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Tech Talk 15th May, 2018

• Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth — err, game.

Henry David Thoreau wrote those words — most of them — in his seminal book, “Walden”. They make up the objective of a video game that seeks to translate his exploits in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts, into a playable digital reality.

“Walden, a Game” is adapted from the book and launches Tuesday on PlayStation 4. It has been available on computers for almost a year.

“Obviously it’s an odd or unique idea for a game,” said Tracy Fullerton, who conceived the idea and led the team that created it at the University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab.

Fullerton told The Associated Press that “Walden” is one of her favourite books, and she thinks its meaning — a tale of escaping technology to appreciate nature — is topical today.

“It seemed to be a kind of game that he was playing,” Fullerton said. So she created one to mimic it.

Players drop in with a half-built cabin on the shores of Walden Pond. From there, they can essentially decide everything they do over eight seasons (Thoreau thought a year was better divided into eight parts than four), which takes six hours of real time.

They can finish building the house and toil in the fields, or they can venture out into 70 acres of virtual nature.

The objective is to find the right balance between survival — players can’t die, but they can faint — and fulfillment. As players seek more inspiration from nature, interacting with animals and trees, the actual game world becomes more colourful and more physically beautiful, Fullerton said.

The team at USC spent more than a decade creating the game, she said. Team members consulted literature and history experts to ensure the accuracy of its portrayals, and the game’s sound designer recorded all of its audible elements in the real Walden woods.

It’s available for free for teachers, and a curriculum is available online, but Fullerton said the game’s primary purpose is entertainment.

• President Donald Trump is signing an executive order to try to reform the US federal government’s confounding information technology structure.

The White House says Trump will order agencies to strengthen the roles of their chief information officers, requiring that they report directly to the agency heads.

The order being signed yesterday was developed by the Office of American Innovation, which is led by Jared Kushner. It is being cast by the White House as an effort to bring private-sector management principles to government. The White House says it is hoping to attract private-sector talent to the empowered roles and to give technical experts oversight of technical decisions.

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