He went to the woods to live deliberately. Now you can too — virtually, with your family.
Tracy Fullerton, director of the USC Game Innovation Lab and designer of "Walden, A Game,” has made her educational, interactive Walden Pond simulation free for parents. The video game was already free for educators, but Fullerton knows that because of COVID-19, many parents have become teachers, too.
All parents need to do is register on the Walden game website as a parent/educator and they’ll get access. Fullerton said the game is good for “anyone going stir crazy,” and that it gives "kids an experience that’s about mindfulness and slowing down.”
Worth noting: it’s on sale for people who aren’t educators. Right now it’s 75 percent off, making it about $5.
“Walden, A Game” takes about six hours to get through, and you can stop, start, and take your time (that’s sort of the point). It allows players to experience the area through the lens of transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, whose “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” was published in 1854, after he lived in isolation near Walden Pond for more than two years.
Players can explore the land and interact with people like Ralph Waldo Emerson. Some of the greatest rewards come when a player slows down; when they get deep into the woods, they hear and see more.
There’s no winning, just engaging with what’s around them.
“It’s not just about surviving, it’s also about inspiration," Fullerton said. “When you’re in the woods, there are different things you build in the woods that literally change how the game looks and feels.”
Fullerton was inspired to create the game after revisiting the text and visiting the area over the years. Her father’s side of the family is local. “The Fullertons go back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony,” she said.
Up until recently, “Walden, A Game” was on display at the MassArt Art Museum as part of its “Game Changers” exhibition. Fullerton attended the opening in February, a few weeks before the museum closed to the public.
Kids might be excited to hear that “Walden, A Game” is sort of like Nintendo’s wildly popular game Animal Crossing, except philosophically, it’s much different, Fullerton said.
She explained that Animal Crossing — which is a huge hit with children and adults right now — was one the inspirations for “Walden, a game.” Years ago, she played the early version with her niece. Like “Walden,” “Animal Crossing” allows players to enjoy activities in a simulated world.
“We’d leave little flower beds for each other in the woods,” she said.
But Fullerton added, “The thing that always bothered me about ‘Animal Crossing’ is that it emphasized capitalism.”
In “Animal Crossing,” you collect things. You’re rewarded for what you acquire.
“One of the things I wanted to do was to make a game that deemphasized that treadmill,” Fullerton said. “Thoreau wasn’t for that. He wanted to have a house that was just enough to shelter himself from the environment.”
Fullerton acknowledged the irony in creating a video game about the purity of Walden, but, she said, Thoreau was an ironic guy.
She noted that you can explore more of Walden Woods in “Walden, A Game” than you can in real life. When you’re at the real Walden, you have to stay on the trails.
“Everything is fenced off,” she said. “That’s what Thoreau would have found ironic.”