Books: On Food And Cooking

 In Books, Uncategorized

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee.

To a great game designer there is no useless knowledge.

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So You Want To Be A Game Designer

This is not a book on game design. Nor is it a book on any skill you are likely apply to game design. It is, however, a book that has elicited more excited conversation from my fellow game designers than text on graphics or storytelling. It is a book about cooking, but it is not a cook-book. Rather it is a compendium of “science and lore”, a place where the art and craft of the kitchen meet with the science of the laboratory. It short, it is the cooking for geeks.

For example, the chapter on eggs (all 50 pages of it) explains what is happening at a molecular level when you beat an egg, or boil it or add it to a cake. It explains why vinegar aids in poaching and it delves into the mystery (still unanswered) of why egg-whites whip better in copper bowls. It explains the biology of egg-laying and the history of raising chickens. It explores the theory of custard. It reveals the secrets of chinese pickled eggs (no, they aren’t really 1000 years old). It answers any and every question you might have ever asked yourself about how and why we use eggs in the kitchen and then some. And then there’s the chapter on milk…

Why does this excite my inner game designer? I think it is because it so thoroughly explores the complex mechanics of the game that we call cookery. Jesse Schell’s “Lens of the Toy” encourages us to design our games first as toys – objects that offer many affordances and a rich space of possibilities to explore. McGee’s book shows us that in egg is a very sophisticated toy indeed. It seems such a simple thing, but it enables a wealth of different interactions.

A crude conclusion might be to suggest that this book could inspire a cooking game. A cleverer one would be to reflect on the lessons it contains for crafting systems in general. But the real greatness of this book is in how it opens our eyes to the subtle complexity of one of the most mundane parts of our lives. There are games everywhere, if we have the eyes to see them.

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