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.