(Deeper thought than anyone should give the classic arcade game follows below. Enjoy.)
In H.G. Wells' 1895 classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, he warns us about playing God. The mad doctor creates animal/human hybrids that come back to take revenge on Moreau. This story obviously spoke to society on several levels: imperialism; modifying perfected forms; humans' animal-like tendencies. And much in the same way, BurgerTime acts as an allegory for the sociological struggles of the modern man. Really.
Thirty-one years ago, Atari's classic video game BurgerTime came to homes across America. BurgerTime, if you don't know, is a challenging game where you, master chef Peter Pepper, must assemble burgers despite being attacked by the very food you are assembling; a perfect blend of action and self-awareness.
The goal of the game was to walk across the different burger parts and have them stack up while simultaneously avoiding Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle and Mr. Egg. Since this was a pre-foodie generation, one must remember that this was a time before celebrity chefs started putting every food item known to man on a burger.
BurgerTime, like Dr. Moreau, Dante's Inferno, Homer's Odyssey or any other classic tale, is a true hero's journey displaying the internal conflict between good and evil as a matter of perspective.
While it's certainly a tale of moral conflict about the modernized food industry, it's even more so an allegory for the sociological and financial consequences of the common American during the Reagan administration: eat or be eaten.
Behind the facade of a children's game, there's much more going on. Peter Pepper, an everyday businessman who's trying to run his small burger joint, begins to feel conflicted about his choice of occupation. In order to eat he must butcher animals to serve to other humans to earn money to buy food made from other butchered animals. This vicious cycle of money and meat begins to close in on Pepper and manifests itself through three hallucinations: Misters Hot Dog, Pickle and Egg.
Mr. Egg, a representation of his wife, children and sexual livelihood, chases Pepper though he can never fight back. The fragile family unit will crack and fall apart if not properly cared for. So Pepper toils away in his kitchen against his better judgment.
Mr. Hot Dog is an obvious metaphor for his manhood. What makes a man? Money? Dominion over animals? Anatomic structure? The moment Mr. Hot Dog catches up with Pepper is the moment his psyche breaks, unable to cope with the phallic nightmare.
Mr. Pickle... is also a metaphor for his penis.
So Pepper keeps on running. Making burger after burger until the cock-laden visions of burgers past catch up with him — or — he reaches some unachievable victory he's never seen; a Shangri-La of denial.
What Pepper and game-players alike don't see is the ultimate goal: confront your demons. By using the scientific method of Occam’s razor (the simplest answer is often the best until further explanation can be applied), one can deduce that the most appropriate way to play the game is to: a) put quarters into the machine and b) run directly into the closest hot dog, pickle or egg. The hours of toiling over burger-making can easily be avoided by applying this method.
With every game of BurgerTime now a victory, Pepper can now focus on the more important things in life like LoveTime, HappinessTime and FamilyTime.
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