SGS Celebrates Graduate Student Winners of Federal Tri-Council Awards - Jamie Evan Kitts

Author: Sarah Hall

Posted on Mar 30, 2023

Category: News and Events , Student Stories

Profile of: Jamie Evan Kitts

Award Received: Canada Graduate Scholarship – Masters (The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada)

Awarded for the project: The Intersectional Gamer: A Political Sojourn into the Digital Walden

Faculty: Arts

Department: English

Project supervised by: Stephen Schryer and David Huebert

I think if you carefully read Henry David Thoreau’s concerns about emerging technology as a tool for spreading ideology, it provides a more compelling and damning lens of social media’s capacity for spreading conservatism, fascism, and white supremacy. Every once in a while I get to give guest lectures to undergraduate students studying American literature or electronic texts, and the big thing I try to emphasize is that Thoreau wasn’t just some cranky old man who hated the news and new things, like trains and their noise. He was in his late-20s when he lived at Walden Pond and he was politically and radically engaged in his community. He was an activist, an advocate, an abolitionist, a teacher trying to mentor his students in the good and in making morally conscious choices. And Thoreau lived by example; he withheld taxes in protest of America’s war with Mexico. Thoreau was drawing attention to the American government’s promotion of technology as a social good while it built railroads with slave labor.

As such, my thesis will draw connections between Thoreau’s 19th century concerns and ways they’ve played out in gaming social spaces. Walden, a game, the videogame adaptation of his Walden, engages with Thoreau’s morals and lets players deviate or reflect on them. I prefer to use the term “player” to describe an audience playing a videogame, because the word “gamer” conjures a specific political entity which, for me at least, is defined as much as Walden, a game is by its prominence in the 2010s. While the purpose of the game is not really to radicalize its players or fully educate its audience on all of Thoreau’s politics, the possibilities in emergent play narratives allow for players to accept or decline invitations to role-play as Thoreau at critical junctures of his life, and then to reflect on similar tests of their own moral character. Walden, a game was released on the heels of an era defined by movements like GamerGate and Unite the Right, two events which have a lot more in common than you might think. I get asked by those undergrad students, and by established Americanists and Thoreauvians, why make a videogame out of Thoreau’s teachings? And while the game’s director has given extensive lectures on why she made the game, I think gamers need Thoreau more than ever, a charismatic role model who could meet young men where they were and relate to them about their same worldly concerns, and crucially lead them away from right-wing extremism.