Put the 9mm down, for crying out loud. Not every game is about shooting your enemies in the shin bones. Honestly. Give me that, here, take this trowel. Now, follow me, through this tranquil landscape of blooming daffodils and perfectly arranged stone paths covered in happy moss. Yes, that’s it, you want a turn around the garden. A bit of soil on your fingers. And there's more where this came from. Here you go, 8 peaceful gardens in which to calm your trigger-happy soul. Breathe it in, shooter. Breathe it in.
Everyone calls popular potato ‘em up Stardew Valley a farming sim, but it is also a vegetable patch fantasy, a placid petting zoo, a middle-class allotment sim. Arguably, the farmstead is at its most peaceful when you first arrive. Overgrown, bursting with trees, weeds and chaotic boulders. But a front yard without order is a forest, not a garden. Once you bring the tyranny of the shovel and watering can to this acre of dilapidated grandad-land, the peacefulness is what you make of it. A quiet conglomeration of melons. A stony path sidewinding through rows of tulips. A pond full of trapped, doomed snails. Forget that last one.
In this mellow township of a game you’re not only gardening with shrubs and flowers, but with feelings. Also, flutes and guitar strings. The seeds you plant are imbued with music, you see, and it is often not as simple as having a tall pink fern that exudes the trombone, because the music each plant produces might simply be described as “regret” or “gurgles” or “bounces”. And there is not just one garden, but many, each to be trimmed and potted so that they ooze a different mood into their surroundings. A sad garden. A euphoric garden. A garden of wanderlust. Like the characters who inhabit this town of secret swimming spots and cramped bars, the gardening is about doing what feels naturally right, even if you don’t know exactly why you’re planting that crimson lily next to those weird mushrooms. As Alice B said in our Mutazione review: “Sadness and happiness can both be beautiful; things don’t always need to be fixed or understood, they can just exist.”
Another thing that exists is this slavering carnivorous plant with a bovine head.
Going to Eastshade is like going on holiday to a parallel universe where humanity never evolved, and the peace-loving animals of Farthing Wood became the dominant species on earth. There are Hobbit hole-style lodges with potted posies arranged outside in pretty semi-circles. There are neat, rustic rows of veggies planted in front of cosy cabins. The settlements in this anthropomorphic world might be better described as garden towns. Brimming over with sprigs of lavender, puffs of cotton, and humble weeds. In some gardens, you will even find work. But not the tough, bloody work of a hardened sword-swinger. Calm down. Other RPGs might send you off to kill seven mutant mice, but the ape-faced farmers of this fantasy land are satisfied if you bring them seven big sticks so they can build a fence to keep the completely normal wildlife out, the poor little mice.
Yaughton is a sleepy village. The disappearance of an entire population will do that. But still, peaceful means peaceful. As the player wandering through this Mary Celeste of English hamlets, you can visit the local bar, The Stars At Night, and bask in a deep serenity only the wooden garden tables of a quiet country pub can give you. Fish and chips. Pint and a curry. Big welcoming umbrellas. Okay, nobody is there to serve you. But this is part of the charm. That and the sign boasting 50p pints. Yes, there are some lovely actual gardens up the road. Private gardens. Flowery gardens with swing seats and neat hedgerows. But they’re not a beer garden, are they?
The zen gardening of this microscopic tree plopper is on another level. You think you have achieved enlightenment in your Mutaziones and your Stardew Valleys and what-have-you. But you have not yet elevated yourself to the true ways of putting down a conifer tree in exactly this spot. Why here, you do not know. It just looks right. No, it feels right. Now let’s place a weathered pillar of marble here. A campfire over there. Let’s downsize this autumnal sycamore and put it here, beside the stone circle. Shall we cut the grass? No. Let it grow. The grass belongs exactly where it is.
What a wonderful garden of ruined brickwork and wobbly robospheres. You don’t spend any time tending it, of course, you’re too busy collecting tetrominos for some mysterious God voice. But take a moment, appreciate the headless statues, the dusty colonnades and wavering forcefields. The sharp wooden charm of a good motte-and-bailey fortress, the floating islands and sandy temple courtyards. Yes, I am the first to admit the automated miniguns do harsh the buzz. But that’s what your jammer kit is for. There is peace here, even under threat of annihilation by machinegun. It feels nice to wander around these tranquil ruins, these no-longer-hanging gardens of Babylon, plopping down tripods like a droid quantity surveyor from Star Wars. It is a place of ease, sand and solitude. Spend a little time in your own company. Specifically, this time-travelling hologram version of yourself.
Ah, what a day. The daisies are blossoming, the lettuce is flourishing, the carrots are awaiting harvest. The roses are red with readiness, the pumpkin gold with flavour, the ivy on the walls a lush and wondrous green. What a beautiful place, what a beautiful garden. And look, what comes this way, graceful and bright with a feathery whiteness of purity and innocence. Is that… a swan? How fortuitous. This garden would achieve exquisite harmony with a swan hanging out in it. Come in, delightful swan, ha ha, come in.
One Off The List from…
Last week we examined the 11 worst years of our future, according to videogames. But one of these catastrophic years was subject to some revisionism. It’s… the year 2186 in Mass Effect 3.
There was a general consensus that, yes, the entirety of our human future is probably going to be terrible. But commenter and list-dweller "Godwhacker" argues that the year of our corporeal digitisation should be salvaged as a not-totally-bad time. "Surely Mass Effect 3 has to leave this list, since that year ends in some sort of ill-defined techno-rapture where everything is green or possibly red," they say. "Or whatever the kid at the end was getting at."
Yes, he was an annoying child. See you next week!