“Try to imagine a house that’s not a home, try to imagine a Christmas all alone, that’s where I’ll be, since you left me, my tears could melt the snow” – Mud
Hot Pot for One is a 2021 GSA BAFTA Student Awards finalist created by Rachel Li and Qin Yin while enrolled in a class taught by Bennet Foddy at New York University (NYU). It is a festive life simulation about being alone at Christmas and, as the title suggests, making a hot pot.
In Hot Pot For One, the player takes on the role of an NYU student whose family are in another country and whose friends have returned home for the holidays. The regular group for hot pot night is already diminished but after ordering the usual amount of food the remaining guests reveal that they also cannot make it to the Christmas Eve dinner!
The narrative explores the idea of spending Christmas alone and whilst the protagonist’s initial reaction is of sadness and anger they decide to make the best of a bad situation and try to enjoy cooking and eating the food giving the negative situation a positive perspective. This is further enhanced by the happy memories that are unlocked through the gameplay.
The quantity of leftover food caused by the overordering (I put 169 items in the bin) conjured thoughts about the amount of excess and waste that typically occurs during the holidays, which could have added an extra layer of poignancy to the experience. However, this was glossed over in the game, as it does not discuss the waste as a negative and the styling around it is fairly upbeat making it doubtful that the developers intended to make any such point.
The first tasks of Hot Pot For One are ordering the food and messaging the guests to discover they’re cancelling. The supplies arrive nonetheless and the player must turn on the hob to heat a spicy broth in which everything else will be cooked. Items are dropped into the pan and after a short time pop to the surface ready to eat. Consuming a food item will evoke a memory of loved ones depicted by simple drawings. Additional memories can be triggered by interacting with a small number of other items in the environment such as a pair of shoes. There are 26 memories in total and it will likely take more than one playthrough to see them all.
The game utilises mouse-only controls and movement is limited to rotation, players cannot leave a fixed spot or explore the small environment. This is adequate for the type of game Hot Pot for One is but still felt a bit unusual at first. The majority of the gameplay takes part on a kitchen table upon which any essential items will appear.
The process of selecting food, dragging it to the pot, waiting before eating it and discovering a new memory is very relaxing. There are no timers or demands and players can gorge at whatever pace they wish. That being said, the protagonist is no competitive eater – I cooked 27 beef meatballs only to find myself too full to eat after fifteen pieces of food.
Hot Pot For One mixes its main 3D art style with the charming mash-up of photos and simply-drawn stick figures that depict the memories. Overall the aesthetic is straightforward but vibrant with hints of uniqueness. It seems there are a lot of stock assets and models being used, this is not inherently bad, especially not for a student project but is possibly one of the reasons behind a rather trivial but somewhat immersion breaking aspect of the visuals. The main surface on which most of the gameplay takes place is a table placed horizontally between a set of kitchen drawers and a cupboard, rendering them both unusable. Whilst this seems like an insignificant thing, it seems unlikely that many in the real world would choose to position their furniture like this and I personally found it a bit of a jarring oversight for such a prominent area of the small playable environment. Having said that, I have zero experience of New York apartments outside of watching Friends.
There are some nice ambient sound effects throughout the game, these include the weather outside, cars on the road, and the hot pot bubbling. Festive sounding lo-fi music also adds to the relaxing nature of the experience and emphasises the positivity the game tries to evoke.
Hot Pot For One is an endearing and thought-provoking little experience that is playable in under 30 minutes. Its slow pace and simple tasks make for a relaxing and almost meditative experience despite the overarching narrative being quite sad on the surface. Whilst this is definitely not a typically jolly Christmas game, the positive attitude of the protagonist is refreshing and helps the game to feel upbeat overall and certainly worth its low price.
For more festive gaming take a look at:
Five Festive PC Games to Play this Christmas – Brand New Festive Finds: Happy Holiday Calendar – Help Santa Deliver his Presents in Christmas Eve Crisis!