Trigger warning: eating disorders, body shaming.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a fast metabolism. No matter how much I ate or how often I laid around (which was often, as my pastimes were drawing, reading, video games, and more video games), I remained thin as a rail. Clothes were regularly baggy on me and my knees always knocked together. My friends and family, however, were on the other side of the fence. My mother, my aunt, my close friends, and many of my acquaintances found their weight to be a constant struggle at the best of times. It was an average day when I would find out about a new diet they wanted to try, or something insensitive a relative said, or reflections on a bad day at school. If you think weight is no big deal, you were—and probably are—as thin as I am.
Eat All The Ice Cream Ever (now abbreviated as EATICE) starts with a young woman opening the fridge for something to eat, finding nothing but a low-calorie microwavable meal à la Weight Watchers. Her growling stomach is all it takes to punt the tray through the roof and go off in search of some sweets, in which we’re introduced to the main goal of the game: eat ice cream. Like a society that constantly invents new ways to pick someone apart, though, it’s not that simple: you have to dodge offensive commentary, build up your self-esteem meter, and, of course, try not to get a brain freeze.
As I played the game, railing against my inability to clear my high score (21500, for the record), I began to reflect on all the subtle and not-so-subtle abuse my loved ones have gone through for their size. My mother was bullied in high school when her weight would start distributing to areas deemed ‘unacceptable’ for her gender and age, girls wielding words like knives just as much as the boys did. A childhood friend of mine had to struggle with the contradictory nature of the ‘slovenly’ stereotype despite being an active and outdoorsy person who climbed trees and ran after frogs like it was her part-time job. Even more of my friends have confessed to me their dislike of mundane activities like shopping for clothes and going swimming in public. Years of insecurity and self-scrutinization can begin with a phrase as simple as, “You’ve already had dessert.”
EATICE dives right into the heart of the issue—the almost imperceptible cuts that accrue en masse on the skins of plus-size women and those with eating disorders’ omnipresent language. You dodge passive-aggressive concern (“Haven’t you already had enough to eat?”). You dodge blatant insults (“Why do only fat chicks message me?”). You dodge the advertisements that clog up your basic grocery store magazine rack and online navigation (“Lose ten pounds in two weeks!”). You dodge coded language disguised as helpful advice (“You should wear black, it’s more slimming.”) Probably the most hurtful reaction I encountered was the dismissive and apathetic, “Meh.” You dodge the everyday language that creates the foundation everyone stands on. The kind of things people say without a second thought.
Like any video game with a difficulty setting, it becomes harder and harder to avoid incoming jerks the more ice cream you eat and the higher your score becomes. Weaving in and out between concern, trolling, and insults becomes a frantic endeavor. And, really, isn’t that how it is? The pushback for women who fall outside the hyper-narrow idealized standard is real and it’s nasty—just look at any comments beneath a plus-size cosplayer’s photoset or an article detailing someone living with an eating disorder. While the gameplay is your standard bullet hell, the underlying message lifts it up to something far more relevant than shooting at generic aliens. For a moment, you’re in someone else’s shoes.
Someone you probably already know.
The self-esteem power-up is a good touch, as my own individual insecurities can relate to having brief moments of just not giving a damn. An even better touch is how it lasts for only a few satisfying seconds before you go back to struggling to enjoy yourself with ice cream and chocolate. Just like it takes a lot to wear someone down, it takes a lot to build yourself back up again. As I tried to take care of myself, it became harder and harder to read what people were saying. The higher my score got, the more desperate I became to maintain it. Deceptive simplicity, if you’ll pardon the pun, is the name of the game here.
Just like ice cream, EATICE is cute and apparently fluffy. A catchy synth beat and bright colors contrast with issues that hound and bite at the heels of people every single day. As I tried to beat my high score, I thought of the countless others who have attempted to do so in real time. It made me reflect on the fact that my playing this game at all is a benefit many don’t share. Video games really are incredible for their ability to put yourself in someone else’s reality, albeit temporarily, and I hope this’ll inspire others to share their experiences in pixellated format.
Pick up EATICE if you’re able and give it a try. I have no doubt it’ll shed light on a few things you’ve taken for granted, too.