Planting the Seed: Patience & Nurture in Virtual Gardening

I love gardening in video games. Planting the seeds, watering them, watching out for that first little sprout and then seeing it grow. The themes and ideas behind gardening can add so much more depth to a narrative or, in the case of video games, meaning within the player. In the book Gardening – Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom, Dan O’Brien explains:

“Gardening is not just a pleasant thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, or a way to reduce one’s supermarket bill — gardening is a human activity that engages with core philosophical questions concerning, among other things, human well-being, wisdom, the nature of time, political power and ideals, home, aesthetic experience, metaphysics, and religion.”

Even though gardening is used very rarely as a game mechanic, I’ve found it to be a relaxing and reflective process. Video games have the potential to conjure up vast and unique emotions within a player, and I think the ambient and thoughtful process of gardening makes its own contribution toward this. Some might consider relaxing activities mundane, but there is much to learn from these slow, meaningful styles of play. So, what influence does the act of virtual gardening have on the player?​

When gardening, there is one quality that is of the utmost importance: patience. Waiting for something to grow and bloom after nurturing it for days (or weeks) is a slow and diligent process. To expect immediate gratification is to miss the point of gardening. The want for a quick reward comes from a place of consumption instead of care. It definitely sounds odd talking about patience in relation to gameplay, but gardening games do rely on the patience of the player.

A majority of video games have a constant feedback loop — this action and re-action tends to happen quickly so that the game stays interesting and keeps the player’s attention. Using first-person shooters as an example, running around, shooting enemies, dodging, etc. can all contribute toward keeping the player captivated. They are attuned to the game’s high-intensity gameplay. Although this is most obvious during exciting and intense sequences, I think that this idea can also be applied to relaxing and ambient play.

In relaxing play, the action and re-action loop is slowed down, and the rhythms of the game and the player are set at a sedate pace. It is in these moments that a great deal of emotion and meaning can grow. Walking through a beautiful landscape, pausing to listen to music, or taking the time to nurture and care for plants all hold quiet and humble experiences. It’s the act of humility and care that improves both the garden and the gardener.

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You’ve Got the Love: 6 Upcoming Games From #EGX2017

Last week, I spent Friday and Saturday at EGX. It’s the biggest games event of the year in the UK with blockbuster publishers such as Ubisoft, Square Enix, SEGA, and more set up alongside the varied and exciting indie contenders. Live national eSports tournaments are broadcast and talented cosplayers enjoy the spotlight all crammed into Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC). I came, I saw, and I played some really excellent games from odd gems to triple-A giants. Here are six of my favorite upcoming releases from the festival. I hope you find something that catches your eye, too!

Etherborn

What’s it like? A mind and gravity bending puzzle platformer that offers challenging and rewarding gameplay, supplemented by a meditative soundtrack.

Etherborn is not only gorgeous to play, but watching it over someone’s shoulder is similarly captivating as the glowing figure traverses low-poly ethereal environments. At the beginning, there is a bit of trial and error to understand where gravity lies, but as the puzzles become increasingly intricate, it’s a quietly gratifying experience. It’s never punishing – in fact, I really appreciated the beam of light underneath the character, as it shows where you’ll land and enables you to quickly rectify a mistake. Spinning the cubic levels around really showcases every angle of Altered Matter’s achievements, and it’s like the player enjoys an integrated photo mode as a tourist to these dreamy worlds.

Fans of Monument Valley, Proteus, and Portal will feel absolutely at home in Etherborn.

When’s it out? 2018.

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Researchers Talk the Exciting Rise of Queer Representation in Games

Hey, folks! This is Jess Zammit and Alayna Cole (who has written for FemHype before) from Queerly Represent Me, and we’re excited to share some new projects with you! 

If you haven’t heard about Queerly Represent Me, we’re a research organization focused on exploring representations of sexuality and gender in games, and supporting queer folks who love to play games or who work in the games industry. We create resources and speak at conferences about queer representation, and provide links to all sorts of wider reading that cover a wide range of topics.

We also maintain a database of games that feature queer characters and themes. It currently includes over 800 games, and we’re adding more all the time (with the help of our readers who provide tips about what games we’re missing).

Researching awesome queer content has inspired us to create more ways of connecting with our wonderful community — people like you! If you’d indulge us, we’d love to share some of the games we’ve had the joy of researching, the ways they inspire us, and the new projects we’re working on.

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‘The Arcana’ Developers Cast a Spell Over Fans & We’re So Here for It

When it comes to mainstream gaming, being late to the party is not usually considered a badge of pride. Although attitudes are thankfully shifting, it can sometimes feel as though the flurry of initial engagement has waned for players who discovered an older title too late. Reviews, livestreams, Easter eggs, entire walkthroughs of each and every ending — they’re published with such immediacy that the impact of all this content can bleed into the expectations for a game way before the player has even reached for a controller.

