Part of the germinationx game design
Joanne is a 26 year old regular FaceBook user and a one time player of Farm Ville. She is experienced with social games and played Happy Aquarium for a time too. She is a student and uses facebook to keep in contact with her friends and family, but is aware of it's limitations and doesn't log on every day. She used to help her father in their garden, and wants to get her own some day soon. She grows some garden vegetables in pots on her window sill. She is interested in organic farming, and has heard of permaculture but isn't sure what it is. She got bored of playing Farm Ville after a few days, as it seemed a bit silly, and really about collecting lots of stuff. She did have some fun seeing what her more obsessive friends who'd been playing it for a while had got up to though, by visiting their farms.
She noticed a post from a game called “germination x” on a friend's wall - the message read: “Frank has planted some Lovage in order to attract ground beetles to deal with a tussock moth infestation”. There was no “click here” or free offers, which was a little mysterious, and the message seemed a little bit detailed for most of these farming games - she did a search and found the application page and tried running it.
The screen was an isometric view on a part of the world. She was represented by a character in the middle. She could click on a place and the character could walk there - so far everything seemed fairly standard. She noticed that something appeared to be following her, a small worm or caterpillar. It didn't seem very threatening, or do much so she ignored it. Other than this she seemed to be alone, but the world was populated by lots of plants. She tried walking up to one and a speech bubble appeared informing her it was a Caraway plant, originally planted by Nik Gaffney 4 weeks ago. There was also an option to look up the plant in an almanac and find out all sorts more information.
She found that the world was quite large, as the view she had changed when she clicked near the edge of what was currently visible. The plants were in different stages of growth and some looked diseased or a bit damaged. The fact that you could go anywhere you liked and look at what other people you didn't even know had planted made this feel quite different to the other facebook games she'd played.
For a while she just enjoyed exploring a little bit - her movement was not entirely easy as areas of water or rock blocked her passage. She wandered into an area where it was raining, and noticed some sparkling seeds on the ground next to a chive plant. She clicked on them and her character picked them up. She was informed that she could plant them by pressing the space bar at any place in the world.
She moved a little way away and tried pressing space. At this point a speech bubble suddenly appeared from the little worm creature, who moved in an urgently way (for a worm) up to her character.
“Are you sure you want to plant your Chive here?”
She thought of pressing 3 as it seemed a little like she could be in trouble, but then thought that the best plan was probably to ask for more information and pressed 2.
“Well you see young Joanne, there are some Broad Beans just here, and your Chive will cause it some problems. Over here by this apple tree would be a better idea, as it will help prevent apple scab.”
She thought the tone of this was a little patronising, but decided to do as she was told. She moved up to the apple tree and pressed space once again. This time the seed was plated successfully and after a few moments the shoots were already appearing. The worm inspected her work and informed her that she had helped Anthony Mann's apple tree to live a long and fruitful life and asked if she wanted him informed of her good deeds. She answered yes, and the worm wandered off some distance and produced a watering can out of nowhere to water some spinach.
She could clearly see that this game was quite different and was intended to teach some things about how plants could be planted together, and although there seemed to be an absence of scores or levels that she could see - the fact that you could see other people's plants and help them seemed interesting.
The next time she started the game she noticed that there was a message waiting for her. It was from Anthony Mann thanking her for her help for his apple tree, and giving her some Borage seeds in return.
The worm got terribly excited and informed her that Borage was a good for practically any problems, and there were plenty of places that would need some growing. It then informed her that her friend Frank (the one who had the message on his wall originally) had some cucumber that were in a particularly bad state, and perhaps she would like to help him. An arrow appeared helping her to navigate to the right location. When she got there she noticed a lot of insects crawling around - the worm rather annoyingly seemed scared of them and refused to get near but just told her to plant them quickly. The cucumber covered a really large area of the map, with very few other plants. They seemed mostly eaten and destroyed by the insects. She sewed her Borage and as they sprouted almost immediately the insects avoided the areas around the new plants.
The worm, who seemed to have recovered from his panic, informed her that she had increased the biodiversity of this area, and it would slowly recover with a few more trees to protect the cucumbers from the weather. It told her that this was an essential aspect of permaculture, and she spent the rest of the day reading about it on wikipedia.