The Absent Gardener

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This project is under construction!

See the github repo and the glitch site here.

My best thinking often emerges through articulation; whether that is writing or conversing, giving ideas form with words helps me explore them. Over the past month, streets emptied and hospitals filled we isolated from one another as an act of care, and words and ideas have been harder to find. But my houseplants are flourishing during quarantine, and most of us have a different experience of moving through time.

Genetic Algorithms require time. Maybe it’s because drawing flowers calm me, or because I feel like I’m both drowning in time and completely apart from it, but I’d like to create a game (experience? website?) that allows you to tend a garden only once every 100 years to see what emerges.


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The population is a small group of flowers that can cross pollinate. But 100 years is a long time. The environment can change unexpectedly, flowers and fickle, you can only plan for so much.

The goals are ambiguous: get your garden to flourish, or find a flower you consider to be perfect. The game ends whenever you want it to, or it can continue to mutate forever. The environment changes outside of your control. There could be 100 years of rain, heat, or variable temperature. It’s hard to know what will live or die, but your job is to tend to it either way.

Phenotype and Genotype

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There are quite a few things for each flower that would evolve over time.

Ideally I’d like all these things to be evolving at once and the gardener is able to choose variations on these plots every 100 years.

Fitness Function

Fitness I suppose could translate to “survivability” in this case, and that would be determined by the gardener every 100 years, when they choose the plot they’d like to move forward with. But a hearty plant is easily drowned during storms, and survivability is entirely dependent on the environment. Ideally I’d like the gardener to be asked a series of questions about the different flowers in their plot. “Which flower is the best at surviving drought?”. “Which flower is the most sensitive to heat?”. Depending on the environment for those 100 years, the fitness score would change. I’m a little unsure of how this would work in practice.

Mutation and Crossover

I’d like certain flowers to be able to create new species, and some that aren’t able to. I haven’t worked out what this would look like yet.

I’d like to model this with something that isn’t just visual. Might also be interesting to see what happens to a creation myth, told over telephone, over 100 years.


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