By contrast, The Arcana welcomes latecomers with a gripping episodic storyline, enchanting setting, and gloriously enthusiastic community of fans. And that fandom is still going strong for one very important reason.

The development company is Nix Hydra, which is based in L.A. and founded by women. They are committed to “making magical, colorful, bold products for young women and anyone else traditionally ignored by the gaming industry,” as per their Kickstarter. One of the team’s latest ventures is The Arcana, which is an otome-inspired visual novel for iOS and Android that flirts with a sinister mystery beneath its rich illustrations.

The player character is an adept magical apprentice, honing their natural gifts in fortune-telling. The wandering, secretive Asra is your mentor, and while packing up to leave on another mysterious journey, he entrusts his prized tarot deck to you. Whether you challenge Asra’s repeated disappearances or defer to his judgement, he becomes dreamy and melancholy, tangled up in thoughts of words he should have said.

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Robots Don’t Interact: Why Humans & AI Will Never Understand Each Other

Lindsey is the co-founder of F-BOM.com, a science fiction, fantasy, and feminist book club. Every quarter, F-BOM hand-picks a talented, self-published author and distributes a special edition of her book to club members. F-BOM is more than just a book club — for as little as $5 a month, members will be actively investing in the future of women in science fiction and fantasy.

Artificial Intelligence has long been a mainstay fixture in the science fiction genre. Indeed, AI as a plot device can carry an entire movie or television show and keep us riveted to the screen. The cultural significance of AI in entertainment increases as we grow ever more tantalizingly close to achieving human-like artificial intelligence in real life. As early as a month ago, Snopes investigated the slightly exaggerated claim that Facebook would be shutting down their AI. This was allegedly due to the fact that AI were creating their own incoherent language to more efficiently talk to one another.

It makes sense that human language (especially English) would not be efficient enough for a robot’s taste. Let’s look at some examples of AI that struggle with human communication — and vice versa.

GLaDOS, Portal

This game is a great example of how grammar and vocabulary are not the only thing necessary to communicate. The star robot of the popular Portal series is GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence that has made it her life goal to test humans under inhumane conditions. It’s a fantastic example of misunderstanding human culture.

Not only that, but the laughable (yet paradoxically much-loved in fandom) companion cube is clearly intended to help the human player bond to something. Of course, it’s only a grey metal cube painted with hearts. This makes it difficult to anthropomorphize the cube to form even the smallest attachment, yet GLaDOS is oblivious to this failure. One of her other hilarious incentives for the player is that “you will get cake” at the end of every level. Spoiler: there is never any cake.

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Stand By Me: Love & Vulnerability in ‘Final Fantasy XV’

Final Fantasy XV centers around love between men. If you’ve played the game, this is not a contentious statement.

It’s been almost a year since the release of the latest installment in the Final Fantasy franchise, and after playing it, I would argue it’s one of the most emotionally nuanced stories in the series’ history. The game follows Noctis Lucis Caelum, a prince of the kingdom of Lucis, as he undertakes a road trip with his closest friends. His goal to wed his fiancée, Oracle Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, is dashed when the expansionist empire of Niflheim invades the capital city of Lucis. Noctis’ journey refocuses on harnessing the power of Lucis’ old rulers to free the land of Niflheim’s corrupting influence.

FFXV continues the series’ legacy of exploring themes of vulnerability, loss, and intimate relationships among its title characters. While there are women in the game, they feature less prominently than the “chocobros,” and struggle with their own host of problematic representation.

Oracle Lunafreya, Noctis’ promised, takes the role of white mage and, while self-sacrificing, is effective at rallying the gods to save the world until she ends up conveniently dead halfway through the story. Iris Amicitia, sister of the burly Gladiolus, is a cutesy tagalong, but it’s only mentioned in passing that she grows up to be a famous monster hunter.

Aranea Highwind is the sarcastic, jaded mercenary and powerful warrior (that boob armor tho) while celestial servant Gentiana is an enigmatic, helpful spirit, but also a giant, dead, half-naked goddess who’s not actually dead. Pure Final Fantasy. There’s also the expert mechanic yet highly sexualized Cindy Sophiar (don’t even get me started). Characters often comment about how she’s married to her work, which is a slight improvement.

The main focus of FFXV is — for better or worse — on the relationships between Noctis and his three friends; the beefy bodyguard Gladiolus Amicitia, his tactical advisor and perennial mother Ignis Scientia, and his best friend and gun-toting precious little cinnamon bun Prompto Argentum.

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