In ‘Walden’ Video Game, the Challenge Is Stillness


The game — which Ms. Fullerton said is likely to cost $19.99 — takes six hours to play. It starts in the summer and ends a year later — offering players tasks like building a cabin, planting beans or chatting, virtually of course, with Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Should you not leave sufficient time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: “Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.”

Failure to heed the warning will result in a dimming of color and thinning of music.

“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.”

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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.”

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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.

And some Thoreau experts are not enthused by an electronic simulation of Walden Pond. “Go out and see your own backyard,” said Richard Higgins, whose book, “Thoreau and the Language of Trees,” is to be published in April by the University of California Press. “Nature is all around us.”

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