HIstorical Critique of Walden: A Game

Walden does a fantastic job of situating Thoreau’s whimsical prose in a well-designed and visually appealing context. The game combines the low barrier to entry of an audio book with the immersion and flow of a video game. Walden: A Game manages to make Thoreau more than just accessible but actively engaging as well. The environment begs the player to explore every nook and cranny with rewards like quotes, books, and nature facts. The player also uncovers a series of mini games, each of which provide the player with a useful resource. These resources provide a sense of progression and purpose. While it might not attract every kind of game, it should appeal strongly to players who like to manage their resources and explore virtual environments. The game also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Whereas Thoreau has a tendency to digress, Walden: A Game only takes twelve in game days. Games like these can quickly become repetitive to the point of feeling like a grind, but Walden opts for a small play-space so that it can be well saturated with collectibles and activities. The resource system provides a goal, but it doesn’t become over complicated or stressful. All the while, Thoreau’s prose and the beautiful environment make the game a real treat.

Regardless of its merits as game, does Walden deliver on its goal: communicating the essence of Thoreau’s account to the player? I think so. Walden: A Game manages an impressive balancing act between game and academic work. There’s enough fun to keep the player from getting bored, and part of that is thanks to the unobtrusive way Walden communicates its source material. The narration is pertinent, brief, and doesn’t take control away from the player, who is free to continue walking through the environment. Crucially, the developers did not bend the story beyond recognition to make a more widely appealing game. Plenty of people will think that Walden: A Game is just as boring as the book, but the goal of the project is not to make Walden a mass hit. The two major goals are to give those who already have experienced Walden a new way to interact with the work, spurring new thoughts, and to invite those who do enjoy the game to dig further into Thoreau’s Walden.

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