kritiqal is the pet project of nate Kiernan. Based out of Maryville, TN, Kritiqal seeks to explore games at the intersection of academia and mass-market entertainment.

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Trees, Cancer, and the Pursuit of Flowers: Why I Loved Prune

This morning, my fiancée Nate and I rolled out of bed around 12 in the afternoon, made cereal and coffee, and settled on the couch to watch Netflix’s Kiss Me First, a series on the story of two gamers coming together.

Their names are Leila (played by Tallulah Haddon) and Mania (played by Simona Brown), and they find themselves trapped in a whirlwind of intriguing and life-threatening events with the dangerous, charismatic hacker named Adrian (played by Matthew Beard) at the center of it all.

It was a good morning.

As I sipped on my French Vanilla cream-flavored coffee, Nate took our empty cereal bowls to the kitchen. His cup of cold brew sat on the small table next to the couch. I like making coffee in the morning. I like watching the steam rise as the cup fills up.

I like when the cream ascends to the black surface and ripples out in pools of off-white that combine with the surrounding mixture and settle in an equilibrium of a dark caramel brown coloring. When the episode ended, Nate got dressed for work and I did the laundry.

Nate prefers washing the dishes. But I enjoy cultivating the hill of material that grows over time in our laundry basket. It’s satisfying, regularly washing enough clothes so that a mountain of dirty cloth does not form in the corner of our bedroom. Though I wasn’t always like this. I used to ignore laundry mountains, let them pile up on my floor, on my bed, burrow beneath them and fall asleep.

But I guess it’s different now.

I recently finished Brian Fies’s webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Mom’s Cancer. During the progression of the mother’s cancer, she reaches a point where she falls so ill that she can no longer do her own laundry. Can you imagine being physically unable to wash your own clothes?

Growing up, I considered chores mundane activities that were beneath me. I thought my time was better spent dedicated to objectives like playing violent video games or daydreaming about being a millionaire someday. But there’s satisfaction in simplicity. There’s fulfillment in being present for the experience of the day-to-day.

And that’s why I enjoy games like Joel McDonald’s Prune. It’s a mobile game that encourages players to “cultivate what matters,” a game where you tend to the growth of trees and ensure they reach sunlight so they can blossom.

The game was critically well-received and has won numerous honors, including winning the 11th International Mobile Gaming Awards' Best Upcoming Game, becoming a finalist in IndieCade Festival 2015, and receiving the official selection in Brazil’s FILE Festival. There’s a reason Prune collected such a warm public reception, and I believe it's because I am not alone in pursuing an enriched gaming experience that does not seek merely to distract and stupefy.

I struggle every day against an unhealthy mentality fostered by a society that insists I should never be satisfied. I am tired of feeling like I am not doing enough, and this internal conflict is reflected externally in the game.

Prune is a game of critical thinking and decision making. The earlier levels consist of merely cutting the branches so the tree can reach sunlight, but as the game goes on, a darkness within the game’s environment becomes apparent. Not only must the player ensure the tree reaches sunlight, they must also avoid the cancerous red pollutants that infect tree branches and eventually kill your tree. These pollutants are not the only problem, either.

Landscapes in later levels evolve into a society whose preference for mechanical development inhibits the growth of trees altogether. It becomes more and more challenging getting one tree to grow in the face of spinning buzz saws and space-crippling structures, and the player must eventually rely on multiple trees reaching out to one another and sacrificing themselves in order that at least one can reach the sunlight and bloom.

It is a dialogue on the consequences of preferencing economic development at the cost of the environment’s wellbeing, and, for me, it embodied my own internal struggle with achieving a full potential inherently tied with production and capital gain, versus the idea that sometimes there is nothing wrong with simply being.

Just as in Prune where I tended tirelessly to each tree despite the surrounding environmental challenges, I continue to cultivate my own development as a person fearlessly experiencing the richness of each present moment, instead of guilting myself into believing that I should be doing something “better,” something “productive,” something that will, inevitably, always fail to be enough.

So despite the social forces that continue to preference economic capital over emotional wellbeing, I will cultivate an internal environment that fosters self-care. I will read books. I will do laundry. I will watch Netflix with my fiancée and drink creamy coffee and revel in simply being.

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