Sarah Rush

Wading Through Walden: Live Like Thoreau

Sarah Rush

I grew up in a small New Hampshire town and whenever I needed a moment to myself or a breath of cool, fresh air, all I had to do was walk into my backyard to enter the woods. I welcomed the escape from civilization, the solitude, the quiet, the diverse array of forest life. But for many people—including me, now that I’ve moved to Boston—nature can be difficult to come by.

Now there is a digital way for everybody to experience the beauty and simplicity of the woods, honoring how Henry David Thoreau did centuries ago. How? Its’ called Walden, a Game, and it’s a highly detailed simulation of Thoreau’s years living by Walden Pond in Massachusetts. A famous author, philosopher and environmentalist, Thoreau was one of the leaders of transcendentalism, a movement that prized the natural world over civilization, emotion over reason, and the individual over the masses.

In 1845, Thoreau moved to Walden Pond for two years to practice a mostly self-sufficient way of life and write about his experiences. During this time he produced a renowned collection of essays called Walden. Now we can all share in these revelations through a rather unusual medium: the computer. Walden, a Game, is a six-hour simulation of Thoreau’s experiences, beginning in summer and ending after his first year.

In the game, you spend the year building and maintaining your cabin, harvesting beans, exploring the woods, interacting with animals, collecting wild fruit and vegetables, fishing, entering town to buy supplies and chat with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and recording observations in your journal. Meanwhile, excerpts from Walden are read to you over soothing music and the sounds of birdsong. The game’s dedication to reality is uncanny—you can faint from lack of energy if you don’t eat enough, and if you work too hard, your “inspiration” will lower, causing the colors and music to fade. Don’t forget to spend time contemplating and meditating, just as Thoreau did.

Designed by the founding director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, Tracy J. Fullerton, the game is intended to encourage balance and a love of nature in our technology-crazed world and inspire young people to read Thoreau’s Walden. An alpha version of the game is currently available for about $19, but the full game will be released some time this year in 2017.

While most of us cannot take two years to completely immerse ourselves in nature, we can certainly spare six hours to wade through Walden Pond with Thoreau. What will you discover out there?

Did You Know?

This isn’t the first digital venture honoring Thoreau and Walden. In a previous blog post, we covered Digital Thoreau, a project that provides digital access to several versions of Thoreau’s work. Check out the blog post here!

Photo Credit: Ekabhishek

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