If your high school English teacher had assigned you to play the game Walden instead of reading Thoreau’s writings on living deliberately with nature, Spark Notes may not have evolved into such a booming business. USC’s plan to put abridged study guides out of business, a video game based on Thoreau’s Walden, has just received $ 40,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (which is like Kickstarter but older, more official and possibly not as lucrative).
USC has been crafting Walden for roughly two years, and this funding may be the final step to its completion, lead game designer and USC associate professor Tracy Fullerton told TIME. “Having this support will allow the time we need to really bring the world of Walden to life,” Fullterton said. “We anticipate a rich simulation of the woods, filled with the kind of detail that Thoreau so carefully noted in his writings.”
Hang on. Thoreau’s point with Walden was to point out the intrinsic benefits of separation from technology in modern society, to slow down and live as one with nature as part of a larger, living world. Putting this experience inside of a video game, running on people’s computers in an air-conditioned office, cafe or mother’s basement misses the point entirely. However, it may offer a fine lesson in hypocrisy.
“Of course everyone should spend time in nature, but not all of us are able to set aside our lives for the time it would take to conduct an experiment like Thoreau’s,” Fullerton said. “The game is not a replacement for direct experience, just as the book is not.”
Fair enough. Perhaps if you want to stop Thoreau rolling in his grave, play Walden on a tablet in the middle of the forest without an immediate charging station. Or plant some beans or something.