Gardening games offer respite for anxious players

Charlotte Madelon's Rosa's Garden exemplifies a flowering genre: the bucolic, relaxing gardening game. Lewis Gordon explores what's growing: a growing claustrophobia and despair among the young, a need for control and for peaceful study, an overwhelming ecological anxiety.

Curiously absent from these titles' digital flora is the death, decay, and decomposition integral to not only the ecosystems of gardens, but also their psychological benefits. "Gardens can often be a place of retreat and escape but also a place to see the continuity of life," Gross explains. "Things come and go, life goes on but life also ends." In Stardew Valley crops can indeed fail, made clear to the player by turning a queasy brown color, but it's because of player action, not natural processes. Closer to a natural cycle is an early version of Rosa's Garden, which is still available through Almost as quickly as the roses sprout into life, so too do they wilt and die, the garden floor quickly becoming a carpet of murky grays and greens.

Some games do emphasize rot, though.