Arboreal Agency? On the Possibility of Terrestrial Games


In the face of the climate crisis, ecological thought must reorient itself toward the ‘terrestrial’ (Latour 2019; Haraway 2016). This paper examines how board games might contribute to this shift. The arboreal-themed abstract strategy game Photosynthesis (Blue Orange, 2017), for example, invites players to take on the role of a particular species of tree in a growing forest. Boasting eco-friendly production and an ecocentric perspective, Photosynthesis is a timely game. Trees are being recognised as vital actors in the climate crisis. However, beyond first impressions, the logic of Photosynthesis has little to do with the interspecies collaboration being
uncovered by ecologists (Simard et al 2015; Wohlleben 2017) and the game quickly becomes a quest for territorial expansion. Reflecting on the failure of Photosynthesis nonetheless allows me to theorise how gameplay entangles humans with other-than-human agencies and to consider what properly ‘terrestrial’ games might involve. Indeed, in Photosynthesis the desubjectivisation of trees is not entire and other-than-human presences remain co-actors despite the positioning of the player as forest manager. Thinking through these entanglements suggests the potential of gameplay to act as what Tim Morton (2016) names subscendence, a downward movement that connects us with ‘the Lego brick, the lichen, the activist network, the microbiome, the melting glacier’ – with the earth itself. Photosynthesis represents a new trend in gaming and my reading explores further possibilities for designers seeking a meaningful connection with the
terrestrial in troubled times.

Written by Chloe Germaine.

Germaine. 2021. Arboreal Agency? On the Possibility of Terrestrial Games