Harvest is a web-based grid puzzle game in which players tend to a community garden and choose between supporting their artistic neighbourhood or reaping individual benefits. Players are at first encouraged to plant neat, segregated rows of purebred flowers, for which they receive awards and accolades from bureaucratic officials. But if they instead mix and match plants, they can create techno-plant crossbreeds that revitalize the community center and inspire its members to create together.
Harvest has an explicit political message: grassroots community arts organizations often suffer under the weight of bureaucratic grants and institutionalized arts creation pipelines. Often, artists must choose between serving their community and getting paid or recognized. We were inspired by real events: this game was created in the wake of the eviction of the Toronto Media Arts Centre, a collective of media and interactive arts organizations, from a downtown location they had occupied for over five years. The loss of TMAC has been felt intensely by the Toronto independent game dev community and we chose to express our anger and grief through creative work.
I worked as the lead designer and programmer for this project, completed in about a month between June and July 2021. I created this game with the Gamma Space co-op, a nascent game design co-operative, in collaboration with media artist Jordan Sook.
On the design side, Harvest presented a unique challenge: we had to represent through gameplay the beauty and messiness of grassroots community work, but in a small-scale project that could be scoped within a month. We chose to represent the tension between community work and municipal bureaucracies through a division between points value and aesthetic value. If the player chooses to plant purebred flowers for city projects, they earn points, titles and accolades, but the community center remains dilapidated and the local artists are left to fend for themselves. Cultivating techno-plants does not award points, but does reward the player with new and interesting flower varieties, a repaired and vibrant community center, and novel interactions with community members.