Most people at some point in their lives have taken reluctant steps into the world of diets, driven by a dissatisfaction with what they see in the mirror. They’ll stand in front of their mirror, perhaps after a weekend of slight over-indulgence, and inspect themselves, pulling at that extra layer of fat they wish they didn’t have, vowing to be more strict with themselves. So they’ll set some ground rules; maybe exercise more, don’t drink at home, cut down on the sweets. Some will immediately break their rules; some will follow them with the occasional deviations that are part of a balanced lifestyle and process of achieving self-acceptance; and some will follow them to the letter, adding more strict rules as they go, castigating themselves for breaking them.
It’s the latter kind of dieter that in-development game Consume Me focuses on. A project of student game developer Jenny Jiao Hsia, Consume Me is about trying to follow strict dieting rules, the kind of unforgiving rules that limit portion sizes, cut out entire food groups and even, eventually, entire meals. You play as a 16-year-old girl in high school who decides to lose some weight in an attempt to feel happier with herself. To do so, she downloads a dieting app and begins to monitor all her food intake and exercise in order to reach her goal.
Jenny pitches the game as autobiographical, inspired by her extreme dieting experiences in high school: “During the most intense part of this experience [her dieting], I wrote down a bunch of very rigorous rules for myself to follow. By creating a simulation game out of these rules I want to explore this dissonance between knowing what you need to do in your mind–with rules clearly laid out before you – and your actual ability to follow these rules.”
With extreme dieting and disordered eating the rules you must follow become more complicated, more rigorous, and harder to stick to. But stick to them you must, because any deviation is obviously a sign that you’re not being strict enough with yourself and need even more rules; you continually set yourself up to fail to justify the need for more extreme behaviour and the game will follow this mindset.
The game’s structure will follow the everyday routine of the character, weighing herself in the morning, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, before weighing herself at bed time again. Each day will end with a diary entry drawn from Jenny’s own teenage journal. Though small vignettes will come up where the character must interact with friends or participate in activities, most of the game, like her thoughts, will centre around her meals, their preparation and their calorie content. Putting meals together is almost like a puzzle, whereby the player must choose foods that the character is allowed to consume, but keep the total number of calories under a certain number. Caloric accuracy is key because overall progress in the game is measured from daily calorie intake and current weight.
Jenny states that the game will revolve around monitoring “What you’re eating. How much you’re eating. How often you’re eating. How much you’re exercising. Your current weight. The way you look in the mirror. How much your best friend is eating. All your thoughts and feelings.”
A gameplay video has been released which you can see below:
Visually the game is bright, colourful, and almost cartoonish with an upbeat and happy soundtrack. It’s a weird contrast to the Consume Me’s dark content but it works, particularly as the game is from the disordered eater’s perspective; it highlights the idea that she perhaps doesn’t see the harm or seriousness in what she’s doing. It’s harrowing.
Consume Me doesn’t have a release date just yet, but you can follow its development on Hsia’s blog. There’s also a Twine version you can play to get an idea of how the game will work and the tone it sets. It’s interesting to see her progress with the game and I really hope we see it completed.
Consume Me looks like it’ll be a brave game, one that showcases the narrative capacity of games to be both highly personal and intensely relateable, capable of generating empathy and understanding through their interactivity.
All Images © Jenny Jia Hsia