Living deliberately – the Walden 3D video game

Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 meditation on living beside Walden Pond, near the town of Concord, Massachusetts is regarded as a crucial element of American national identity.  His plan was to live alone in a house he built himself, a mile away from any neighbour, and to earn his living by manual labour, so he retreated to the woods in 1845 and remained there for twenty-six months. Since the publication of Walden, its lyrical nature writing has been used in rallying cries against the incursions of technology. As a result, Thoreau has become something of a poster-boy for withdrawal from the technological life despite the fact that by the end of his experiment, according to historian Leo Marx, he seems to have come to the conclusion that the realization of the golden age “has nothing to do with the environment, with social institutions or material reality” and that therefore “the writer’s physical location is of no great moment” after all. [1]

So Thoreau’s attitude to technology may have been far more ambivalent than many might imagine. In fact he might well have appreciated a new project under development at the University of Southern California where Tracy Fullerton and her team are working to bring Walden right into the computer. 150 years ago Thoreau wrote “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach”.[2]  At USC they are creating a videogame which simulates his experiment by “allowing players to walk in his virtual footsteps, attend to the tasks of living a self-reliant existence, discover in the beauty of a virtual landscape the ideas and writings of this unique philosopher, and cultivate through the gameplay their own thoughts and responses to the concepts discovered there.” And all in a real-time 3D environment which replicates the geography of Walden Pond and the surrounding woods and where the designers aim to “reinforce the messages of Walden” by embodying the actual experiment in a game which encourages the player to exercise reflection and insight.

Ambitious but very exciting. I’m really looking forward to trying it out when it’s ready.

[1] Marx,L. The Machine in the Garden p264

[2] Thoreau, H.D. Walden Kindle Edition p224

2 thoughts on “Living deliberately – the Walden 3D video game”

  1. I’m looking forward to this, too. I’ve seen too many knee-jerk reactions and assumptions a video game has nothing to say about Thoreau or the natural world, but I suspect we agree there’s more to it than that.


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