Friday, April 16, 2021

The game ‘Walden’ shows us that some things cannot be digitized

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In the book Walden, Thoreau writes scene after scene of his adventures at the edge of the pond, each recounted with specificity and delight. I especially like his story on moonlight fishing.

“These experiences have been very memorable and precious to me – anchored in forty feet of water, and twenty or thirty stems from the shore, sometimes surrounded by thousands of little poles and brilliants, lining the surface with their tails in the clear of the sea. moon, and communicating by a long line of linen with mysterious nocturnal fish that had their abode forty feet below, or sometimes trailing sixty feet of line around the pond as I drifted in the gentle night breeze, feeling the weather in time a slight vibration along it, indicating a certain life lurking at its end, of awkward and uncertain purpose dull, and slow to make up its mind. Finally, you get up slowly, pulling your hand over your hand, a horny pout squeaking and squirming in the air. It was very strange, especially in the dark nights, when your thoughts had been directed to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this slight jolt, which came to interrupt your dreams and connect you again to Nature. .

I don’t have specific memories of playing the game Walden, even though I played it for hours. The moments of fishing, repairing the cabin and walking in the woods all merge together, and for good reason: everyone has the same mechanics in the game. The “catch a fish” sequence looks the same every time.

Game makers call this streak “fishing”, but would Thoreau say the same? He pleaded to look beyond the name of a thing and instead focus on what that thing does. was. “I perceive that we New Englanders are living this wicked life that we do because our sight doesn’t get to the surface of things,” he writes with delicious acidity. He takes Concord as an example: “If a man were to walk through this town and only see reality…[and he] should report to us [it], do not recognize the place in its description. Look at a meeting house, or a courthouse, or a jail, or a store, or a dwelling house, and say what this thing really is before a real look, and they would all crash into your account of theirs. . “

He means, I think, that we label the buildings (“a house”, “a post office”) and then we think of the buildings. as their labels. We are wrong to think that one thing is What is that called. This transfer allows game creators to claim that a simulation of live deliberately allows the player to live the deliberate life of Thoreau. So what’s the difference?

One day, writes Thoreau, he finds two species of ants fighting on his pile of wood. Instead of chopping wood, he watches them fight, “and there is certainly no recorded combat in the history of Concord, at least if in the history of America it will stand a comparison of ‘hold on with that. The game simulates the woodpile, the setting in which Thoreau lived freely – an afternoon of splitting logs becomes that of watching ants – but no spontaneous ability to act, for your own free life in that setting. I have shared a lot of logs in the game, but I have never seen an ant, even a peaceful one.

Once, while walking in the game, I surprised a little red fox. He leaps, in a straight race towards the shore, then on the surface of the pond. It did not sink or warp, but sank on water as if it was solid earth. Two scripts, “water” and “animal”, do not interact, because they were not built to be able to do so.

So was IRL Walden, the right place to “live deliberately” like Thoreau had done? I went there on a sunny morning last summer. I have a noticeably poor sense of direction, but, thanks to the game, I could actually tell where I was on shore versus what I considered “my” cabin. I strolled around the pond with my notebook, eager to relax (and missing the irony).

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