“The universe is wider than our views of it.”
July 28, 2017 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Walden has been adapted into a video game, and you can play it right now. [The Verge] “Under the guidance of Tracy Fullerton — professor and chair of the USC Interactive Media & Games Division and director of the USC’s Game Innovation Lab — Walden: A Game has been constructed over the past decade with the support of a small core team, modest arts grants, and many eager students. And now, the game — which not only re-creates Walden pond and the land on which Thoreau lived, but also, to some extent, the text’s spirit — is available to play.”

• In ‘Walden’ Video Game, the Challenge Is Stillness [The New York Times]
““You can choose how to spend your time, what to emphasize, the ways the game can play out,” she said. “You might spend all your time in the woods, you might focus on bean farming, you could become a famous author — sending off articles to your editor, Horace Greeley — or you could become an activist, working on the Underground Railroad.” At a time when the most popular video games include the active participation of the player — slay a soldier to capture enemy territory — the Walden game seems passive by contrast. But Ms. Fullerton said it’s no simple stroll in the park. Players who fail to forage for food, for example, will start to faint in the game. The goal is not to win in any competitive sense, but to achieve work-life balance.“You’re not only trying to survive, you’re seeking inspiration in the woods,” Ms. Fullerton said, “If you spend all of your time grinding away on survival tasks, the environment will become less lush. The winning is based on whether you meet your own goals.” The project has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, though some say video game research is unworthy of federal funds.”
• Can A Video Game Capture the Magic of Walden? [Smithsonian]
“The world’s most improbable video game plunges you into a virtual Walden Woods, where you can “live deliberately,” as Thoreau famously put it, replacing drudgery in the pursuit of material comfort with a quest for spiritual fulfillment in harmony with nature. “It’s an attempt to make a game that has a kind of stillness at its core,” says its lead developer, Tracy Fullerton, founding director of USC’s Game Innovation Lab, which consulted Thoreau experts at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles and the Walden Woods Project in Massachusetts. The six-hour-long game opens in the summer and finishes a year later. As a player, you have to work, building a cabin and planting beans. But you can also explore Walden Woods, filling a journal with your discoveries—animals, plants, arrowheads—as Thoreau did, or you can wander into town to chat with Ralph Waldo Emerson. As you move around, excerpts from the original Walden bubble up. If you spend too much time working, your “inspiration” level dips, the woodland’s radiant colors fade and the music—a rich-toned backdrop of piano and violin, dusted with the twittering of nature sounds—quiets to a dull heartbeat.”
• Turning Walden into a game and how narrative can lead to 'sublime' gaming [Polygon]
“The more these moments happen, the more inspired a player is meant to become by nature and the closer their bond to the natural elements of their new lives, Fullerton said. "Those who experience these peak moments are more apt to experience more of them and vice versa," she said. "As one explores the virtual world the opportunity to find these moments depends on the state you're in. "If you explore, your inspiration will be high and you will have a better chance of finding them. If you spend your time doing chores your inspiration will be low and your game will be more like life in a grind." Ultimately, a player's experiences is used to fill the game's journal which in turn writes the player's own version of Walden, one that can teach that life is an inspiration or that life is mean. And it is these sorts of cooperative narrative experiences, stories shaped by an interaction between author and audience, that Fullerton thinks is most likely to lead to games that approach the sense of the sublime. She said she thinks these sorts of sublime games are probably more than five to ten years out, but that getting there will be easier as long as people continue to strive toward this goal and share their knowledge and experiences. "We all learn," she said, "from each other's crazy wanderings in the desert."”
posted by Fizz (27 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Am I the only one that doesn't find this dazzlingly, blinding ironic (in the real, not Alanis, sense)?
posted by Samizdata at 1:13 PM on July 28 [11 favorites]


Does this version include your mom doing your laundry?
posted by praemunire at 1:16 PM on July 28 [31 favorites]


A long war, not with cranes, but with weeds, those Trojans who had sun and rain and dews on their side. Daily the beans saw me come to their rescue armed with a hoe, and thin the ranks of their enemies, filling up the trenches with weedy dead. Many a lusty crest-waving Hector, that towered a whole foot above his crowding comrades, fell before my weapon and rolled in the dust.
posted by bdc34 at 1:30 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one that doesn't find this dazzlingly, blinding ironic (in the real, not Alanis, sense)?


As someone who studied under Tracy, and listened to her talk about the game with great passion, I think that while the cultural perception at-large is that there's an inherent irony here, the development and concept itself is as irony free as it can be. Tracy, like a lot of her students, really sees games as a fertile ground for meditative, thoughtful, immersive experiences.

Books, after all, run the gamut from Walden to the works of Chuck Tingle. Games are the same. For every Call of Duty, there's a Journey or a To the Moon. And while Walden's message of off-the-grid self reliance is maybe at odds with digital computing, I don't think it's broader themes of work and coming to know oneself are incompatible with the medium.

