Media Resource

Walden, a game

Map of Walden Pond
Photo caption

Map of Walden Pond as depicted in Walden, a game 

To walk in a winter morning in a wood where these birds abounded, their native woods, and hear the wild cockerels crow in the trees, clear and shrill for miles over the resounding earth, drowning the feebler notes of other birds—think of it!

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s classic meditation on self-reliance and nature, continues to offer students a valuable perspective nearly two centuries after its first publication in 1854. Now students can also experience the world of Walden Pond through a role-playing game funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Walden, a game lets students explore the woods where this transcendentalist thinker made his temporary home, and a new suite of supporting classroom materials helps teachers bring the experience into their English language arts or social studies curriculum.  

In this game, players assume the role of Henry David Thoreau as he carries out his experiment of self-reliance and searching for the sublime in nature. The narrative of Thoreau’s first year in the woods loosely guides the play, which offers reflective practice rather than strategy or competition.  

By simulating the experience of Thoreau – building a cabin in the woods, keeping a journal, interacting with nature and animals – students gain an appreciation for the transcendentalist philosophy at the heart of Walden. The Walden Woods Project, with support from NEH, has made available the full text of Walden, as well as correspondence and many other archival resources you may find helpful.  

Walden EDU Curriculum Materials

In addition to the original version of Walden, a game, teachers can now take advantage of  Walden EDU, featuring 15-30 minute game modules specifically designed for the classroom. These modules are accompanied by curriculum materials with flexible lesson outlines and assessments suitable for in-person, virtual, or hybrid learning settings.    

Lesson 1: Self-reliance. This lesson is guided by the first two chapters of Walden and asks students to consider Thoreau’s experiment in the context of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Is self-reliance the same as isolation? How can community and independence be woven together? Why have some groups intentionally built community outside of the larger society?   

Lesson 2: Where I Lived. This lesson focuses on the geography of Thoreau’s Walden Pond, as well as the surrounding woods and its resources. Activities draw attention to the stories of others who lived in these woods before and during Thoreau's time there, including Indigenous peoples, immigrants, and formerly enslaved people. Students are pushed to consider a more inclusive history of Walden Pond and also places in their own hometowns.  

Lesson 3: What I Lived For. This lesson gives students the opportunity to practice mindfulness and experience what Thoreau called “the sublime” – a type of spiritual encounter with the world. Students are encouraged to pay close attention to details in the game and in the world around them, rather than seeing their surroundings as merely a backdrop for their activities. An optional “walking meditation” can bring students to a greater appreciation of transcendentalism.   

Extension and Related Activities

Thoreau was part of an intellectual and philosophical movement known as transcendentalism, which promoted the belief that people could transcend the world of the senses to have a spiritual experience of the universe, often through communing with nature. The Walden Woods Project offers The Transcendentalists: Their Lives and Writings, a rich collection of works by many of Thoreau’s contemporaries.  

Features of Transcendentalist Literature: Introduce students to Margaret Fuller, an influential journalist, literary critic, and feminist. Fuller also served as editor of The Dial, a quarterly journal published by the New England transcendentalists. How do Fuller’s short poems from the first issue compare with Walden? Do the two authors seem to share the same thoughts about the natural world? Can you identify features that might characterize transcendentalist writing? Our glossary of literary terms may be helpful in analyzing tone, figurative language, and more.  

Transcendentalism and Anti-Slavery: Help students understand the relationship between transcendentalists and the slavery abolition movement by reading about William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator and founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Thoreau was a committed abolitionist and frequent contributor to The Liberator. In the essay “Slavery in Massachusetts” he pleads with his fellow citizens not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, which mandated that those escaping slavery by traveling to free states or territories must be captured and returned to slaveholders. What rhetorical devices make this argument so effective? How does his critique of slavery relate to the strong demonstration of individualism in Walden?