cultivation — game about the interactions within a gardening community




Cultivation is a video game written by Jason Rohrer about a community of gardeners growing food for themselves in a shared space.

Cultivation is quite different from most other games. It is a social simulation, and the primary form of conflict is over land and plant resources---there is no shooting, but there are plenty of angry looks. It is also an evolution simulation. Within the world of Cultivation, you can explore a virtually infinite spectrum of different plant and gardener varieties.

All of the graphics, sounds, melodies,and other content in Cultivation are 100% procedurally generated at playtime. In other words, there are no hand-painted texture maps---instead, each object has a uniquely "grown" appearance. Every time you play, Cultivation generates fresh visuals, music, and behaviors.

Cultivation is certainly an unusual game, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's good. From experience, some people absolutely love it, while others absolutely hate it. It's intended to be an "art game," after all, and mixed reactions go with that territory.

When two sides are fighting, they often ruin the commons for everyone. The game is a metaphor about that kind of situation. Too much fighting destroys the island for everyone.


Cultivation explores the social interactions within a gardening community. You lead one family of gardeners, starting with a single individual, and wise choices can keep your genetic line from extinction. While breeding plants, eating, and mating, your actions impact your neighbors, and the social balance sways between conflict and compromise.

Cultivation features dynamic graphics that are procedurally-generated using genetic representations and cross-breeding. In other words, game objects are "grown" in real-time instead of being hand-painted or hard-coded. Each plant and gardener in the game is unique in terms of both its appearance and behavior. The game includes an extensive in-game tutorial.

In Cultivation, the game system teeters on the verge of uncontrolled conflict, and the player can make choices within this system that affect the balance. Perhaps it is impossible to win the game by acting only out of self-interest, but likewise, it may be impossible to win acting only out of altruism (I say "perhaps" here because, even as the designer of the system, I have only explored a tiny fraction of the game's possible permutations). Players can directly see the results of the choices that they make.

In the initial release of Cultivation, neighbors would respond to encroachment with both counter-encroachment (claiming some of your plants as their own) and social scorn (refusing to mate with you). With only these mechanics in place, fighting just didn't feel serious enough---a fight could continue indefinitely without any real consequences, since after two plots overlapped completely, no further revenge was possible for either side. I had to think of a more serious act to crown the peak of an escalating fight. Poisoning, which is now a key mechanic in Cultivation, fit perfectly. This mechanic allows an angry neighbor to poison a plant. Poison not only kills the target plant, but it also renders the ground around the plant forever unusable.