Certainly, VR is really starting to push those questions in compelling new directions. As a VR developer, I've seen real, serious demand for non-goal oriented play. For the joy of simply being in a new space. It strikes me that Walden would do well there, also.
posted by GilloD at 1:36 PM on July 28 [13 favorites]


I bought this game the day it came out for my daughter (a Thoreau fan) and she loved it. It's quite well done, beautiful really. We were so inspired, we're planning a trip to the real Walden Pond in the Fall.
posted by gwint at 1:43 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Walden Pond also appears in Fallout 4.

...probably not to the same effect, though.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:47 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]


Well, I think there's definitely something ironic in an inspiration meter in a game about meditative experiences. The type of player who plays games as experiences won't need the meter in the first place, and the type of player who plays games as optimization puzzles will see it as just another stat to manage.
posted by Pyry at 2:00 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of all those hours I spent riding a bike around the countryside surrounding Los Santos in GTA 5. Here you have a game with hundreds of hours of designed play (it has multiplayer too) and the most beautiful experiences I had where those traveling around mountains, forests, rivers and valleys all by myself on a bike a stole by punching some dude in the face.

If you haven't played GTA 5, here's a youtube playlist showing how great nature can look.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:08 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Not accurate, there are green toilets at Walden Pond.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:08 PM on July 28


Does this include the mini game where at 11pm on a summer night you park a mile away with your sweetie, walk to the end of the pond opposite the beach, skinny-dip, and dive under water every time the police car searchlight sweeps across the lake?
posted by zippy at 2:32 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


No sale unless you can nip over to your aunt’s house for cookies whenever you get sick of beans, steal pies from the neighbors’ windowsills, and start a major forest fire.
posted by straight at 2:40 PM on July 28 [5 favorites]


Excited to try this. When I lived in Boston many years back, I used to love going to Walden Pond for a swim (mid-week only, weekend parking was impossible). The last time I went they had revamped the shoreline to be all beach, which was a shame. Previously, there was a small beach by the parking and a path that wandered all the way around the pond with about 30 private swim holes along the way. I would just keep walking until I found an empty one for my own private swimming experience. I wish there were more places like that.
posted by lubujackson at 2:45 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Rock, Paper, Shotgun put up an interesting let's play video of this, where the let's player struggled to reconcile her loathing of Thoreau in general and Walden in particular with the fact that she actually quite enjoyed the game itself.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:51 PM on July 28


No sale unless you can nip over to your aunt’s house for cookies whenever you get sick of beans, steal pies from the neighbors’ windowsills, and start a major forest fire.

FYI, you can do at least two of these. Not telling you which two though.
posted by gwint at 3:45 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Walden Pond also appears in Fallout 4.
...probably not to the same effect, though.


Well, for one thing, the actual Walden Pond is probably not filled with giant, radioactive crab monsters...
posted by sexyrobot at 4:34 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I want to play this, if only to alleviate how desperately homesick I am for Boston. The Charles, Walden Pond and Delaney Pond: 3 of my favorite bodies of water inside of 495.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:42 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I live in the bay area and for freshwater swimming we have "lake" anza locally that is a puddle compared to walden pond. I miss walden and the lake by wellesley so much (possibly outdated protip: wellesley in summer is a ghost town. park on campus and jump in, just pretend you're totally not actually swimming if the campus police come by)
posted by zippy at 4:57 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I assume Zonker Harris is lounging in one of the puddles.
posted by delfin at 6:26 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


The other Transcendentalists all show up as NPCs, right? Emerson and the Alcott family? Young Louisa May just fishing in a boat in the background. I mean THIS WOULD BE CANON. So it makes sense to write this into the game.
posted by Fizz at 6:29 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Does this include the mini game where at 11pm on a summer night...

I have the high score on that one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:20 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


The other Transcendentalists all show up as NPCs, right? Emerson and the Alcott family?

Based on the video I linked upthread, Emerson at least makes an appearance as a quest-giver of sorts.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:59 PM on July 28


From what I've heard, the number one foraging destination should be Emerson's house.
posted by happyroach at 8:52 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


> GROW BEANS
The beans have failed to grow
> I
You have money, an aunt, food stores, and friends
> GO WEST
Life is peaceful there, in the open air. It smells of fresh baking. There is a pie on a windowsill
> GET PIE
You steal the pie. You hear a child crying as you skulk away
> EAT PIE
It tastes much better than failed beans
> CONTEMPLATE BEANS
You may be overthinking this.

posted by benzenedream at 10:49 PM on July 28 [14 favorites]


Definitely going to give it a try. I never considered that Walden could be made into a game, but I'm already holding out hope for Walden Two.
posted by frimble at 3:32 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


If entering the Konami Code doesn't make a Katamari ball fall out of the sky in front of you, all of this has been for naught.
posted by delfin at 5:37 AM on July 29


I'm already holding out hope for Walden Two.
Working title: Transcendental Boogaloo
posted by cardioid at 7:59 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


From what I've heard, the number one foraging destination should be Emerson's house.

Emerson is Ned Flanders, Thoreau is Homer. Discuss.
posted by zippy at 12:45 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]


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