We have a lot to thank trees for. Aside from—you know—letting us breathe and all, science also tells us that cultivating plant life can actually boost your serotonin (like an antidepressant) and your immune system. Permaculturists call it the “harvest high,” known to both quell anxiety and build a sense of self-worth. Like players in a videogame, gardeners love seeing their visible and positive impact on the world around them, watching the fruits of their labor take shape right before their eyes. Games like Harvest Moon show just how similar the reward system for gardening and gaming can be—though, granted, the feedback loop for real life harvesting tends to take a bit longer than three in-game days.
Prune, a self-described “love letter to trees,” abstracts the correlation between gardening and gaming into a beautifully minimalist mobile experience. With the touch of a finger, you breathe life into barren soil, in a world where sunlight only reaches the earth in slivers. By planting a single seed, you bring forth a force of nature that reaches for light wherever it may be. As the cultivator, it’s your job to ensure the tree can bloom to its fullest potential by pruning its branches to maneuver around obstacles like wind, darkness, and disease (represented by an infectious red virus that spreads throughout the bark).
Though the game certainly gives you the ability to influence, the plant-life possesses its own autonomy that you must accommodate. Certainly, you are an important part of the process, shaping the tree, supporting its growth, ensuring its health and safety. But the world of Prune highlights the reciprocal relationship of permaculture, as an equal partnership rather than one of control. You give, and the tree gives back. It’s a painterly back and forth; a collaboration that feels more like a dance than puzzle-solving. There’s no winning as such. In fact, if you find yourself stuck on a level for too long, the game gives you the option to skip rather than insist on you conquering each obstacle.
Though Prune can’t provide the same benefits of real-life gardening, it grounds you while also providing the immediacy of a videogame loop. Each round, which you spend no more than a few moments with, is scored by a meditative soundtrack that responds to your actions—be them failures or successes. You leave each level with not only a sense of pride, but a feeling of connectedness too. Like a parent doting on a child, you come to love each tree as it blooms far beyond your own reach.
You can purchase Prune on the iOS App Store.