The list of things I am frustrated about with regard to COVID-19 is super long, which makes it all the more important to take inventory of the good that has come out of this challenging time. One of the greatest things about COVID-19 for many, including myself, is the time it has provided for us to spend with our families. So I’ve been thinking about what games we could play together that, more than just a good time, would help us grow in our understanding and love for one another. Instead we decided to play Overcooked.
I am being dramatic, I actually love Overcooked and our experience actually has helpfully challenged me to be a more understanding and patient parent. Let me explain by first sharing one of our experiences with the game:
“Chop these three onions. I need all three of them chopped.”
“I’ll wash the dishes.”
“We don’t have any dirty dishes yet. I need you chopping onions.”
“Daddy, when you finish the soup, can I take it to the counter?”
“Sure, but I need you chopping onions right now. What are you doing with that tomato!?”
“Should I chop this tomato?”
“Silly Bug, we need one more onion or this soup is going to burn.”
“Ok Daddy, I am getting the onion.”Overcooked … not only requires players to work together but to actively acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Things get crazy pretty quickly in Overcooked, the popular cooperative speed cooking game. Initially you are cooking in simple kitchens but before long you are in a kitchen made up of two food trucks speeding down a highway. Each truck possesses several essential tools or supplies that you need to complete your recipes. The two trucks periodically separate from one another, dividing tools, supplies, and even players. Success requires careful planning for those moments when the trucks are separated and game awareness to make the most of those moments when they are together. My daughter hates this level.
My daughter just turned six and doesn’t possess the fine motor skills to consistently press up on the thumb stick of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con in the exact right direction while simultaneously holding X. She also doesn’t want to practice the observational awareness to realize the importance of paying close attention to Overcooked’s HUD, which is constantly giving players the order of operations required to maximize their score. And the food truck levels aren’t nearly as intimidating as Overcooked’s latter levels:
My wife, who did not grow up playing video games, finds some of Overcooked’s control mechanics frustrating—they don’t come naturally to her like they do to me. This isn’t a complaint about the game itself, since its control scheme is pretty simple compared to most modern games. The experience simply illustrates how often video games assume an established vocabulary among their players. My wife and I are probably equal in terms of our game awareness, but due to my much longer tenure playing games, I am probably the person in our family best equipped to succeed at Overcooked.
If I am honest, the first few times the three of us played together were maddening:
“I will be in charge of chopping, you worry about watching the pots and filling the bowls.”
“Evelyn, you take the finished dishes to the counter, ok?”
“I want to be in charge of washing dishes.”
“Ok, but we also need you to take this dish the counter, okay? Evelyn, why are you running around in circles?”
For my daughter Evelyn, video games are typically about the experience, not skill. This was the case with Overcooked, at least until she started noticing stars. Overcooked, like most games, awards players based on their performance. These awards come in the form of stars granted based on the number of orders completed within each round’s allotted time. These small rewards motivated her to move more quickly and listen to my requests more intently. It’s slightly alarming how little we have to reward human beings in order to motivate them but that’s a whole other article.
Before long, my wife and I were carefully formulating a plan that would allow her and I to handle the most complex tasks while still giving our daughter a less intensive but equally important role. The result was still frequently chaotic thanks to Overcooked’s many curve balls and my daughter’s tendency to go off script. However, the three of us managed to get the maximum three stars on a handful of levels.
At its core, Overcooked is a pretty effective team-building exercise. It not only requires players to work together but to actively acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t get me wrong, when I ask for an onion and get a tomato, I get agitated. Overcooked can be pretty frustrating in that sense, but those who stick with it will realize that success only comes when we learn to work with the skills and limitations of those around us. For me and my family, it asks us to make an extra effort to communicate with each other more carefully, patiently, and lovingly.