February 12th, 2008

Here in France, I’ve been asked so many times about McDonald’s, it’s disgraceful. One of the first things new students always want to know–after stating unquestioningly “You are American. You love McDo!”–is, “Your hamburgers are very big, yes?” At this point they hold out their arms to simulate a hamburger large enough to house a small family of bunnies. “No, our hamburgers are the same size as yours” I say, shaking my head (who knows where they got that idea), about to deliver the news that really blows their minds. “Besides, I’m vegetarian.”

Just as often as they confront me about McDonald’s–the irony being, of course, that my students love McDo far more than any American teens I’ve ever known–the French go on mini rants about obesity in America. Even if they’ve never set foot on American soil, they insist they know the reason why we’re all so fat (comparatively, it’s true: you see a whole lot less excess pudge here in the south of France). We snack too much; our portions are too large; we live inside fast food restaurants. Granted, we Americans don’t abide by super strict rules about when to eat, like the French, who’ll stop you in the street if they see you eating an apple at four o’clock to tell you it’s not dinner time. But try and explain that American obesity is a complicated issue that involves socioeconomic factors, and all they do is smile condescendingly and eye your love handles.

Which brings me to Fatworld. Fatworld is the newest title from Ian Bogost’s studio Persuasive Games, and it’s all about American nutrition and obesity. You can expect a full article on the subject from yours truly up on The Village Voice site soon, but it the meantime I’ll say this: it’s a sim that lets players experience what it’s like to balance weight, money, food choices, time for exercise, and all the other issues that go into being a stick or having a belly like a bowl full of jelly. Fatworld, like all of Bogost’s games, aims to make an argument: that nutrition as an issue is more complicated than we think. My point is, maybe it’s not just Americans who should be playing the game. International perspectives on U.S. obesity are just as skewed–if not more so–than ones back home. Granted, the French aren’t the ones with the weight problem, but at the least they could stop asking me about my presumed love for enormous hamburgers…

Tags: Bonnie life, France, independent games, new games

4 Responses to “Can Bogost’s Fatworld Convince the French We’re Not Gluttons?”

  1. turkmenistan Says:

    It is a great idea for a game. Too bad the game itself is such a disaster.

  2. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    In what way? I haven’t been able to play thoroughly since the Mac version was a mess and then got taken down, but I’m curious what your experience was like.

  3. turkmenistan Says:

    I spent a couple hours with it and just couldn’t stand it – it’s slow and gives the player poor direction, the UI is terrible, it takes painfully detailed and realistic facts about weight gain and then places them in a scenario that makes no sense – for example, you could be an overweight teenager from the projects, and all of a sudden you’re buying coffee shops? It’s just kind of bizarre and poorly executed.

    There’s a good, detailed write-up here – I’ve noticed almost nobody else has tried to review it …

    http://jerz.setonhill.edu/weblog/permalink/fatworld-review/

  4. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Hmm, doesn’t sound good. I had similar problems but attributed some of them to the messed up Mac version. The weirdest part is that the reviewer’s characters is supposed to be a healthy male adult that weighs 69 pounds :).

    I’ll report back with first hand thoughts soon!

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