As a starting point I am thinking about possible games that can be played by a group of strangers which are devised to convey the value and importance of things that trees do naturally – long-life, fixing the ground, creating and cleaning the air, enriching the surrounding eco-system. These are specific aspects of a tree and this brief can help move the project along a bit.
The player must live for as long as possible – this is the goal of all games – but it is normal for the character’s life to be protected through either deft movements or intellectual agility, neither of which is an option for a tree. A tree most resembles the idea of sustainability that our culture is just beginning to imagine – growth and long life by carefully balancing materials usage with materials availability. There are many similarities between this approach and a ‘Civilisation’ style game.
Fixing the ground
The tree needs to fix itself into the ground firmly if it is to grow tall and avoid storm-damage, or when it grows wide and conquers territory – the effect on the ground is stabilisation. The tree removes chaos and replaces it with its own kind of order, although the timeframe is closer to geological than mammalian. The physical action of construction versus chaos reminds me of Tetris where the action of creating stable shapes (rows which disappear when complete) nullifies danger (proximity to the top of the screen). In Tetris the timerate speeds up to increase game-playability, while for a tree the act of stabilising its surrounding environment slows down the number of chaos-variables entering its proximity.
Creating & cleaning the air
Photosynthesising processes have been sustaining the planets atmosphere as an oxygen-rich place for about 2500 million years, and life has evolved to depend on this material. One tree can produce in a single season the amount of oxygen a person breaths in a year. They also absorb dangerous free-radical chemical pollutants and particles, and lock them out of the atmosphere for a period of time. The actions here are the processes of consuming, converting and locking-away which reminds me of the PacMan game where balls are eaten which generates score. Once a certain amount of time has passed you attain the ability (e.g. by eating a cherry) to remove dangerous elements from the game (by eating the ghosts).
Enriching the surrounding eco-system
The presence of a tree is like a dam or muffler against chaotic natural cycles. It will slow the wind and speed of runoff waters, it will balance the water table by creating rain and locking flood water inside its trunk, it will cool the day with shade and create comfort at night by acting as a stable residence for many creatures. Sometimes a tree is a complete eco-system in itself – there are species that will never leave their single tree home – a network of trees is a foundation for entire layers of life on our planet. It brings to mind a team game where acting together brings about benefits for all.