Slime Rancher

Slime Rancher is a science fiction farming game developed by Monomi Park and released in 2017. In it, you play a character who has moved from Earth to an alien planet in order to live life as a slime rancher. A slime rancher gathers slimes from around the planet, raises them in pens, feeds them and collects their crystalline refuse, which can be sold. This video takes up my old save file from when I was playing Slime Rancher in late 2017. I already had a stable farm, and some money saved, so I was able to create an empty pen with all of the possible upgrades to start my pile. There are many kinds of slimes to choose from in Slime Rancher, but my pile is of the default, Pink slimes, since they are the most common and easiest to gather. All of the other games in this project focus on lifeless, non-agential bodies. Slimes are alive, and have some limited agency, and this presented both unique insight and unique challenges in the creation of this pile.

Much like how the guards in Metal Gear Solid V had the ability to reawaken and needed to be managed, the slimes in Slime Rancher, also by virtue of their life, needed quite a bit of management. In Slime Rancher, the slimes need care in the form of food. In my video I don't feed them particularly well, a pile of slimes this size is pretty difficult to feed adequately, and when they are not fed well the slimes will attempt to escape. When they escape they need to be caught by sucking them up into the vacuum-tool that the protagonist uses. This turns the slimes into just a data point, a kind of temporary stripping of agency similar to knocking out a guard in Metal Gear Solid V. Eventually, the slime is released and the guard wakes back up, but for the purposes of managing the pile (or playing the game) their agency is stripped. Even in a cutesy game like Slime Rancher, agency is a problematic that the game poses as something that cannot be totally solved, only managed.

In Slime Rancher, the slimes are governed by a physics system, which is particularly interesting in comparison to games like Dishonored, Hitman, or Skyrim, where physics systems are almost solely used to represent loss of agency. The range of things a slime in Slime Rancher can do is still pretty limited, they can just exert a physics impulse on their own spherical body, basically, but that physics impulse is meant to represent liveliness. It's an example that shows while specific games do make deep ties between certain kinds of infrastructural systems and life and death, these ties exist only in those games and that other kinds of worlds, and other kinds of games, are possible. It's not that Slime Rancher is a perfect renegotiation of video game power dynamics. In Slime Rancher the player still does hold executive power over the life and death over these creatures (even though the infrastructures underlying them are different than many other games), and the game world exists solely for the player to colonize and exploit. We should not overlook these things. Looking at its orientation towards life, death, and bodies, though, Slime Rancher is more oriented towards care than violence, and it liberates physics somewhat from its dark masters of death and violence, and that is something.