April 27, 2012

NEA funds effort to turn Thoreau’s Walden into a game


Walden pond

This article in the Guardian points to an interesting list of recent grants awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts—one of which is $40,000 and going to the University of Southern California to develop a computer game based on Henry David Thoreau‘s Walden.

According to the University’s website:

Walden, a game, simulates the experiment in living made by Thoreau at Walden Pond in 1845-47, 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.

Thoreau lived for 2 years in a one-room cabin on Walden pond in the Walden woods, about  a mile and half outside of Concord, MA. There he wrote the germinal text Walden; or Life in the Woods, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.”

The text he created recorded his observations of the natural world: “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

And he recorded his philosophical ponderings as well: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

The University of Southern California’s game attempts to simulate Thoreau’s contemplative life: “Walden, a game posits a new genre of play, in which reflection and insight play an important role in the player experience.”

Could it be the world’s first anti-game? Thoreau just might approve.


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.