I’ve spent most of my evenings in the week leading up to the election scrabbling to maintain some semblance of mental equilibrium. This stuff is exhausting, and sometimes the only way to get away from it is to disconnect and play something soothing.
The game I settled on for this task is Grow Home an indie title that came out back in 2015 which tasks the player with scaling a giant plant into the stratosphere of an alien planet and getting it to bloom. It’s a straightforward premise, but the execution is remarkably engaging.
You play as BUD, a Botanical Utility Droid who has been dropped on the planet to cultivate the Star Plant until it blossoms and drops Star Seeds. BUD’s skill set is entirely nonviolent; its basic functions are grabbing and jumping, which translate into various faster and more complex modes of mobility as the player unlocks upgrades from gathering collectibles. By the time you collect everything there is to collect in the game, BUD has a fully functional jet pack that allows for sustained flight (it looks pretty suave blasting through the air); of course, the journey to get this kind of extreme mobility is a relatively arduous process. Probably the key word in describing BUD is “awkward.” Its movements and mannerisms are built around the concept of an explorer who just isn’t quite comfortable in its own skin. It accelerates slowly on the ground, often coaxing the player into jumping to speed things along; that BUD’s aerial mobility is extremely limited (it can’t change direction in midair without the help of its rockets or a really long fall) only becomes a concern after feet are off the ground and you’ve committed to the maneuver. The connections between BUD’s appendages are tenuous, and too much velocity in any given direction can break its grip, leading to a sort of free form tumble in whichever direction physics has directed it to go.
All this adds up to the initial climb up the Star Plant an exercise in patience. BUD doesn’t get tired hanging from rock faces, but your fingers probably will since you have to hold down trigger buttons to maintain its grip. It’s slow going getting to two thousand meters. The prospect of falling and losing a bunch of progress heightens the tension, but only up to a point. This is a game about exploration, and anyone who tries to rush through it is going to miss out on the simple pleasures the world offers. Even when BUD slips and crashes to the ground, the only penalty is being sent back to the last checkpoint you touched (and you can teleport between all the checkpoints in the map once you’ve unlocked them). So there is tension, but it’s of a very low stakes sort.
I think what I love best about Grow Home is that it’s a mostly nonviolent game. BUD’s primary objective is growing a giant space flower, and aside from the occasional fall to your doom, most stuff in the world won’t try to kill you (there is one very aggressive animal that you can find, but even it’s of a very mild sort; leave it alone and it’ll leave you alone). You are free to torture the local fauna (there are multiple achievements for creatively traumatizing the docile sheep that appear in the lower parts of the world), but that’s more a distraction than anything. The main draw is looking for secrets and admiring the world BUD’s navigating. When you get about halfway up the total distance, you gain access to a tool that allows BUD to hang glide around, looking at the environment from an aerial perspective (combined with a decently upgraded jet pack, it’s possible to ascend with the glider instead of slowly scaling the trunk of the Star Plant). This is a game about admiring a fanciful world where there’s really nothing meant to stress the player out, which makes it perfect for me.
Ever since I grew bored with Fallout 4, I’ve been attracted more to brief game experiences that aren’t built around intrinsically violent mechanics. I’ve played my share of games that involve combat of various sorts, but I’ve just lost my appetite for explicitly violent game fare. Grow Home is built around a concept that almost totally rejects violence as a game mechanic, and I quite love it for that. It’s a soothing experience that I’m looking forward to having again sometime in the future when I pick up the sequel (there’s a sequel!). Grow Home is available on PS4 (the platform on which I played it) and PC.