For video-gamers who want a gentler digital New York than the version found in Grand Theft Auto IV, there’s the virtual Coney Island of Major League Eating for Nintendo’s Wii. It’s less operatically violent but probably more stomach-churning, starring cartoonish, somewhat slimmed-down renderings of eleven top-ranked real-life competitors—including two New Yorkers, Tim “Eater X” Janus, 31, a handsome stock trader who wears face paint while competing, and Crazy Legs Conti, 37, a dreadlocked charmer who works at the Penthouse Executive Club. They’re also roommates in the East Village. They like the game, but they don’t own a Wii. “Our female roommate only lets us talk about competitive eating in the kitchen,” Crazy Legs says. Playing the game would be too much.
“Our goal was to make a game that used the Wii controller in a new way,” says Bill Swartz, whose company makes the game. The basics of play are oddly intuitive: You use the wireless Wii controller, which has a motion sensor inside, to simulate eating food for a set time period. There are “cram” foods, like hamburgers and burritos, for which you move the remote to and from your mouth; “toss” foods, like sushi and meatballs, which you “eat” by flicking your wrist upward; and “typewriter” foods, like watermelon and corn on the cob, which require you to move the remote across your mouth. And you need to do it without a “reversal of fortune”: vomiting. In real competitions, “Joey Chestnut”—the top hot-dog eater—“pokes and prods himself, trying to figure out where all the food will fit,” says Crazy Legs. The game has a “jiggle” function when their virtual stomachs fill up. Players must also press a “chew” button, and you can antagonize queasy opponents with burps and jalapeño flames.
The players were paid for their likenesses but got no right of approval. “I’ve never been too concerned about my appearance,” Crazy Legs says, but “my avatar seems to have a bit of a paunch.”