In a cruel prank of evolution, the best things for you aren’t as addictive as the worst. We’d rather drink a beer than a coconut water, and stretch out on the couch instead of doing a few sit-ups. Videogames are no exception. While, sure, some games challenge and delight us as interactive art, others are simply digital nicotine, offering little more than a quick fix before making us demand another hit.
Pixelate, by Sures Kumar and Lana Z Porter, is a fascinating response to this phenomenon. It’s a head-to-head videogame that you beat by eating a plate of fruit faster than your opponent–though it might surprise you that Pixelate’s goal isn’t to promote healthier eating for kids. Rather, it’s more a commentary on and exploration of the relationship between analog humanity and the lures of the digital world.
“In the same way that food is fundamental to our existence as animals, pixels are the fundamental elements of the digital image,” the team explains. “Pixelate is a marriage of the two.”
The system works by employing a clever electrified fork. As it pierces various fruits, a tiny amount of current is impeded between the prongs. The exact amount of impedance depends on the type of fruit, which allows the computer to identify precisely which fruit slice is being eaten in real time. But to the players, all of this engineering is hidden behind a very organic experience: There are no superfluous buttons or joysticks to juggle, players simply eat fruit, then get rewarded with eating it onscreen. I imagine it must feel quite strange to have a game celebrate such a plebeian task, to have an omniscient machine coddling us for good behavior (yet to shamelessly enjoy that coddling every bit as much as we enjoy the reward for a simple task in any video game).
“During the game itself, we wanted people to enjoy themselves, to find humor and absurdity in the interaction,” the team says, “but our goal was for people to walk away thinking about what it means for the digital to dictate the physical when it comes to what we eat, and what that says about who we are, how we eat, and why.”
Indeed, even though we all know fruit is delicious, and that eating it is a net positive for how we feel in the immediate and how long we’ll live into the future, I have little doubt that Pixelate’s simple gamification could encourage most of us to eat more. And ultimately, what a sad statement that is about us.