The Role of Ice Cream Vans in Gaming
Posted at 09:00 on 23rd March 2009 - permalink

An Ice Cream Van (or Ice Cream Truck in American English) is a mobile ice cream parlour, typically painted with gaudy images of frozen treats and/or unlicensed Disney characters. Ice cream vans are driven around residential areas to dispense ice cream cornets, lollies and cans of fizzy pop. I’m sure we all have fond childhood memories of pestering our parents for money on hearing those familiar chimes, and being told that the music means that they’ve run out of ice cream. Right?

Games developers have long realised the comedic potential of these preposterously decorated vehicles and have frequently included them in the rosters of driving and racing games over the years. Nothing unusual in that you might think. But a few years ago games researchers noticed a curious phenomenon: games containing ice cream vans consistently recieved more favourable review scores than their ICV-less peers.

The following case studies show the “Ice Cream Van Theory” in action. Note that there are many more that we could have picked (including Micro Machines V3, Twisted Metal, Test Drive: Le Mans, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Interstate ’76 Nitro Riders and Carmageddon 64), but some of them aren’t very good.

Grand Theft Auto Vice City

While several of the GTA games have featured ice cream vans, they featured most prominently in Vice City, where it’s possible for the player to take control of an ice cream/illicit drug distribution business. The vans can be used to perform optional bonus missions (as with taxis, police cars, fire trucks and ambulances), activating the chimes to attract punters while looking out for the cops.

The House of The Dead: Overkill

Sega/Headstrong’s exploitation cinema themed light-gun shooter includes a minor running gag of having the protagonists’ cars being blown up. After this happens the second time, the duo steal an ice cream van from a funfair to continue the chase. A small role, but one that shows Headstrong are aware of this widely held industry superstition.

Toejam & Earl

One of the earliest recorded in-game sightings, the “Phantom” ice cream vans that inhabit Toejam & Earl’s surreal version of planet Earth are extremely malevolent, capable of materialising from thin air and flattening hapless players like a pancake.


There are no verified sightings of any ice cream vans (or futuristic spacefaring equivalents, or planets inhabited by sentient ice cream vans, or any other types of vans, or ice cream) in the space trading classic Elite. However, as nobody (as far as we know) can claim to have explored every nook and cranny of Elite’s eight galaxies, there could be one out there. This would explain why Elite has never been bettered in its genre.

So there you have it. Having exhausted World War II, Vietnam, zombies, and gratuitous use of the word “fuck” as surefire ways to draw in the punters, the time is now ripe for games publishers to jump aboard the frozen confectionary bandwagon. Codemasters are already rumoured to be following up GRID and FUEL™ with FLAKE™, Atari are planning A Cone in the Dark, Namco for their part offer Soul Calippo and this is now risking turning into a Listopia feature.

Inspired by this piffle.

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