Well, we weren't quite ready to push this out yet, but so many of you have reached out in the past few days because of the New York Times coverage that we've decided to go ahead and open up our early access alpha ... well, early! You can now find the alpha version on Itch.io - just click the link below.
Walden, a game, is a first person simulation of the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond. The game begins in the summer of 1845 when Thoreau moved to the Pond and built his cabin there.
Players follow in his footsteps, surviving in the woods by finding food and fuel and maintaining their shelter and clothing. At the same time, players are surrounded by the beauty of the woods and the Pond, which hold a promise of a sublime life beyond these basic needs. The game follows the loose narrative of Thoreau’s first year in the woods, with each season holding its own challenges for survival and possibilities for inspiration.
The audience for the game is broad: from experimental game players to lovers of Thoreau and Transcendental literature. As such, the game offers more opportunities for reflective play than strategic challenge. The piece has a subtle narrative arc, in homage to the original text, which is not an adventure of the body pitted against nature, but of the mind and soul living in nature over the course of a New England year.
We have just opened a quiet early access alpha on Itch.io if you'd like to play now and give feedback. For those of you asking why we haven't updated this site in a while ... well, we've been very busy building a six-hour open world game with a tiny team of developers! But, we're really close now and are looking forward to releasing the final version in time for the 200th anniversary of Thoreau's birth this year.
There are many reasons why Thoreau’s work should be important to us today – from his core environmentalism, to his criticisms of the ways in which technologies change the speed and value of our lives, to his fundamental questioning of the role of government in society – all of which are as critical, if not more, than when he was writing. As the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth approaches, the opportunity to relive his famous experiment in simple, self-reliant living in the form of an immersive game seems particularly relevant to those of us living in a world dominated by concerns about our relationship to nature, technology and governments. Walden, a game gives digital natives the opportunity to meet Thoreau’s ideas in a form that makes them interactive and immersive.
It is not our hope that the game would ever replace reading the book of Walden, or taking a lovely walk out doors, or getting closer to nature in any way. We hope the game is actually a path for more people to find their way back to Thoreau, and to nature, and to be inspired to think more deliberately about the choices they make about life and how to live it simply and wisely.
The game has been on exhibit as a work in progress for several years. Most recently it was at Davos, at the World Economic Forum. And it is currently on display at the Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. The game won Most Meaningful Game at Meaningful Play 2016 and was selected as part of the IDFA's Canon of 100 Interactive Documentaries. Over the past year or so, we've shown the game in various states of production at Sundance New Frontier, IndieCade, Tokyo Game Show, the Sheffield Doc Fest, the IDFA DocLab, the Cleveland International Film Festival, among others venues. So, yes you may have seen it mentioned or exhibited before. This year, as we reach the 200th anniversary of Thoreau's birth, we'll be finishing it and getting it out to the public. First, on PC and Mac, and later we'll be working to get it onto game consoles.
The Smithsonian Magazine has called the game "the world's most improbable video game" and the Walden Woods Project's director Kathi Anderson feels the game could introduce Walden to a whole new audience, even though "they're not the same as the people who would sit down and read Thoreau's book." We hope that you might be one of those people who does both, actually.