Thoreau’s Walden Turned Into a Video Game?
Professor Tracy Fullerton and her team at the University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab are recreating Henry David Thoreau’s time spent in Massachusetts’ Walden Woods by going virtual — video game virtual.
In April 2012 the Game Innovation Lab team received $40,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts for the Walden project.
The project’s description notes that “the game will take place in a real-time 3D environment which will replicate the geography of Walden Pond and the woods in which Thoreau made his home using both game technologies and video.”
But contrast that with what Thoreau wrote in “Economy,” the opening chapter in Walden:
“At last, we know not what it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think. From the hearth the field is a great distance. It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies, if the poet did not speak so much from under a roof, or the saint dwell there so long. Birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots.”
Professor Fullerton, while recognizing that being in the actual woods or even going for a simple stroll outside, in a park somewhere, is more in harmony with what Thoreau wrote about in Walden, says that not everyone has the time or resources to replicate what Thoreau experienced in his two-year woodland experiment. So she wants to give them that chance in virtual reality.
But does a video game translation of Walden honor Thoreau’s work and conclusions? It’s true that such a 3D game will give more people the chance to somewhat experience what Thoreau did. But will it really inspire them to “suck the marrow out life”?
Of course, many have been inspired by Thoreau after reading Walden to live a more nature-connected life, and evidently Fullerton believes that a Walden video game will provide similar inspiration. Except that, you can read Walden the book while outside, in the woods, by the streams, beyond the walls.
You can’t do that with Walden the video game. And that misses the whole point — over 150 years after the point was made.