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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The Joy of Movement: A Dance Between Player & Machine in ‘ABZÛ’


When Thatgamecompany released Journey back in 2012, it created a massive shift within the gaming industry. It was an unforgettable adventure with fantastic storytelling, a stunning art style, and a powerful soundtrack. It took the player through various ancient caverns, crumbling cities, dangerous underground lairs, and managed to create a constant sense of wonder. Two of Journey’s key creators — art director Matt Nava and musician Austin Wintory — have gone on to create a new game, leaving Journey’s dry deserts and delving deep into the cool waters of ABZÛ.

In ABZÛ, you play as a diver who is exploring the beautiful and vibrant depths of the ocean. As she dives deeper, certain areas are mysteriously decaying, and she helps to restore them back to their natural beauty. Journey and ABZÛ share many of the same concepts and characteristics, such as environmental storytelling and uncovering the secrets of an ancient civilization.

In other video games, movement isn’t exactly a notable highlight. It gets you from A to B — from one story point to the next. But in Journey and ABZÛ, playful movement is a critical part of the game’s design. It’s fun to majestically glide through the air in Journey or gracefully twist and turn in ABZÛ. A vital part of what makes both games particularly unique is their ability to create joy in avatar movement.

Taking a closer look at ABZÛ, we can examine how the game places emphasis upon the concept of movement — using it as a basis to combine the player and avatar into one ‘virtual body,’ and how that body connects to the reactive underwater world.

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Walking as a Process of Healing in ‘Lieve Oma’

"Perhaps we're the first of the season to come mushrooming here?"
“Perhaps we’re the first of the season to come mushrooming here?”

Some of the most memorable and meaningful moments in video games have involved being alone in beautiful landscapes. Getting completely lost in the Canadian wilderness of The Long Dark, wandering through the pixelated meadows of Proteus or the ancient, forgotten deserts of Journeythey all surround the player with beautiful virtual worlds and relaxing places where you can be left alone with your thoughts. Discovering and exploring these worlds is a quiet and meaningful process, but can be somewhat isolating.

Occasionally, it’s good to walk with company, and Florian Veltman’s pocket-sized game Lieve Oma celebrates the idea of walking as a shared experience. The game acknowledges how walking with someone special can be meaningful, and that there is sometimes more said in silence than with dialogue.

Lieve Oma is a short narrative game where you play as a child who has reluctantly agreed to go mushroom-picking in the forest with her Grandma. As you both stroll through the autumn woodland, it’s hinted that the young girl has something troubling her. With patience and kind words, Grandma gets the young girl to open up and talk about her personal troubles. It’s a sweet and thoughtful game that understands the therapeutic process of momentarily escaping life and civilization while forgetting your worries to just walk through nature. Grandma definitely knows best.

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A New Kind of Interactivity: Critical & Historical Evaluation in ‘The Beginner’s Guide’

The Beginner's Guide

The Beginner’s Guide is a first-person interactive game where the player is taken through a collection of abstract games created by a game developer called Coda. Whilst exploring these small reflexive games, the player is accompanied by commentary from Davey Wreden, who acts as a guide. Wreden has openly expressed a desire for players to interpret The Beginner’s Guide as they like, and this has caused some commotion about whether it is fiction or non-fiction.

The number of interpretations that The Beginner’s Guide has encouraged has been phenomenal; interpretation upon interpretation, suspicions of a possible unreliable narrator. So many questions, yet the main one is who or what exactly is Coda? These questions have been exhausted enough, so moving in a different direction, I would like to focus on the way in which the game was constructed. I found Wreden’s commentary and critical evaluation particularly unique. He was both a storyteller and a historian.

It was so interesting to play through Coda’s work and to see the evolution of his ideas and concepts. Honestly, without some sort of interpretation from Wreden, I would have missed a lot of details and not known where to begin in terms of interpreting Coda’s deeply thoughtful games. I found that Wreden’s narration was similar to one of a historian guiding the player through the game, explaining the influences behind each mechanic, choice, and player movement.

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Being Human: Identity & Inclusivity in ‘Read Only Memories’

"Millions of people jack into virtual worlds every day to work, play, and connect with one another with advanced brain-to-machine technology."
“Millions of people jack into virtual worlds every day to work, play, and connect with one another with advanced brain-to-machine technology.”

Read Only Memories is a point-and-click adventure game about the future progress of technology and its impact on society. Developed by MidBoss, the group behind the gaming convention GaymerX, Read Only Memories was a project designed to include LGBTQIA+ characters within a compelling story. What makes Read Only Memories interesting is the depth of thoughtfulness that went into constructing the history of how technology has impacted the idea of humanness and identity.

Set in the year 2064, you play a broke journalist writing whatever comes your way so that you can pay the bills for your small, grubby apartment. During the night, an intruder breaks in and you wake up to find a cute blue robot named Turing who seeks your help to find his missing creator, a scientist named Hayden. As Hayden is an old friend of yours and you are somewhat desperate for a scoop, you decide to help. You explore the vibrant world of Neo-San Francisco looking for clues, solving puzzles, and speaking to other characters.

As it is almost fifty years into the future, there have been some major technological developments. Advancements in computers and machines have made robots called ROMs (Relationship and Organizational Manager) a common occurrence, used as both tools and companions. Artificial intelligence research is on the brink of making ROMs sapient beings, and Turing is the first fully sapient machine intelligence. Medical research combined with these technologies has given people access to body adaptations through cybernetic prosthesis and gene therapy, which makes them look like a fusion of flesh and machine.

Coupled with detective work, shady corporations, and mysterious happenings, Read Only Memories is a crossover of cyber-punk and neo-noir presented in vivid pixel graphics and a bubblegum-esque color palette.

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