recently was shown this blog by daf on the iwg discord.

oversimplifying and removing a lot of context, but the bit im interested in is a comparison between 'exploration games' and 'gardening games', where exploration games focus on expansion into and exploitation of a potentially endless world, and gardening games are instead about intentional development of a small, fixed space. the piece takes a sort of generalized position that gardening games are about enriching while exploration games are about depleting.

im also currently reading 'the dawn of everything' by davids graeber and wengrow, which confronts our culture's false dichotomy between farming and foraging societies, instead presenting an understanding of foraging that relies on the intentional cultivation of semi-wild spaces. they discuss, for instance, historical societies which might normally be classified as foragers, but which sowed seeds in seasonal floodplains, essentially letting nature till and replenish the soil for them. these societies would leave these spaces to grow naturally in the wake of their cultivation, and then return to harvest whatever grew. is this gardening?

exploration games often do focus on the frontier, at least in marketing. but actually many open world games already feature this kind of metaphorical gardening in one direction: the world replenishes itself and the player can return to harvest a small amount of some resource. usually non-literal 'farming' in a game involves interacting with some kind of system like this. clearing out hostile camps to harvest experience, then having to wait to return later for the hostiles to replenish.

'gardening games' as a concept can inform games which feature a large, semi-wild space.

personally i believe we should be skeptical or even hostile to the highly controlled garden as an ideal model for long term cultivation of a space. better to embrace a living wildland which interacts with intentional cultivation.

an interesting place for thought might be, how can we structure gameplay systems so that players can (or must) act intentionally on the environment to cultivate desirable future conditions?

March 20, 2022