Why some special games are a bit like cooking

June 15, 2019
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I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to caramelise sugar, but trust me: it’s pretty magical stuff. You measure your water and your sugar and you dump them into a saucepan. You swish it around until the sugar’s gone. Then you put the saucepan on the heat. After a while, stiff little bubbles start to form. After a little while more, the pan is filled with them. The temptation to do something at this point is almost unbearable. But resist it! After a few more minutes, something astonishing happens. The clear liquid in the pan starts to transform. What was clear and thin slowly becomes thick and golden. Snakes eyes, pal: you’ve got yourself some syrup.

Change is everywhere in cooking, I am discovering, because cooking, I am discovering, is basically chemistry in the presence of a julienne grater. I made custard last week – actual custard from eggs and whatnot rather than from a powder or poured from a package. The last moment in the process, and I appreciate this sounds ridiculous, will stay with me. All of these ingredients and then you’re heating and stirring and fretting and pretty sure it won’t work. Then suddenly: man, that sort of looks like custard. It is! It bloody is custard!

I will never forget the first time I struck custard, as it were. I will never forget the first time I caramelised sugar. And – gear change! – I will never forget the fact that while I’ve been exploring a lot of this stuff in the kitchen I’ve also been playing Outer Wilds. It’s a game about exploring space in a dinky little ship and uncovering vast mysteries. It’s physics rather than chemistry. But does it remind me of cooking? Sort of. And it makes my heart rise like a singing bird, because it’s all about change, and change should be everywhere in games.

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