By Lars Olsen

Walden, a Game undertakes the seemingly impossible task of converting American philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s most popular piece of literature into a video game. Nevertheless, the result is a surprisingly thoughtful experience focused on achieving work-life balance. You would be hard-pressed to find a more peaceful, reflective survival game available.

The game is a first-person simulation of the social experiment that Thoreau captured in his famous book, Walden. Beginning in the summer of 1845, the game loosely follows the timeline of his first year living in the woods at Walden Pond. The player undertakes their own journey of “living deliberately” in these woods near the town of Concord, Massachusetts, in a landscape modeled after reality, right down to the flora and fauna.

On this journey, players are in full control of their actions and the resulting consequences. You can play Walden like a classic survival game – fishing, mending clothes, and chopping wood all day – but lack of rest and reflection will cause your character to lose inspiration, silencing the birds and draining color from the woods. Alternatively, you may play the game like a virtual stroll through the woods – listening to bird calls and identifying plants – but you will soon starve and freeze. The key to success is finding a balance between work and meditation, just as Thoreau did.

We live in a society where “busy” is equated with “successful”, but Walden allows you to rethink what is truly important in life. This gentle pace challenges the player to find satisfaction through introspection and simple pleasures. We have been well trained by survival games to constantly search for the next task and finish as much as possible before sun-down. In Walden, no monsters come in the night, leaving you with plenty of time for a stroll around the pond. This format takes some getting used to, but it is an excellent reminder to slow down in the real world too.

The themes posed by Walden may be more important than ever for a generation of Millennials that have grown up with smartphones in their pockets. The game is also likely a more inviting medium to explore for a younger audience than the novel, so it makes the story more accessible than ever. Along with this accessibility, Walden has strong educational potential for players of all ages. Playing upon Thoreau’s values of environmentalism and self-reliance, the game can revitalize these same ideas that have been discussed in classrooms for over a century.  

Walden brings to life the Walden Woods and makes Thoreau’s story available to everyone. It immerses players in these tranquil woods, and advocates for a slower pace of life. Given Thoreau’s scorn for technological advances speeding up life, I wonder how he would react to his experiment being condensed into a 6-hour video game. Nonetheless, Walden provides an opportunity for everyone to take a trip to the woods and consider the pace of life.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 8+
Platform: itch.io – Windows and MacOS – $18.45

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