Walden, A Game

Game review by
David Wolinsky, Common Sense Media
Walden, A Game Game Poster Image
Beautiful open-world survival game promotes self-reflection.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

In addition to offering a deeply immersive history lesson on life of both Henry David Thoreau, life in 19th century United States, game also offers opportunities to think about economic policy, naturalist writings.

Positive Messages

Encourages you to reflect on balance, being present, choices you make.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Naturalist Henry David Thoreau is encouraged by his family, mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, other contemporary figures in his experiment to survive off land to reflect on life. They lend a supportive ear, speak honestly, purely, with great affection.

Ease of Play

Simple controls, easy to learn, wander around, experience things.

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism

You can wander into town to buy supplies, settle your tax bill; both of which illustrate by comparison how much inflation has impacted U.S., how crucial your limited purchasing decisions are.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Walden, A Game is a downloadable simulation of philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau's experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond. The game emphasizes reflective play than strategic challenges: You're intended to wander around the New England wilderness and observe, well, anything and everything that you come across. There's no inappropriate content to be found within the game, although it does focus on how much power your purchasing decisions have.

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What's it about?

In WALDEN, A GAME, you play as transcendentalist and naturalist Henry David Thoreau in 1845, during the first of his famous two-year experiment in simple and self-reliant living near Walden Pond. Back then, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection, and the game ambitiously seeks out to enable, encourage, and empower you to ponder the very same things. You can play through the year in six hours, and if so inclined, can start again making different choices and decisions.

Is it any good?

If this nature simulation had to be summed up in a single word, it would be "beautiful." Many video games are obsessed with recreating the look and feel of our real world, and impressively (in part due to the modest size of the team behind it) for the most part, this title does that. This is no small feat, as the game has to be completely idyllic for it to achieve the effect it's going for. Since you play as naturalist-philosopher and author Henry David Thoreau in his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond, a core part of the game is both making sure you tend to your survival and also making sure you are feeling inspired. Although we know by now in open-world and especially survival games that we must eat and find shelter in video games, those are digital inventions. Your character in this game will eat what you've foraged automatically; instead, you need to seek out inspiration in the game, which will almost always coincide with what you as a player find riveting, refreshing, or fascinating about the world. Literally, "inspiration" is one of the stats you must monitor, which can be remedied by wandering nature, happening upon animals, or lurking at the edge of areas to see what you can see and hear.

This is counter-balanced by the more pragmatic necessities and realities of survival. You need to mend your clothes, bolster your shelter, and find odd jobs (like catching fish, chopping wood, etc.) so you can buy more supplies or, if you choose, pay your taxes. By no means is this game intended to dazzle with action -- it's more about the Zen of minimalism, the Zen of realizing and remembering you are part of bigger systems both natural and manmade, and the impacts that your hasty and thought out decisions have. Think back to the fable about the ant and the grasshopper: Will you spend the summer preparing for the winter? Or will you go off doing as you please? Either way, you'll need to leave with your choices. As such, this makes Walden a great before-bed activity. You would be hard-pressed to name another game that's more peaceful, calm, or will make you think about how you should spend more time outdoors.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about writer Henry David Thoreau, whose experiences living in a cabin provided the basis for the book Walden; or, Life in the Woods, and also a wider public passion for nature and preservationism. Why would a game like this be relevant especially today?

  • Thoreau was famously known for criticizing technology's ability to change the speed and value of our lives, and also the role of government in society. How do you think using a device like this one you're reading this review on impacts the speed and thoughtfulness with which you make decisions, your life, and how the government impacts you?

  • People frequently criticize the internet, TV, or anything with a screen as preventing people from reading more -- even though you can also read entire books and articles on many devices with a screen. Do you think people are reading more or less today, and does that matter? Why or why not?

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