Conundrum: They’re making a Walden video game! But…

Then again, there is already a Henry David Thoreau MountainMan action figure.

Here’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d see:

The University of Southern California has received a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to produce a video game based on the work of Henry David Thoreau.

At least that’s the word from and a few other sites that report on culture – as in Thoreau and the NEA. And video games, too. Like ’em or not, they expose millions of people to visual arts, music and many hours of staring while remaining mostly immobile (helpful at art museums and symphonic concert halls).

Here’s a little more from mediabistro about the game the NEA will help fund:

The player will inhabit an open, three-dimensional game world which will simulate the geography and environment of Walden Woods. Once developed, the game will be available online.

So, yeah, I think this is pretty cool. But then there’s this from the New York Times:

The National Endowment for the Arts made sweeping cuts in its support of established PBS shows in the 2012 Arts in Media grants, which were announced Wednesday morning.

That’s pretty clear, right? More money to help software designers make a video game and less money to help producers make Public TV shows.

Full disclosure: I don’t watch TV. The last thing I saw produced by PBS was a NOVA show called “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” and I ordered it years ago from Netflix. (Great documentary, by the way. I highly recommend it.)

More recently, I played video games – Mario Kart and Madden 2012. (Madden’s a little buggy, a little glitchy, but both games were a lot of fun.) I played them with my fiance’s nephew and niece, who couldn’t get enough game time. They’re pretty smart kids and they’re interested in lots of stuff, but I don’t think they’d sit through repeated screenings of “Intelligent Design on Trial.”

Tallying up my TV and video game time, I’d guess I’ve spent approximately 72 hours out of the past five years indulging in both, combined. Which means I don’t know. And that’s why I’m writing this: I’d like to know what you think.

Where would you put the money? In your opinion, which platform – TV shows or video games – would reach more people?

As you’re trying to figure out rightness, wrongness and fairness in the NEA’s decisions, here are a few other points to keep in mind:

According to the NEA’s own 2012 Guide, it was created by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government to:

…support artistic excellence, creativity and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.

The NEA cut funding for telecasts of “Live From Lincoln Center” and “Great Performances At The Met,” for “The PBS NewsHour” and the “Independent Lens” documentary series.

An NEA director told the Times:

…the endowment hopes to help build a public media sector for gaming, which is now almost entirely commercially driven.

So what do you think? Please comment below:

3 Comments on “Conundrum: They’re making a Walden video game! But…”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Dumb. Waste of money. Video games are dumb.

  2. Anita says:

    Without knowing what I was doing, I raised a daughter who is a gamer. My grandkids love video games, too. I can see why the NEA thinks that culturally based video games may be a better way to reach younger people than television shows. That said, the folks creating a game based on Thoreau may find that only the few will traipse throw the wilderness of games based on tank fights, alien invasions, Marios, anime and dragons to find and play their game. They better find some good focus groups to help them design something that will actually appeal to the intended market.

  3. The technical term for this is death by irony.

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