An Antidote to a Life of Quiet Desperation: Walden, a game

Sammy Dalati Art

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition . . . till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake.

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods

It was the middle of the worldwide Industrial Revolution and life was changing quickly when Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) retreated to the environs of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, on the 4th of July, 1845, to live deliberately in a one-room hut he’d built on a woodlot belonging to Ralph Waldo Emerson. The two-hundredth anniversary of the famous Transcendentalist’s birth has been marked by celebrations in his hometown of Concord, the release of a commemorative stamp by the USPS, and a traveling exhibition—opening at the Concord Museum on September 29—of Thoreau’s exuviae (a word Thoreau uses to refer, dismissively, to worldly belongings), including more than twenty of his journals, his goose quill pen, and the green-painted white pine school desk he used in his cabin in the woods.

But the most intriguing tribute is surely Walden, a game. Produced by USC’s Game Innovation Lab, Walden, a game lets you (virtually) experience what Thoreau’s life was like during the two years, two months, and two days that he lived at Walden Pond.

  • The game belongs to a burgeoning genre known, somewhat pejoratively, as “walking simulators.” It’s in first person, and by using keyboard commands you can perambulate a simulated environment. Trace uncomplicated figures using your mouse or trackpad to build your own cabin, forage for food, and mend your sensibly simple clothing.