Thursday, April 26, 2012

Call of the Mild

Do what now?

The University of Southern California has been given $40,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts to develop Walden, in which “the player will inhabit an open, three-dimensional game-world, which will simulate the geography and environment of Walden Woods”. With the game drawing from the detailed notes Thoreau wrote about the area and its landscape, flora and fauna, users will be able not only to walk in the author’s footsteps but also, said the university, “discover in the beauty of a virtual landscape the ideas and writings of this unique philosopher, and cultivate through the gameplay their own thoughts and responses to the concepts discovered there”.

...The team behind the video game Walden said it “posits a new genre of play, in which reflection and insight play an important role in the player experience”. While the player travels through the virtual world of Walden, and deals with everyday life at Walden Pond, they will also be asked, the team said, to “focus on the deeper meaning behind events that transpire in the world. By attending to these events, the player is able to gain insight into the natural world, and into connections that permeate the experience of life at Walden.”

Now, I know what you're thinking—it seems like an incredibly ironic joke to use a video game to gain insight into the natural world. But this does sound like the sort of roughing it that Henry was most comfortable with:

The inestimably priggish and tiresome Henry David Thoreau thought nature was splendid, splendid indeed, so long as he could stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core. This wasn't the tame world of overgrown orchards and sun-dappled paths that passed for wilderness in suburban Concord, Massachusetts, but a forbidding, oppressive, primeval country that was "grim and wild…savage and dreary." fit only for "men nearer of kin to the rocks and wild animals than we." The experience left him, in the words of one biographer, "near hysterical."