Gardening Talk

Let's Talk About Gardening

Virtual Gardening

To many gardeners, the idea that gardening can be turned into an exciting computer game is very hard to believe. But there are several successful game franchises that feature gardening as a core component of the game experience. Everything from seed collecting, plant selection taking into consideration the climate zone and season, to weeding and watering. If landscape design is more your thing, other games let you recreate your own garden or build a replica of famous garden.

Animal Crossing (Nintendo GameCube and DS)

Animal Crossing is similar in concept to “The Sims“, but targetted at children. The basic premise is that you have just moved to this new town, and you need to earn money to pay off your house, buy furniture to decorate it, and eventually extend your house.

Gardening plays a key role in the process. Your character can buy seed to plant a flower garden. Fruit can be collected and sold to the local shopkeeper. Fruit can also be planted to eventually form an orchard or plantation, vastly increasing your access to the more valuable varieties. The climate in your town changes from colder in the north (suitable for apples) to tropical in the south (suitable for coconuts), with intermediate zones for other fruits.

In the GameCube version, there is a special market every Sunday where turnips can be purchased. Each day throughout the week the local shopkeeper will quote a price at which he will purchase turnips. By taking care to buy low and sell high, you can make your fortune in trading turnips.

And finally, there are the weeds. Every day more weeds. If you leave the weeding for too long, your town becomes overgrown with weeds and some of the residents will leave.

The DS version allows you to connect with other friends across the internet, allowing you to visit their towns, helping to maintain the child’s interest in the game. The Nintendo “Friend Code” system keeps this process quite safe for the children, allowing communication only with other DS owners you have exchanged codes with beforehand.

Although gardening related activities form a large part of the game experience, the gardening concepts are not very deep. Plant today, harvest next week.

Strong points:

  • Long-lasting gameplay. Unique in-game events, festivals and activities occur on specific days of the year, and/or times of day. So even if you play it every day for a year, new things will happen that you have not seen before.
  • Emphasis on feng-shui decorating principles, as well as collecting (bugs, fish, fossils, furniture), that appeals to girls in particular.

Viva Piñata (XBox 360)

In Viva Pinata you cultivate and manage a garden in order to create an environment that will attract the cute and colourful piñatas. You act as the gardener, tilling the fields, watering the plants and managing every aspect of the transformation of your lifeless plot of land into a thriving ecosystem.

As you cultivate your garden you will learn a multitude of strategies to enhance your garden and the piñatas. Sowing grass, digging ponds, planting flowers and growing trees all affect which of the unique piñatas you will see. Certain types of fertilizer will allow you to cultivate apple trees with more branches and larger fruit, fetching a better price at the local store. Certain flowers and fruit will also encourage the evolution of the Piñatas into new species.

Strong points:

  • A feast for the eyes. The graphics are incredible, and quite uplifiting.
  • Detailed environmental model, allowing for quite a deep gardening experience.

Notes for parents:

  • Involves the concepts of breeding and evolution.
  • The Piñatas vomit if force fed food they don’t like.
  • Items (including bad Piñatas) can be shared over XBox Live, but you can’t actually visit another player’s garden.

Harvest Moon (Nintendo GameCube, DS, Sony PS2 and many older systems)

Harvest Moon is a farming simulation. You raise your own cows, sheep, chickens and ducks, and plant and grow a variety of crops and trees.

Seeds are planted to grow fruits and vegetables in the spring, summer, and autumn. During winter when the crops do not grow, time is spent collecting items, making home improvements, and building personal relationships. To succeed, the player must weigh the cost, selling price, number of harvests, and growth times of the various types of produce in order to pick the best product for each of the seasons.

Growing crops and produce is a central part of the game. The player must find optimal planting, watering, and harvesting patterns. Finding the most profitable plants, clearing space for planting, and harvesting the crops before winter rolls around are key to gaining money. Some crops, such as turnips and onions, only grow once, while other crops, such as corn and sweet potatoes, can be harvested several times, until the season ends.

Notes for parents:

  • Gameplay involves finding a suitable wife, getting married and having a child (a boy in most versions).
  • Raising livestock involves animal husbandry.

Maggie the Gardener

A new game for PC & Mac is Maggie the Gardener 2. It is a casual game focused on the landscaping of an attractive flower or formal garden. As well as in-game garden judging, users can submit their garden designs to the on-line garden gallery.

Do you know of other games featuring gardening, or do you or your children play these games? Tell us about your experiences…