When I want a serious simulation of violence I head to the game room. There is no better way to go on a blind, murderous rampage than to plug in any number of first-person shooter games. Grand Theft Auto. Thrill Kill. Bullet to the Head. Me Pull Trigger, You Burst Open Sticky…stuff like that. There are a ton of options. The meaning of real life may be elusive, but when the meaning of a game is to carjack as many old ladies as you can, knock them over the head and use their meager social security money to get lap dances at the virtual strip club, a man is finally free from the lingering existential ambiguities of actual life. Nothing makes me happier at the end of a long day of computerized blood-letting on scorched city streets than to have a stripper twerking above me and my champagne bottle.
While I enjoy a good virtual spree killing, I am also a fan of classical literature.
So happy was I to see an advertisement for a game based on Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” Finally, I thought. The one thing I had been missing from my indiscriminate gunning down of random citizens was the meticulous philosophy of a nineteenth century transcendentalist who sought to “live deliberately.”
I was in a hurry that day and didn’t have time to actually read the particulars of the new game, and in a sense I didn’t need to. I have long considered myself somewhat of a Thoreau expert. My alternative interpretations of his ideas on solitude, economy and frugality are all the rage in America’s prison system. Felons write to me all the time, telling me that my explanations of solitude (or, don’t fuck with me), economy (or don’t touch my shit), and frugality (or don’t use all this shit at once) has really helped them do their hard time with a healthy perspective. I heard they were going to have a prison riot out in Corcoran in honor of me, but the guards got wise and the bloods were pelted with rubber bullets. They will try again, they assure me, as I also counsel about the importance of perseverance.
In the Walden game the character sets about implementing a life of solitude and quiet meditation at Walden pond, outside of Concord, Massachusetts. The character learns to relax and find harmony in the rural surroundings. In the first stage the character spends his time hoeing his garden, his beans and potatoes, all while quotes and suggestions by Thoreau himself are displayed across the bucolic setting. Then what happens, though, in the second stage, is that the character gets fed up with all this sitting around. He decides that there are two ways to enjoy solitude. One is to travel away from the public. The other is to singlehandedly gun down huge swaths of people with automatic weapons. As the game gets more violent, sinister and intense, Thoreau promises, in a voice that gets deeper and deeper, to build his serenity on a road of bones. When a first-person shooter executes an entire community, they will have all the solitude they need. Instead of hoeing a row of beans in the first part, the second part of the game is dedicated to beaning “a row of ho,” slapping them upside the head for talking back and withholding their earnings. Little known fact was that Thoreau had a vast stable of hookers to subsidize his scholarship. As Thoreau was fond of saying, “A man is rich in the number of things he can afford to let alone.” Which, loosely translated, means that sometimes a guy has to slap a bitch to cool her out. When Thoreau warns that men have become, “the tools of their tools,” what he means of course is that a gun doesn’t fire itself, and a bullet saved is a bullet wasted.
What the Walden game inevitably teaches is that a bloody-thirsty mania and a desire for the exercise of arts and humanities need not be mutually exclusive. Mankind is a complex species, rich in apparent contradiction, and the highest and lowest of human potential needs a stage to be acted out upon. Eventually the game player is given the option of dropping the gun, employing the service of a high-powered defense attorney, and watching his own insanity trial from a cage in the courtroom, like raving Russian cannibal Andrei Chikatilo. After the guilty verdict, the player is led down a dank hallway and given a bullet to the back of the head. The player then has the option of starting the game anew.
There is much to be learned from this video game, and I for one applaud its invention. Finally, Thoreau is given his true street cred for being an ass-kicking vigilante who just happened to go off to live among the majesty of the mountaintops, the clear mirror of the lake, the firmament of the stars. When Thoreau poses the rhetorical question, “Why should a man begin digging his grave as soon as he is born?” His answer, predictably, is because he, Thoreau, is coming to town to loot the place and burn it to the ground.
More Alembics to come, bitches.