By: Izzy Cheung, Staff Writer
I’ve always believed a great game is characterized by the way it engages the player physically, mentally, and emotionally. Most video games tend to capture players with elaborate plotlines, dramatic effects, and competitive battles, but Venba awakened my emotional state with a reflective narrative that carried out nostalgic themes — it was so emotionally engaging that I actually cried a couple of times while playing.
The narrative video game created by Abhi, a Tamil immigrant living in Toronto, and Toronto-based Visai Games, was launched on July 31. It follows the story of a young Indian mother — the titular character, Venba — as she adjusts to life in a new country while trying to keep cultural traditions alive. Playing this first-person cooking game will allow you to step into Venba’s shoes and experience the bittersweet emotions of “first-generation immigrant parents and their assimilated children,” while learning to cook delicious South Indian dishes, like Idli and Puttu. As charming as the pink, purple, and blue animations may be, Venba’s greatest strength lies in its sentimental storytelling.
The game begins with Venba (the player) and her husband, Paavalan, looking for jobs as new immigrants from Tamil Nadu. As the game progresses, it explores the growth of their son, Kavin, through the eyes of his mother. Acts of deciphering handwritten recipes of various Indian dishes and cooking them are woven within the narrative of an immigrant mother and her second-generation son. Recipes from Venba’s mother are provided at the start of cooking each dish, though parts are often smudged or torn away, prompting players to figure out the best solution themselves.
Cooking the recipes in first-person allows the player to feel the frustration and excitement of making dough too watery or perfecting a recipe. It took me a bit of time to get used to executing the recipes, as I was playing on a laptop, but once I figured it out, I felt like I’d just solved a complex puzzle. The “dish” levels are relatively easy, progressively getting a little more difficult with each one, and the steps are simple — they only really require players to drag the mouse or click buttons.
Venba does an excellent job of making the player feel like they’re stepping into their childhood home when entering Venba’s virtual kitchen. The soft plucks of an acoustic guitar’s strings welcome players into a home filled with framed family photographs, colourful cultural artifacts such as artistic masks, and Tamil words of endearment sprinkled into conversation. As Kavin grows up, players watch alongside Venba as he begins to reject Tamil culture in favour of fitting in with his surroundings; despite this, Venba continues to cook recipes with the love that only a mother could give. This was the most poignant part of the game for me.
Stepping into the kitchen as Venba brought me into not only the world of the video game, but the world of my mother as well. I followed Venba and Kavin’s story as if it were my own — every lovingly home-cooked meal that Venba offered her son reminded me of my own mom’s culinary habits. While it may not bring the intensity of a video game filled with lively battles, Venba tackles themes of cooking, culture, and family that are sure to invoke more than just hunger from its players.