Walden, the game

I’m a bit tardy in posting about the 200th Anniversary of Thoreau’s birthday, which generated some great reading about the man, his adventuresthe pond, and his legacy.   I’m one of the camp that was highly influenced by early and often readings of Thoreau, and accept both the critical view of his life, while also appreciating the positives we can draw from these experiences, if not of a wilderness, of solitude and a form of self reliance.

One item that intrigued me was the mention of the game Walden, from the USC Game Innovation lab.  A blurb from their site gives the run-down on the game:   “Play as philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau in his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond. Live off the land, seek out the small wonders and beauties of the woods, and find balance between your need to survive and your desire to find inspiration.”

I like the idea of an open world game that connects to historical landscape, but also allows for a non-prescriptive experience.  The game intends for players to “follow in his footsteps, surviving in the woods by finding food and fuel and maintaining your shelter and clothing…. At the same time as you strive to survive off the land, you are encouraged to explore the beauty of the woods and the pond, which hold a promise of a sublime life beyond your basic needs.”  There are also opportunities to interact with the likes of Emerson, Horace Greeley, A. Bronson Alcott, and Louis Agassiz so there’s inevitably a history lesson or two.  Perhaps something transcendental?

A longer blurb from their site i think sums up the intention:

“There are many reasons why Thoreau’s work should be important to us today – from his core environmentalism, to his criticisms of the ways in which technologies change the speed and value of our lives, to his fundamental questioning of the role of government in society – all of which are as critical, if not more, than when he was writing. As the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth approaches, the opportunity to relive his famous experiment in simple, self-reliant living in the form of an immersive game seems particularly relevant to those of us living in a world dominated by concerns about our relationship to nature, technology and governments. Walden, a game gives digital natives the opportunity to meet Thoreau’s ideas in a form that makes them interactive and immersive.

It is not our hope that the game would ever replace reading the book of Walden, or taking a lovely walk out doors, or getting closer to nature in any way. We hope the game is actually a path for more people to find their way back to Thoreau, and to nature, and to be inspired to think more deliberately about the choices they make about life and how to live it simply and wisely.”

Some press from Smithsonian and PC World offer some more context, and this YouTube video also gives a feel for the visuals.

Does it work as a game?  Does it reflect the spirit of Thoreau in the manner desired of the makers?   Well that’s the question.  I’ve not played it yet (although tempted), as summer in the Pacific Northwest for me is not prime game time (plenty of rainy winter for that), but curious is others have and what they think.

 

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