If you’ve ever pulled open a drawer in a video game only to sigh in relief as you find a full rotisserie chicken you can scarf down for health points, then you know the allure of food in gaming. Food is a source of life. Link watches his ingredients happily hop around the pot in Breath of the Wild, Cooking Mama is up there with Gordon Ramsay when it comes to household names, and Leon S. Kennedy chugs eggs by the dozen to heal up between battles with infected villagers in Resident Evil 4.
In games, food is often associated with healing and comfort, with only a few rare exceptions — like the scenes of family dinner with the Bakers in Resident Evil Village. But one developer has made the visceral and uneasy nature of food-related horror its bread and butter. Bad Vices Games is the developer behind Ravenous Devils, a recent indie hit from 2022 that sold over 200K copies. The studio’s next title, While We Wait Here, is in development. Both games share a similar premise: There are hungry people who need to be fed, and there’s more than one way to acquire meat.
In Ravenous Devils, the player assumes control of a crime-loving married couple in an old-timey city. The player controls both partners. Percival runs a tailor shop upstairs, where he stabs unlucky patrons and throws their corpses down a short shaft. Hildred takes their corpses and cooks them into delicious meals for the downstairs restaurant. The customers are the product.
“This kind of management game, especially the kitchen ones, are very cute and with a cozy atmosphere,” says Cristian Gambadori, co-founder of Bad Vices Games. Ravenous Devils is downright gory in comparison; Hildred takes a corpse and beheads them, severs their limbs, and then grinds them into sausage or chops them into mince. “We wanted to make antiheroes,” says Gambadori. It’s another twist on the original management sim formula; instead of being Cooking Mama, you’re much more of a Sweeney Todd.
“It’s not very, very serious. It could have been too much for people to take,” Gambadori adds. The end result dances on the line between horror and comedy. Running the shop can be unnerving and gruesome, but it’s still fun and silly enough that a player can go through multiple days of stabbing patrons and chopping corpses without it turning their stomach.
While We Wait Here has a similar premise, but a different perspective. The player is in the first person, running a small diner in the middle of nowhere. It’s a much more American premise than its predecessor, but it also relies on food as both honeypot and horror. Gambadori cites No Country for Old Men as one inspiration, as well as the highways of the United States.
The U.S. highway system is a particularly well-suited inspiration point for this kind of game, given the horrific crimes perpetrated along such routes, and the way that they have colored American history. Joe Metheny was based out of Baltimore, and he turned his victims into burgers for his barbecue shack. Dean Corll plied potential victims with pralines made in his Texas candy factory. The Bloody Benders and Donner Party are both part of American folklore, making a kind of mythology out of murder, cannibalism, and chaos. Even cannibals like Jeffrey Dahmer have been romanticized and repackaged for mainstream consumption. Crime television shows and podcasts have only added to the contemporary mythology of such atrocities.
But these game developers are doing the opposite of leaning into the sensationalization of such brutal crimes or real-life victims. In While We Wait Here, the player serves as a barkeep in a hostile land, providing respite to travelers. The level of respite — or just plain spite — the player chooses to offer is dependent on how they feel about their patrons and their place in the world. Often cannibals in video games are almost comical in how ham-handed their monstrosity is. They’ll cackle over big, boiling pots and introduce themselves by saying things like “It’s nice to eat you… I mean, meat you.”
Bad Vices Games specializes in a more subtle kind of horror, and the success of Ravenous Devils shows that the subject matter has struck a nerve. While We Wait Here is currently planned for release in 2024.