Walden: The Game Is In DevelopmentS

EA can't have all the fun turning great books into video games. Tracy Fullerton wants to turn Henry David Thoreau's classic into one too.

Step aside, Dante's Inferno and you literary adapters at EA working on 2010's video game version of the Divine Comedy. Walden: The Game is also in the works.

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published the results of what would be one of the most famous experiments of American life. He went to the woods near Walden Pond in Concord Massachusetts to live a life of ascetic purity. He aimed to live alone, with the minimal requirements of life. He would remove himself from society to think and to appreciate life. (Read Thoreau's Walden here.)

That's tough material to adapt into a video game, and not material the most cynical critics and fans of games would expect.

But at the conclusion of a panel about the potential of documentary-style video games yesterday at the Games For Change festival in New York City, USC associate professor and influential video game educator/designer Tracy Fullerton revealed that she was, on the side, working with some colleagues to develop Walden: The Game.

"We were attempting to recreate the tenets of the philosophy," she said. "Within the mechanics of the game, we want to have the player re-enact the experiment of living that Thoreau took on when he went to live at Walden Pond." The game will also recreate the events that occurred while Thoreau was there.

Here's an excerpt from Walden that articulates Thoreau's goals:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Fullerton told Kotaku that the project is very early. She's worked on it with a small team on and off for about a year and has no idea of when it will come out. One of the chief challenges the developers face, she said, is of player expectation. Gamers expect a reward-based gameplay system. Do this to unlock that. But such material gain — or even simulated material gain — is contrary to Thoreau's experience at Walden, and certainly contradictory to what the writer hoped to achieve during his sojourn from society. "We need to break game player's expectations," Fullerton said.

For those who would be skeptical that a Walden video game is achievable, it's worth noting Fullerton's credentials as an adviser to such celebrated and artistically experimental USC-based game projects as Jenova Chen's Cloud and flow.

If someone can make this work, Fullerton is not a bad candidate at all.