I’ve always believed that those who feel that video games cannot be considered art have a myopic view of art. In my mind, playing a video game is not disparate from watching a movie or reading a graphic novel. I’d argue that video games, with their unique narratives, intriguing environments, and complex characters are akin to any other art form and the icing on the cake is that they give the players more agency than other art forms as they are not reduced to a mere audience or reader. Players have control over how the story transpires as they step into distinctive immersive worlds in the shoes of virtual characters. Today we explore a visually stunning indie video game, at the heart of which lies a wonderful tale that savors the flavors of familial bonds, culture, and food. Cooking for someone is a universal language of love. For instance, no matter how angry my grandmother is with me, she will never fail to ask me if I’ve had food.
Venba is a narrative cooking game developed by Toronto-based visionary Abhi. Inspired by Abhi's own experiences as a second-generation immigrant, Venba delicately weaves the tapestry of a Tamil family's diasporic life in 1980s Canada. The game's heart and soul are embodied by Venba, the titular character, who embarks on a mission to preserve her family's culinary heritage in the face of rapid cultural assimilation. Her treasured, weathered recipe book becomes the vessel through which she imparts the flavors of her homeland to her son, Kavin, who is growing up more familiar with Western culture than his Tamil roots.
As players immerse themselves in Venba's world, they are tasked with crafting a selection of dishes, each with its own unique story. The game's mechanics are elegantly simple yet emotionally resonant. From making puttu to delicately spreading dosa batter, every culinary step feels like a bridge connecting generations. The joy lies in deciphering the puzzle-like recipes and discovering cherished memories along the way.
What sets Venba apart is its meticulous attention to detail. Visai Studios, the development team, left no stone unturned in their quest for authenticity. They meticulously prepared and cooked every dish featured in the game, ensuring that each virtual meal tantalizes players' senses, emulating reality as best as possible. The art direction tantalizes with mouthwatering ingredients and tantalizing final dishes, while the soundscapes immerse players in the warmth of the kitchen. The music, inspired by Tamil cinema, infuses each cooking session with a sense of joy and celebration.
Venba gently reminds us that sometimes, the simplest moments can be the most profound. As the narrative unfolds, we witness Venba's struggles and triumphs as a mother in a foreign land, raising Kavin and seeking employment. We become witnesses to the joys and sorrows of her journey, capturing the essence of the immigrant experience. This focus on the parent's perspective is a refreshing departure from the norm, where stories often center on second-generation children.
Yet, while Venba succeeds admirably in its narrative and mechanics, it leaves players yearning for more. Covering over three decades of the family's journey in just over an hour may have left some narrative threads untied. It touches upon themes of homesickness and the challenges of cultural assimilation, but there is a desire for a deeper exploration of the complexities of life, loss, and love that the game hints at beneath its culinary surface.
The narrative, primarily centered on Venba and her kitchen, leaves us curious about the broader aspects of her life, her roles as a woman, a wife and a daughter. It prompts contemplation about whether immigrant parents often shield their children from painful memories or if it reflects their own upbringing, where discussing personal histories was seldom encouraged.
Nevertheless Venba stands as a poignant example of stories that deserve more visibility in the gaming world. It is a tender gem of a game in a world, where adrenaline-pumping video games and fierce competition often take precedence. It offers a heartfelt glimpse into the immigrant experience, the enduring power of family, and the delicious inter-generational bridge that food creates. It wonderfully portrays holding onto one’s cultural roots through culinary heritage. Venba is an authentic work of art that serves a delectable taste of Tamil culture, leaving the players craving for more.
Watch the video game trailer below:
Venba is available to play on Steam, X-Box, PS5 and Nintendo Switch.
Click here to buy it.