I don't play many video or computer games (unlike, say, the amazingly knowledgeable Ouyang Dan) but I was recently thrilled when Swag Bucks, a search engine with which users earn free items, introduced their panel of games. Get store credit and entertain myself? Yes, please!
Sadly, the gift cards take some time to earn, but the fat-shaming inherent in two of the new games is immediate. Most of the simple, PopCap-esque staples one might expect are there, though nothing similar to my favorite game, Feeding Frenzy... and the programs that do involve eating kill my gaming appetite.
The good news: The characters this game seeks to shame, unlike in the infamous Fat Princess, are not coded as female, so at least they don't play directly into the discourse surrounding public policing of women's bodies. The bad news? Everything else.
First, we have Fat Cooker, with instructions as follows:
You NEED to help me; I'm trapped in a terrible game!
Straight off, the name of this game is belittling—why "cooker" rather than the professional title of "chef" or even "cook?"—but that's the least of Fat Cooker's problems. Basically a conceptual variation on Crusher, the goal of Fat Cooker is to make "bad" foods (eg. pizza and lollipops) disappear in groups of four before they can literally descend upon the titular avatar. If falling food touches him, he absorbs it; apparently he can't resist edibles. His animated body gets bigger if it's a dreaded "bad" food. One advances a level by manipulating Fat Cooker's weight out of the red zone. In case you didn't get that food is posited as the enemy here, the Game Over screen is charmingly captioned this way:
"No, really: I'm SAD that you're fat! I'm WORRIED about you!"
Could this get more concern troll-y? Basically, players are intended to rehaul a helpless, nameless fat person's diet to fit into arbitrary health standards. (BMI, anyone?) The game plays into fears of food by actually making him—and, by mental extension, the player—bigger as soon as he indulges. Diet-policing doesn't get much more graphic than this.
Or does it? Here's the description for another game, called You're a Pig:
Eat like a pig, but be careful. Eating makes you fat. Try to rack up a high score, without becoming so fat that you slow down to a crawl. Make sure to throw up the really heavy food..
Say what? Yes, this game requires you to throw up food to keep from getting too fat (more on that in a second).
Despite the name, the avatar is not a pig; s/he's a pallid-skinned creature made of reaching hands and an oversize mouth, with no snout or ears in sight. Unlike with Fat Cooker, a human body is not involved, but you also play as the being gaining weight. Rather than being encouraged to police other people's bodies, you fight against your own virtual figure.
Portrait of the Non-Pig as a Monstrous Cartoon
The game works as follows: you run around collecting food, instantly getting points and (again) becoming bigger with every bite. Typically healthy items such as apples and carrots provide fewer points and less size; cakes and obvious facsimiles of McDonald's fries provide more.
You get it, right? It's basically calorie counting.
But hold on: if snack food gives you more points, aren't they encouraging eating? Well, here's the catch: the more "points" you consume at a time, the slower your avatar moves, and you're racing against the clock. The goal is to gain points, yes, but in the smallest increments possible, lest you be punished with lessened abilities. At its quickest, the non-pig is smaller than most of the food items. If you get too slow or accidentally eat a double-decker cheeseburger, you're (oh, god, here we go) supposed to press the spacebar to make the character throw up.
Yes, you lose points if you vomit, but I guess that's supposed to be a necessary sacrifice?
So, let's recap: the You're a Pig game encourages throwing up to stay at an ideal weight. Points are framed as a precarious balancing game between low scores and loss of function, not unlike the struggle many face between extreme dieting and maintaining some semblance of health. Considering the timed angle, it's safe to say that speed, which is equated with dieting, is the top priority. I'm disgusted, as someone who once suffered from disordered eating... and also, you know, as a human being.
It's probably not news to our readers that the public is obsessed with, and frequently acts as if it has right to assert judgement over, individuals' weights and tends to treat fat and/or gained pounds as OMG TEH WORST THING EVAR. (For more about fighting this structure and size-positivity, I recommend checking out Tasha Fierce's pieces.) This game, though, goes further to turn the all-too-real disease of bulimia into an instructional cartoon. In addition to the purging, the encouragement of calorie-counting, a difficult habit to break while struggling with food, is upsetting.
I haven't even mentioned You're a Pig's diet pill, which you can catch a glimpse of above in the sea of vomit, even though the avatar is rendered invisible. Natch, the pill is posited as a miracle cure. It gives you points without changing your size, and, being the star of a flippant game, the avatar never suffers from heart attacks or liver damage.
Encouraging weight-loss drugs? What could possibly go wrong?
Hey, Swag Bucks? I love your set-up, and that's why I feel obligated to tell you: This isn't okay. These two games are deplorable and even dangerous. It's heartening to see that both Fat Cooker and You're a Pig are consistently left off the Top Games board, but with over 400,000 followers on Facebook alone, you have influence. Perhaps worst of all, one only has to be thirteen to be a Swaggernaut.
It's not as if incorporating eating or food into a game has to be fatphobic—see the aforementioned Feeding Frenzy, Pizza Pronto or, hell, even Pacman just to start—and body-shaming has no place here, nor should it. Join me here in telling SB their food games are anything but savory.
*UPDATE:* Swag Bucks responded to this piece via email on April 1. Several days later, the You're a Pig game disappeared from their site. Many thanks to everyone who wrote in!