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About the Story
The convention center exhibit hall is closed. Everyone is excited to go to dinner but tired and hungry from a long day of working the convention floor. You are a staggering group of sore-footed friends who just want to eat with as little frustration as possible. Everyone wants something. No one will say what.
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The game's premise is fun, but I think it would be fair to label it as a design failure. It just doesn't seem to fulfil the design goals the author set himself. That goal is to simulate the frustrating experience of searching for a restaurant with a group of people, and to comment on that experience. (Spoiler - click to show)In the credits, McHenry explicitly tells us what his message is:
Without autopsying the work you just played too much, I wanted to assure you it's not the worst thing to express your preferences. It doesn't hurt your friends to communicate your needs, but it will hurt you if you wait around for them to guess exactly right. It's how you can starve surrounded by food.
In my opinion, the game fails on two levels. First, it fails because the analysis of the situation given in the quote doesn't go to the heart of the experience that McHenry is drawing one. Second, it fails because play doesn't effectively engage us with either the situation or the message.
Let's look at the first point first. Is the problem of finding a restaurant really a problem of people not expressing their preferences? While a certain fear of making things difficult or less pleasant for other people ("really, everything is fine with me") may play a role, this is at most a very small part of the problem. Suppose that you gave everyone in the group a list of cuisines and asked them to grade each of them ("Steak: 8; Indian: 4, ...") That would in no way solve the problem of finding a restaurant, because the space of restaurants is incredibly complex and so is the space of preferences. Perhaps I'd love to eat Italian, but not a pizza, since I already ate pizza yesterday. What I want is a pasta, but preferably not one with tomato sauce. I'd kill for a pasta with cream and truffles; and also for a dish with anchovies, pine nuts and parsley. However, my budget for the entire meal is $20, so if it's more expensive than that, I simply must look somewhere else. Atmosphere is also important to me; if it looks like a fast-food joint, I don't want to go there. But I don't care whether all twelve of us can sit at one table; I'm fine with splitting up and meeting each other again after the meal. And so on, and so forth... Our preferences are very, very complicated, and there's no way we could possibly communicate them all in advance. We don't even know about all of them in advance. So just "expressing your preferences" is not going to help very much.
The problem is exacerbated by two other factors. First, even if we have the preferences of everyone in our dinner party, there's no clear way of weighing them against each other. Is it worse for you to have to eat Indian or for me to have to pay a few bucks more than I intended to? Is it worse for you to have to walk another five minutes or for me to have to sit in a neon lit restaurant? It is here, I think, that self-effacing tendencies are much, much more prominent than in the initial state of communicating our preferences. But even if people didn't have those tendencies, there is no way you can weigh this stuff. Second, unless you are a well-informed local, you're always in a state of incomplete information. You don't know which restaurants exist, how good they are, how busy they will be, and so on.
So the problem of choosing a restaurant is that you only have a vague inkling of people's preferences, have only a vague idea of how to weigh them against each other, and have incomplete information about the possible choices. Solving the problem means that you try to get at least some clarification on all three of these issues, without taking too much time doing it. That's hard, and criteria for success are not obvious. But [i]Let's Go Eat[/i] places so much emphasis on people not expressing their preferences, that it doesn't get to the heart of the problem.
That wouldn't be too bad if play itself had been engaging and enlightening. But in fact, you just choose a restaurant and click "eat here", without any serious discussion ever happening between the people in your party. Since everyone has their own preferences, these generally balance out; and the numbers you get at the end of your meal are so abstract that they don't mean much. The game doesn't succeed in making you care about the score you get; and that means that you are not invested in finding a place that will actually make people happy.
I would have preferred a game where it is actually hard to find a place that your group will even enter. Perhaps you have dozens of restaurants, all of them imperfectly described on your map; and when you try to enter one, it turns out that Jackie will not eat sushi, at all, and that Frank cannot pay anything above 25$; and so on. Or Lydia starts to complain that she preferred the Italian restaurant you passed by three minutes ago. And so on -- give the people in the group some personality, have bickering and discussion, and make the player's goal to find anything that will be acceptable. That could have been more fun as a game, and also much closer to the real experience.
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