Atari Poop – Cookie Monster Munch
Released in 1983 and developed by Atari and Children’s Computer Workshop, Cookie Monster Munch is an adult game disguised as a children’s game. Now, I don’t mean “adult” in the sense that it’s not suitable for children here. The game is still an educational one, but the developers knew parents weren’t going to buy an educational game for themselves; however, since parents were exactly the kind of people they wanted to see buying the game, it was marketed for children instead. Let me explain…
On the surface, Cookie Monster Munch is a very simple game. You control Cookie Monster and navigate him through what I’m assuming is supposed to be a collection of the world’s simplest “mazes” to gather cookies and bring them back to the cookie jar. Once all the cookies in the level have been found, Alistair Cookie Monster, Esq. will then eat the cookies. The mazes change with every level and a another cookie is added. That’s it for the basic mode, though there are others with slightly more complex mazes, as well as a timer. Still, the game is super easy no matter what setting you use, so it’s easy to mistake it for a kids’ game.
So, how is this not a children’s game? Well, because it’s pretty much one of the first psychological horror games ever made (one year after Pac Man) and the first, and quite possibly only, child-rearing sim. The game is meant to show the parent of a young child or even future parents exactly what it’s like to have children. The effect was so chilling, Canadian and American birth rates have yet to recover.
First off, Cookie Monster’s movement is terribly clunky and slow. It’s awful. He also seems to take forever to stop moving, though it’s really only half a second or so after you let go of the button. Well, guess what folks, that is exactly how a toddler moves and it can be just as infuriating. Toddlers move around so clumsily, it borders on the ridiculous. Honestly, I’ve seen my son, one and a half at the time, walk directly into a wall right in front of him… while he was looking at it. It’s like his brain didn’t have enough time to register that an obstacle was in front of him and then tell his legs to stop. This is one of the many reasons why parents are constantly screaming “No!” or “Ah!” at their children. Not coincidentally, the sound you hear when walking into a wall in this game is the closest the 2600 can come to making an “Ah!” sound.
Continuing with the poor movement theme, Mister Monster is also terrible at picking things up, like those damn cookies. Still, have you ever seen a one year old kid try to pick something up off the floor? They’re TERRIBLE at it! Oh, and you better hope you aren’t in a hurry to go somewhere or do something when your kid insists on not only bringing a particular toy, but also picking it up themselves (often getting super pissed if you try to help them). You just have to stand there, impatiently waiting for them to master the art of walking up to a thing and picking up the thing. They’ll stand too far, move forward too much, try to reach back between their legs, fall down, take an eternity to get back up, and try again. This is what it looks like that idiot monster is trying to do while you play this game. Sadly, unlike your children, you can’t hit Cookie Monster when he infuriates you with this shit.
Still want kids? Just wait. Once Cookie Monster has collected and deposited all the cookies into the jar with the skill and expertise of a person having epileptic seizures (hey, I’m allowed. My wife has epilepsy and makes worse jokes about it all the time), you get to see, thanks to a cut scene, a close-up of his face eating the cookies and the effect it has on him. It is one of the most harrowing video game scenes I have ever experienced. If it has no effect on you, you must not have children. I have seen my oldest soon eat a cookie and just be overcome with a kind of sugar-induced madness in a matter of seconds, so I can say that this video game absolutely does not exaggerate anything here.
Finally, you know that little annoying song that plays constantly in this game? It’s nowhere near as irritating as those insipid children’s songs your child will insist on listening to for hours, and hours, and hours, and hours…
Honestly, the only way this game could do a better job of showing what it’s like to have kids is if it also woke you up every hour at night for two years. Sadly, the 2600 just didn’t have the hardware for that function, but I think the 7800 did. So if any of you out there are thinking about having children soon or at any point in your life, do yourselves a favour and play this game.