At it’s height Farmville attracted 60 million players per month. This makes it the most played computer game in history, and not without good reason – I enjoyed playing it too. What continues to fascinate me beyond the appeal of the game itself is the worldview it presents regarding plants (and also domesticated animals) and food production in general. In order to appeal to such a wide range of players there have to be strict restrictions on how they treat issues such as death, disease and slaughter.

FarmVille creators Zynga explain how it works in a single slide

For example, horses are cultivated for the harvesting of their hair, when pigs are “100% ready” you get truffles. There is no death allowed anywhere, everyone is clearly vegetarian, there is never bad weather, crop failure or insect infestation. The game has come under some criticism for these and other issues. What I find interesting is that despite the restrictions on awkward issues, the logical conclusion of the way the game works leads to animals crammed in to the smallest area possible, and the winning strategy for plants is to create a vast monocultures of the most lucrative crop.

This clearly is “just a computer game” albeit one that 60 million people play regularly, but computer games can be used to create and explore worlds at the limits of our imagination – so what does it tell us if this is the way we need to portray the world for people to have fun? How does this happen? It the only way possible?

One aim for the Germination X project is to explore these questions.

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