A video game about a 19th-century philosopher living in a shack, where there’s only one character and nothing happens? Sign us up!
Yes, the knee-jerk reaction to the idea of a role-playing videogame made out of Walden — Henry David Thoreau’s 1840s treatise on outdoorsmanship and self reliance — may be cynicism. But a group of academics at the University of Southern California aren’t joking around: the game, by all appearances, is being thoughtfully rendered. And earlier this week, the National Endowment for the Arts gave a $40,000 grant to the school to help ease production costs for a project that has been in the works for years. “Having this support will allow the time we need to really bring the world of Walden to life,” said the lead game designer, USC Associate Professor Tracy Fullerton, in an email to TIME. “We anticipate a rich simulation of the woods, filled with the kind of detail that Thoreau so carefully noted in his writings.”
The game, as we gather from its description and multiple simulated trailers, wants to mimic the meditative outdoor life described in Thoreau’s best-known work, written about his two years spent living in a cabin on the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. The digital Walden Pond will showcase a first-person point-of-view where you can wander through the lush New England foliage, stop to examine a bush and pick some fruit, cast a fishing rod, return to a spartan cabin modeled after Thoreau’s and just roam around the woods, grappling with life’s unknowable questions.
As Fullerton explains, the game is more Thoreau primer than a substitute for the book or a real jaunt in the woods. “When I first thought of making this game, it was as an introduction for young people, who might not have read the book yet,” she says.
Still, the concept begs the question about why the already Thoreau-inspired wouldn’t want to just start off with a backpack to some sparsely populated reserve to do their quiet contemplation in real life. But that isn’t the point of the game. “Of course everyone should spend time in nature; but not all of us are able to set aside our lives for the time it would take to conduct an experiment like Thoreau’s,” Fullerton acknowledges. “The game is not a replacement for direct experience, just as the book is not.”
As for when the game will become a reality on your computer screens, Fullerton said that her team will be working on the project “over the next year or so to get a version ready, but there is no release date set.”