A game about the politics of nutrition
About Fatworld

Fit or Fat? Live or Die? You Decide. Fatworld explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition, and socioeconomics in the contemporary U.S.

In the last two decades, obesity has soared in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics, 30% of American adults are obese. And this increase isn’t limited to adults: since 1980 over three times as many children 18 and under are obese, or around 15% of all American minors. Of the nearly 300 million people alive in America today, nearly 70 million are overweight. We worry about airplane security and dirty bombs, but we also stuff ourselves with high-fat, low nutrient foods. Fad diets focus on quick results at the cost of long-term health. And more than half of American adults don’t get enough physical activity.

Public and private organizations have mounted ongoing efforts to change Americans’ behavior toward nutrition and exercise. Sound, logical arguments pervade media and public service outlets, encouraging moderation, application of food planning systems old and new, and endorsing any physical activity.

More importantly, these efforts assume that our obesity crisis is caused solely by lack of self-control: if only everyone would choose to eat right and exercise, the problem would go away. But our culture and environment are actually structured to discourage healthy habits. Refined sugars, trans-fats, and preservatives pervade supermarket foods. Packaged foods make our overworked lives more convenient at the hidden cost of poor nutrition. Our hyper-consumerist, debt-driven culture impels us to work more, both pushing us toward high-fat fast food convenient and appealing and structuring our lives so we don’t think we can make any time for exercise.

Fatworld is a videogame about the politics of nutrition. It explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition, and socioeconomics in the contemporary U.S.. The game’s goal is not to tell people what to eat or how to exercise, but to demonstrate the complex, interwoven relationships between nutrition and factors like budgets, the physical world, subsidies, and regulations.

Existing approaches to nutrition advocacy fail to communicate the aggregate effect of everyday health practices. It’s one thing to explain that daily exercise and nutrition are important, but people young and old have a very hard time wrapping their heads around outcomes 5, 10, 50 years away. In Fatworld, you create a world, design a character, and live out an accelerated life in that world. Time in Fatworld will run continuously, whether you play or not.

You can choose starting weights and health conditions, including predispositions towards ailments like diabetes, heart disease, or food allergies. You'll have to construct menus and recipes, decide what to eat and what to avoid, exercise (or not), and run a restaurant business to serve the rest of your town.

By choosing your character’s dietary and exercise habits, you can experiment with the constraints of nutrition and economics as they affect your character's general health. Will it be wheatgrass and soy? Or fried chicken at every meal? How much can you afford to spend on food, and how does that affect your general health? Characters who eat poorly will get fat. Characters who don’t exercise will move around the world more laboriously. Disease and death will eventually ravage players with poor health, while those with good health will live to a ripe age.

You can design your daily meal plan, choosing from hundreds of ingredients and recipes that ship with the game, or you can build your own from scratch and share them with friends online. Then you can exercise by walking around or playing a variety of exercise minigames. To affect the residents of Fatworld who aren’t controlled by human players, you can create restaurants and decide what menus to offer.

Interested in politics? You can influence public policy by visiting the Govern-O-Mat, or try to get a glimpse into your own character's health -- if you can afford it -- at the Health-O-Mat. Players can alter guidelines on merchandising for Fatworld, changing market dynamics to encourage certain products and discourage others. For example, the player could ban partially hydrogenated oils in Fatworld, effectively removing them from the store shelves. Or they could ban meat, or fruit for that matter.

Fatworld comes with numerous foods, recipes, and meal plans, or players can create their own from the contents of foods in their pantry or their imaginations. Then you can export the recipes and meals you create and share them online, or download new creations other players have made.

Fatworld is a PBS / Independent Lens Web-exclusive presentation of an Electric Shadows project presented by ITVS Interactive and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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