Playing video games is a personal experience. Sometimes it’s surprising just how personal it gets. The first time I booted up Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I was looking forward to the mind-boggling puzzles and a more fleshed-out version of the Princess Zelda character. I didn’t think that what I’d adore the most was the detailed cooking feature—or that it would help me see real-life food in a more positive light.
Content Warning: This story focuses on emetophobia and disordered eating.
I have emetophobia, which is the irrational fear of vomiting. It’s actually one of the most common types of phobias, and yet it’s hardly talked about, nor is there much research on it. From riding roller coasters to dealing with food poisoning, emetophobia can be debilitating. It can also alter eating habits, or cause a person to avoid riding buses and trains.
Me? I have a deep-rooted aversion to different types of food, as I’m afraid I’ll get sick from it. It affects what I eat, but also the way I eat. Whenever I order chicken, I’m afraid to eat it until I’ve checked it every which way to make sure it’s cooked enough. I never thought about food as something that would nourish me with energy and strength, but instead as a potential poison. I had dropped a significant amount of weight because of it. I just didn’t have the strength to do much of anything.
When I started playing Breath of the Wild, I found that Link dove into all kinds of food with gusto. From creamy flan to fried wild greens, I discovered a wide array of delectable dishes in the game. Not only does food restore Link’s health, but some things—like spicy hot peppers—help protect him from the cold. In order to be strong enough to swing his sword and scale mountains, the famously taciturn protagonist we all know and love needs to nourish himself with food. He can’t possibly save Hyrule on an empty stomach, now can he?
But food in Breath of the Wild is more than just a simple strategic tool that serves as a means to an end. Link truly relishes his meals. His positive relationship with food is what impacted me the most. After he devours a big meal, he pats his full belly and lets out a huge sigh. He’s the type of person that savors every single bite, which is what I love about him. It made me reevaluate my own relationship with food, as I desperately wanted to enjoy meals, too. Life isn’t enjoyable when you’ve got disordered eating habits.
For a while, I’d only eat shredded wheat cereal and plain bagels. In my mind, they were “safe” because they couldn’t spoil easily. That’s how I rationalized it. But there was nothing remotely pleasurable about the whole experience. I was just subsisting on the narrow spectrum of things that I believed wouldn’t make me sick. I always took the safe route no matter what. When my doctor warned me not to lose any more weight, I knew they were right. I was getting next to zero nutrients, I was exhausted all the time, and I had horrendous headaches on a weekly basis. Afraid to eat too much. Afraid to eat meat. Afraid to eat anything beyond what I considered safe. This was my reality.
Breath of the Wild gave me a sense of relief I didn’t even know I was seeking. I could explore the environment at my own pace and in whatever way I pleased. In fact, I found immense pleasure in searching the lush world for rare and interesting ingredients. While cutting down a patch of tall grass for some Hylian rice, I smiled as the gentle notes of a piano pinged away in perfect tandem with my swings. There’s a lot of love and careful consideration when gathering ingredients for a particular dish. Not only did I feel at ease, but I was also excited to throw a bunch of things in a cooking pot and create something new. I almost felt like a scientist in a way, experimenting with ingredients that normally don’t go together.
Link will even eat the inedible stuff. When I cooked a bunch of monster parts and ended up with a dish called “Dubious Food,” I couldn’t help but wonder if it’d make the Hylian hero ill. Because I was afraid to try anything that smelled off or tasted weird, it was important for me to see Link eat something bad. Aside from twisting up his face and letting out a groan, Link was more or less unaffected by the monstrous meal. He didn’t get sick. This really put things into perspective for me. Taking a bite or two of something bad or strange doesn’t mean I’ll automatically get sick.
On one momentous day, I started eating hamburgers again. For years I avoided eating them because I was convinced I’d be served spoiled meat. I used to love McDonald’s hamburgers as a kid, but I stopped eating them as I got older. When Breath of the Wild inspired me to have a more positive outlook on food, I decided to branch out and give hamburgers another try.
Although it was difficult to eat something I had previously deemed dangerous, I’m glad I stepped outside my comfort zone. Turns out I’m actually a big fan of the popular fast food chain Five Guys. It’s not fine cuisine or anything, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Although I still struggle with some odd eating habits, I’m not as anxious as I used to be. Nowadays, I have a lot more energy. I can go on long walks without feeling like I’m about to collapse. I’ve also gained about 15 pounds and I’ve never looked better. I connected with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in ways I never expected.
Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo is a professional writer and editor who loves science fiction novels, video games, and egg sandwiches. She has bylines on StarWars.com, The Nerdist, Geek & Sundry, and elsewhere.