Screenshots of ‘The Geography’ courtesy of Michael Berto and Titouan Millet
A collection of mountains whose contours sway in the distance, their shadows shimmering like seeds, and a floating generative soundtrack unique to each game session.
Based on this description, Geography, now for computer, ios and Android devices, may remind you of other minimalist video games like Mountain and Mu cartographer, titles where you mainly press a few buttons and soak up the view you are watching. This is true for Geography; clicking or touching the top of the screen cycles through various panoramas, and you can change their color by interacting with the bottom. On the right side of the screen are five small buttons that allow you to soak up the serene music of the game.
When I think of these other games, they’re like chill out zones that exist almost only in the digital ether. Geography, on the other hand, has an explicit connection to the real world. Touching the upper right corner invokes text that explains how the mountains you are looking at are rendered from real-world terrain data from around the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. If you do not know the project, the Global Safe is a vast seed library on an island in the Arctic Circle, a so-called ‘Noah’s Ark’ of agricultural diversity designed to safely store over 4.5 million crop samples. If disaster should strike the planet, it will help us to rebuild it.
It’s smart framing. Without this, Geography would be nice if it was a little insignificant, a good companion for leisurely work around the house, or perhaps a pocket oasis on a busy commute. But with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault looming in my mind, I find it hard not to contemplate the crisis. The large empty environments in the game make me wonder, “What would the end of civilization really look like?” It should be noted that this is almost the opposite of what game creator Michael Berto thinks of the Global Seed Vault. In the accompanying text, he writes how “the concept of preservation, of erecting a monolith to protect the natural world, is magnificent”. I agree, but the idea of a scenario where we actually have to use the safe fills me with real dread.
Judging by Berto’s description of the game, Geography was designed to facilitate these varied experiences. It is, both, for “meditation, relaxation, jubilation, contemplation, creative thinking, passive enjoyment, idle play, self-care, sleep and / or dreaming”. For me, the contemplative landscape of the game is colored by disaster, and more compelling for it.