I'd like to talk about my love of visiting state parks and playing what I'm calling “garden games”. These are games that are designed to reward exploration; the core game loop is a cycle of exploration and discovery in a carefully constructed environment. (If there's already another term for these games, please let me know! They're some of my favorites, and I'd love to find a way to search for them more easily.) For now, I'm taking the word “garden” after reading the below part of a review of my favorite game, Eastshade.
“Each painting costs inspiration, which you collect by visiting new areas or completing new tasks...Games being pretty isn’t unusual, but Eastshade’s design is closer to that of a grand garden. The buildings feel more like follies than functional houses, the bridges come straight from arcadian paintings, and curated lines of sight are key.” PCGamer (emphasis mine)
That review is describing Eastshade's environment design, and indeed in playing the game it seems every frame could be a carefully composed painting, but I think the depiction of Eastshade as a “grand garden” extends to the broader scope of its game design as well.
What's a garden?
A garden is a curated environment designed for the enjoyment of nature. According to the concept's Wikipedia entry, the defining feature of a garden is its curation; if a space hasn't been controlled and curated by a human, it isn't a garden. To extend the definition to games, I replace nature with the game world.
For gardens, the carefully curated experience centers the environment itself, not another end goal.