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Grow Home and the pleasures of a world you can touch


If you play enough first-person shooters, something really weird can set in from time to time – something strangely off-putting. In certain games the depth of the environment can drop away after a while, the world steadily losing its tangibility, and you start to realise that, underneath everything – or maybe somehow above everything – you’re just a reticule scudding over the screen, roving and hovering and blasting.

It’s so odd when this happens – when a rich 3D world suddenly becomes entirely 2D, when the animations become little more than dressings for hit boxes, when you realise that you are little more than a deadly camera passing across the environment from a polite and uncrossable distance. It’s not only first-person games, either. The original Mercenaries, good as it was, could often turn into a reticule experience. Even the first Uncharted did it on occasion.

This probably helps explain why developers spend such a lot of time laying on little elements that draw you back into the fiction of the world – back into the fiction that there is a world in the first place. Here’s your hand working away during a reload. Here’s a little bit of motion blur as you turn. Here’s splattered blood or splintered light playing against the lens of the game, to suggest to you that there is a lens – not that this would make it any more real, of course, but for video games realism must be approached from a jaunty angle – and that there is a landscape beyond the lens.

And perhaps it also explains why I’m going to spend this Saturday in the garden. Not my own garden, which is damp and spidery and riddled with things that can’t wait to give me splinters. I’m going to spend it in the garden that is Grow Home, a game where there is no reticule, and where there is absolutely no danger at all of the flattening effect taking hold.