating on this and quipping about it that led to the following concept, described by friend Chris Siddall as “Iron Chef Go” and by Delightful Boyfriend as “hrm”; I would like to thank them both for asking me enough questions to help iron out some original kinks in the idea.

IT’S TIME FOR ENRICHMENT, BITCHES:

So the wheeze is this. You and your group – hen party, stag do, business retreat, family reunion, football team, LARP favourites, etc – book ahead to this thing. A country house, an adventure park, or a hotel. You tell them how many there are of you, what dietary requirements and preferences you have, and that’s it. You put the app in your phone.

When you turn up you’re sent off into the grounds. You have to check your app. How many ingredients do you need to find? Where are they? What clues are you following? What riddles to you answer correctly?

You find a thing. It’s a fake bowl of chopped onions, under a hedge, rather like shokuhin sampuru in restaurants. It’s got a Tile or an i-tag or similar on it. You tap the ingredient’s tag on your phone to let your team know you’ve got it, and to tell the chef that ingredient’s unlocked on the list, meaning your potential meal just got tastier: you only eat meals with what you’ve managed to find.

At the end of the pre-meal game you drop all your “ingredients” into a pot, and make your way back to the restaurant. You’ve had fun, you’ve worked up an appetite, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you know it’s going to be more satisfying to eat now than it would have been just picking something off a piece of card.

Naturally the dinner theatre’s been meticulously arranged in advance. The ingredients you hunt can be combined to different levels and in different ways, and that menu has already been decided: if you find none of the ingredients you get a very nice burger and chips and a drink with a sad face on it and a card saying “I don’t think you tried at all”. If you find, say, three, you get the “three-ingredient” meal. If you find all the ingredients you get a free cocktail and unlock the dessert roulette.

Would it catch on? I don’t know. I could see it being a hit in Dalston, the same way that Fire Hazard Games – immersive gaming around real-life – has taken off, and possibly with the same people. It would combine healthy exercise and food, and thinking exercises with reward, much as Pokemon Go has got people moving and getting out of the house.

Heston, man. Hit me up. You know you want to.

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