The Game ‘Walden’ Shows Us That Some Things Can’t Be Digitized

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In the e-book Walden, Thoreau writes scene after scene of his adventures by the pond, every recounted with specificity and delight. I particularly love his story about fishing by moonlight.

“These experiences were very memorable and valuable to me,—anchored in forty feet of water, and twenty or thirty rods from the shore, surrounded sometimes by thousands of small perch and shiners, dimpling the surface with their tails in the moonlight, and communicating by a long flaxen line with mysterious nocturnal fishes which had their dwelling forty feet below, or sometimes dragging sixty feet of line about the pond as I drifted in the gentle night breeze, now and then feeling a slight vibration along it, indicative of some life prowling about its extremity, of dull uncertain blundering purpose there, and slow to make up its mind. At length you slowly raise, pulling hand over hand, some horned pout squeaking and squirming to the upper air. It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again.”

I don’t have particular reminiscences of enjoying the sport Walden, although I’ve performed it for hours. The moments of fishing and repairing the cabin and strolling by way of the woods all blur collectively, and for good purpose: every has the identical in-game mechanics. The “catch a fish” sequence appears the identical, each single time.

The game-makers name that sequence, “fishing,” however would Thoreau say the identical? He argued for trying previous the identify of a factor, and focusing as an alternative on what that factor truly was. “I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things,” he writes, with scrumptious acidity. He takes Concord for example: “If a man should walk through this town and see only the reality…[and he] should give us an account of [it], we should not recognize the place in his description. Look at a meeting-house, or a court-house, or a jail, or a shop, or a dwelling-house, and say what that thing really is before a true gaze, and they would all go to pieces in your account of them.”

He means, I feel, that we give labels to buildings (“a house,” “a post office,”) after which we consider the buildings as their labels. We err in pondering {that a} factor is what it’s known as. That transference permits the game-makers to say {that a} simulation of dwelling intentionally permits the participant to expertise Thoreau’s personal deliberate life. So, what’s the distinction?

One day, Thoreau writes, he finds two species of ants battling on his wooden pile. Instead of chopping wooden, he watches them struggle, “and certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord history, at least, if in the history of America, that will bear a moment’s comparison with this.” The sport simulates the wooden pile, the setting through which Thoreau lived freely—a day of log-splitting turns into one among ant-watching—however no capability for spontaneous motion, on your personal free life inside that setting. I cut up loads of logs in-game, however I by no means noticed an ant, even a peaceable one.

Once, strolling within the sport, I startled a small purple fox. It bounded away, in a straight run in the direction of the shore, then over the pond’s floor. It didn’t sink or swerve, however ran over water prefer it was stable earth. Two scripts, “water” and “animal,” not interacting, as a result of they weren’t constructed to have the ability to.

So, was IRL Walden the appropriate place to “live deliberately,” as Thoreau had? I drove there on a sunny morning final summer season. I’ve a notoriously dangerous sense of path, however, because of the sport, I may truly inform the place I used to be on the shore in relation to what I regarded as “my” cabin. I walked across the pond with my pocket book, impatient for some leisure (and lacking the irony there).

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