News travels fast on Twitter. Especially when it comes to brands — companies’ social media personalities are expected to weigh in on everything, even when the topic at hand has nothing to do with their product, which is how frozen beef sheet company Steak-umms began to trend this week for their statements on data analysis. So when Cooking Mama: Cookstar disappeared from the Nintendo Switch eShop only hours after its release, the absence of an official explanation stood out. Fans, who were looking forward to the newest installment in the beloved cooking game series, immediately began to theorize what had gone wrong, and a telephone-like game of rumors and buzzwords led to Cooking Mama trending this past Sunday under the category “Cryptocurrencies.”
How did we get here? Back in 2019, a press release for the new game — then titled Cooking Mama: Coming Home to Mama — claimed it would be the first title “to integrate blockchain technology on major consoles.” The press release went on to talk about proof of ownership, player privacy and in-game currency — all large, complicated topics that seemingly have little to do with a nostalgic Nintendo cooking game. IGN’s report on the game’s abrupt disappearance mentioned this odd press release, and combined with unproven rumors on Twitter claiming that the few copies of the game that were sold before the recall would overheat and fry the player’s device, players started to weave stories: The game must actually be a front for a Bitcoin-mining operation, the company responsible for it is just a front for a shadier business, this is a Koch brothers scheme to destroy Nintendo Switches and steal player information.
None of this turned out to be true, but someone on Twitter posted a screenshot of a Discord message labelled URGENT, and this Tweet was the top result when clicking on the Cooking Mama trend for a long while on Sunday. Who’s to argue with a Discord screenshot using an @Everyone tag? IGN’s official report mentioned the blockchain press release, a confusing series of corporation name changes and a reference to “Koch Media” (which is not actually affiliated with the American Koch family), so even a good-faith search into credible sources seemed to back up the claims. So what if stories of “bricked” switches and nefarious Cooking Mama-based cryptocurrencies were only hearsay? It made for a good story.
Even taking all of the cryptocurrency stuff with a healthy pinch of digital salt, the official promotional material seemed too surreal to be true. The actual game doesn’t mine bitcoin, but it does allow the player to make a “unicorn” grilled cheese sandwich, complete with rainbow-dyed cheeses and encourages the player to take pictures of their creations and become “insta-famous.” Mama’s voice lines include awful attempts at “modern” phrases like “pics or it didn’t happen!” and “flex for the gram!” When I first saw the official trailer advertise that the game offered recipes from “Apps to Zerts and even Unicorn food,” my brain slowed down like an overclocked Switch trying to remember if I’d ever heard another living person use the word “zerts” to mean “desserts” before.
The list goes on: A few of the game’s files appear to be ripped directly from Youtube. Last year, PETA gave the game an award for its plans to include a vegetarian-friendly menu. Every new headline sounds like a player answer from a Jackbox game. As it turns out, the game’s disappearance is the least interesting thing about it: The Cooking Mama IP holder, Office Create, asked Nintendo to remove it over a copyright dispute. The bizarre statement about blockchains and investors from 2019 was just an overzealous businessperson discussing hypotheticals that were never intended for use in the game at all. There is still some drama to be found in the whole debacle, though. The game’s publisher, Planet Entertainment, apparently created a game that was below Office Create’s standards, and released the game without their permission. Cooking Mama: Cookstar turned out to be not a soulless ploy from Wall Street to trick gamers into generating crypto-revenue, but instead a subpar game trying to hop on 2010s trends like Instagram, Unicorn food and, I guess, “zerts.”
I admit I’m a little disappointed at how the game seemed to have turned out (as of right now, the game is still unobtainable, so I can only experience it through videos players have posted to Youtube). I was hoping Cooking Mama’s Switch incarnation would lead to her inclusion in the next wave of DLC fighters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. But instead, Cooking Mama: Cookstar’s legacy was not a fighting game cameo, but a mediocre game and a great story to keep me sane through a few days of quarantine and learning-from-home. Stories like this are rare because usually companies’ social media presences are quick to set records straight. The Cooking Mama: Cookstar Twitter page, which I can only assume is official despite its lack of verification, didn’t make a statement denying the presence of crypto technology until two days after IGN mentioned the blockchaining press release in its report.
“Cooking Mama: Cookstar was deleted for secretly being a Bitcoin-mining operation” doesn’t sound like a rumor that would exist for very long when the company could have explained their decisions in a single tweet. It sounds like an early 2000s creepypasta, or urban legend designed to entertain kids online. The complete lack of official information on the topic for so long allowed players to excitedly whisper like kids on a playground arguing whether the makers of Pokémon Red programmed the music in Lavender Town with cursed murder frequencies or claiming that you can get villagers to move out of your town in Animal Crossing by hitting them with nets and writing them mean letters. I half-expected someone to say that in their copy of the game, Cooking Mama’s eyes turned black and she started speaking backwards.
Misinformation in most cases can be catastrophic — just this year, so many people in positions of power denied the severity of the current crisis we find ourselves in, leading to more people getting infected and the situation worsening. Steak-umms had to go on Twitter explaining the importance of scientific data. But rumors can also be fun — clicking every new tweet as it appeared, getting the story piece by piece and sharing links with friends in Discord servers and group chats gave me something sensational to think about instead of quarantine.
At least, it’s one way I’ve found to distract myself. Right now, I’ve got to get back to playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons on my Nintendo Switch.
Olivia Bono is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. On the Level runs alternate Tuesdays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.