Discover A Spectacular Underground Cosmos In ‘Secrets of Soil’

‘Secrets of Soil’ makes the case for trippy, high-end educational software.
July 19, 2021, 1:00pm
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Screenshots courtesy of Henry Driver

Contrary to opinions of the worst, cosmically-minded billionaires, space is not, and never will be, the key to saving our species. For solutions to the most pressing existential question of our time, the climate crisis, we’re better off looking closer to home—in our oceans, forests, and air. This also includes soil which, according to a delightfully trippy new interactive education game, is one of the biggest carbon stores going. We’d do well to look after it.

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Secrets of Soil is the brainchild of UK-based digital artist Henry Driver. He was inspired to create the interactive piece by his family’s attempts to make their farming practices carbon negative. But this isn’t just a dry investigation into the clumpy brown stuff beneath our feet. Driver renders soil as a spectacular underground cosmos filled with glittering bacteria, colossal fungal networks, and pulsating proteins. Thanks to his own electronic soundtrack, Secrets of Soil bears more than a passing resemblance to the life-affirming psychedelia of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s classic Rez: Infinite. It’s everything I wish my educational software at school could have been.

I should mention that in order to get the most out of it, you’re going to need a pretty beefy gaming rig (which is kind of a shame bearing in mind the game’s climate convictions and how environmentally unfriendly such machines are). Still, I’m into it otherwise. Across roughly thirty minutes, you explore seventeen scenes of microscopic wonder accompanied by the narration of Lynsey Murrel who tells us, amongst many other nuggets of information, how earthworms keep soil healthy by shredding organic matter, allowing it to breathe, drain and retain nutrients. I had no idea the humble invertebrate was so important. 

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You mostly interact with the game by moving and looking around the subterranean 3D spaces using WASD and your mouse (with a few interactive flourishes). It’s straightforward but even this light level of control helps make the experience more engaging than if you were simply watching a video.

Really, the game’s celestial presentation of terra firma makes me wonder if the transcendence we usually look for in the stars is perhaps a little misplaced. Projects such as this can play an important role in showing how awesome our earthly home is, and, ultimately, how lucky we are to have it, even if the billionaires think our future lies elsewhere. 

You can play Secrets of Soil for free here, right now.