Walden: A Game, a Historicized Open World Done Right

I’d like to start off by saying I thoroughly enjoyed watching gameplay of Walden: A Game. As a first-person open world simulation set in a woodland landscape rendered to the finest detail, Walden captures an experience suspended between historically authentic and accurate. On the one hand, interactivity with textual, material, and environmental artifacts moves the game very close to accuracy. However, it is difficult to know and thus convey the exact accounts of Thoreau’s day-to-day activities (which the game makers don’t try achieve: “it follows the loose narrative of Thoreau’s first year in the woods”), aligning the experience closer with authenticity. This caveat is one seen before; historical accuracy is often not possible in games due to archival voids and player choice.

Beyond the discussion of authenticity versus accuracy, there might be something distinctly powerful, in terms of its educative potential, surrounding Walden. Compared to other open world simulations, as Drama in the Delta comes to mind, Walden occupies a sweet spot in allowing for a very flexible, engaging narrative where regardless of how it’s played out, is still grounded in historical fact. Playing through Walden is nothing like the museum mock-up of Drama in the Delta lacking ‘procedural reality,’ especially in full-screen with the volume turned up. Perhaps the Transcendentalist storyline of living in the woods simply lends itself well to a flexible gamification, though, and it’s just a matter of ideal historical topic.

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