Should Hunger be a Factor in MMOs?

MMOs try to simulate many aspect of life for your characters including: housing, costumes, and learning skills. But when it comes to hunger in MMOs, should a game incorporate this basic need?

Hunger and Food

Hunger is not the same thing as including food in a game. To me, hunger implies that your characters experience a negative consequence when their hunger reaches a certain point, while food is not an integral part of the character, but an item with numerous potential uses. In some games, the quality of the food may induce positive effects – stat or experience buffs.

Hunger in MMOs

Hunger in MMOs should vary with the type of MMO, and unless you’re playing a survival style of game, it can quickly become an annoyance rather than a fun challenge. It really depends upon the goals of the game. In a survival game, such as Rust or Life is Feudal, you can play against or cooperate with other players, but you are also playing against the environment and your own body’s needs. Hunger, thirst, and exposure to the elements should all be a part of this. In survival games, finding food is a constant quest and is as important as items that provide healing in more traditional combat games.

Linear Versus Sandbox

In a more traditional linear MMO (WoW, GW2, or Rift), how should hunger factor into play? In these games, the main focus will often revolve around a main quest, side quests, world exploration, and mob smashing. Features that relate to hunger may be present, but are not usually critical to play. Players can choose to ignore crafting and cooking without suffering any consequences. If playing through the main quest is how you enjoy the game, you can blissfully run quest after quest without stopping for lunch. In these types of games, characters don’t usually have a stat related to hunger, but eating food can give you bonuses to specific stats. Hunger in MMOs of this style shouldn’t cause negative effects that take away from other gameplay.

beginner crafting

With more sandbox MMOs being released, hunger may be a factor in more games. Sandbox games allow the players greater freedom to create content and to play without a linear quest or restrictive rules. More opportunities to create housing, workshops, or farming exist in a sandbox game. For these features to have benefits, hunger should arguably be a factor for your characters, but at a level that is balanced with the other aspects of the game. If you have to fill your inventory with food to sustain your character for a single dungeon crawl, hunger becomes too burdensome.

Effects of Hunger

If hunger is a feature in a game, how much of an effect should it have? Hunger could be a more interesting factor if the effects change depending upon the degree of hunger suffered. At its most basic, you suffer a slight decrease in stamina or maximum hit points. I don’t think I’ve seen hunger taken beyond this point in any games, but other possible effects could include blurred vision, or even a hangry buff that gives you some sort of rage melee bonus that ends in more profound weakness. Hunger in MMOs could also incorporate a rebound effect that could add to the gaming experience. Restoring your character’s hunger could cause interesting effects, ranging from happiness that manifests as some sort of skill bonus to a food coma that causes you to move more slowly.

Should hunger in MMOs be a lethal factor? In a survival MMO, starvation should definitely be possible. However, if the game has you beset by orcs, vampires, or bounty hunters how would you feel to starve to death rather than suffer your end at the hands of one of these baddies? Or even worse – starve to death after defeating all your enemies, only to find you didn’t pack a lunch.

Mounts and Workers

Hunger can be used in MMOs in several other ways. Many games let you have pets, mounts, or workers, and some let you feed them. In Black Desert Online, you can build an empire of workers, but you had better keep them stocked with beer or they won’t have the energy to work. More filling meals will restore a greater amount of energy. If you enjoy crafting you can brew your own beer for them, but you can also purchase it in-game. Your workers won’t die from hunger, but they will cease being useful.

Hunger in MMOs

Elder Scrolls Online allows you to feed your mounts to increase their abilities. However, they are never hungry. In BDO your horses and donkeys will suffer some loss of stamina over time. Feed them to build them back up to their full ability. I think that this approach in BDO works well because mounts are critical to movement as the game lacks any form of fast travel. Food for your mounts is easy to find and they don’t require it too frequently.

Cooking Your Food

Hunger in MMOs

Most MMOs that I have played simply use food without employing hunger. Eating food will bestow buffs, with higher level and more valuable food giving you a greater bonus or lasting longer. In GW2, I routinely checked my stack of food before jumping into WvW or wandering to distant parts of the map. This is really no different than using spells, potions, etc. to max your character’s abilities in the game.

So what is the final verdict? Should hunger be a factor in MMOs – yes or no? I think that the general answer should be no, except in survival games. There are many ways in which hunger can detract from other aspects of play, and unless it is used in a creative and novel way, it is more likely to annoy most players. Including food and cooking is not generally a problem, but use of food shouldn’t be a requirement.

What are your thoughts on hunger in MMOs? Would you like to see it incorporated more often? What games use hunger in a creative way and which ones irritate you?

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About Clare L. Deming

Clare Deming lives in New Jersey and once applied to be an astronaut. She works her day job at night and writes and games during the day. Her first experience with multiplayer gaming was with several MUDs and MUSHs in the mid-1990s, followed by attempts to play Everquest on a computer that couldn't quite handle it. Currently, Clare enjoys playing Elder Scrolls Online and Black Desert, and occasionally dabbles in mobile games.