Star-Fired Beef

Steam Challenge – Dear Esther

5 Comments

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 2 hours

From what I gather, Dear Esther has polarised the gaming community. It seems you either “get” it, and you proclaim the wonders of the experience and hail it as life-changing; or you don’t, and you bitterly declaim your lost, wasted time, calling it a pretentious non-game, a tech demo, a ‘walking simulator’ if you’re feeling charitable.Β Is it even a game? The debate on that rages on.

One might be tempted to call it an interactive story. Even that invites contradiction, as while there is a very small amount of control available to the player, there is no real interactivity beyond movement. In addition, there seems to be a story, but the deeper you go, the more questions are raised. What is real? What is symbolic? What is projection? Do seemingly scattered thoughts and memories a story make? Is this just madness?

I can really only say that this is art. The music, sound effects, narration, and graphics are all astoundingly excellent. They come together perfectly to present a totally immersive atmosphere, but only if you are open to it. Do not try to impose yourself on Dear Esther. Do not demand anything from it. Come to it from a place of wonder, and you will be rewarded with an extraordinary experience.

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5 thoughts on “Steam Challenge – Dear Esther

  1. This game is on my to-play list. I don’t own it yet, but I tend to enjoy what other folks call walking simulators. πŸ™‚

  2. I’m conflicted about Dear Esther. I thought it was a gorgeous game – the caves and the ending area in particular were stunning. I can’t really say that I enjoyed playing it though (but I’m not sorry that I did). I like games where I can just walk around and explore, but I felt like DE just didn’t give me enough to discover. Whereas something like Gone Home had a very cogent story (though there were blanks you could fill in yourself) and lots of little nostalgic things to keep me interested, I felt like DE’s narration was just too nebulous and too infrequent to really keep me interested. I can handle (and often appreciate) minimal traditional gameplay, and I can handle stories being left up to my interpretation but both of these together, to such an extreme degree left me wanting something more.

    • [SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t played Dear Esther, read on at your own risk!]

      I can understand that. The story, as it is, is very hard to describe. Really all you can say for sure is that there was a car accident. But apart from that, everything ends in more questions. I swung back and forth between believing that the island was real, and believing it was all in the narrator’s mind. Has the accident just happened? Is the narrator dying, in hospital? Has he just gone mad from grief after years of trying to cope with his loss? What is the meaning of the circuit diagrams, the chemical chains? What is the significance of the “Damascus” writings? And so on and so on. I am convinced that the narration being nebulous and infrequent was deliberately designed to keep you guessing, to avoid pointing to any definitive answers.

      Beyond the story though, what really captured my heart was the first chapter of the island, and the solitude of the place. At first I was irritated by the slow movement, but when I gave in to the visual and aural immersion, I found myself just wandering about (as much as you can) and dwelling on the idea of being on a remote, rocky outcrop looking out to the North Sea or North Atlantic. That was the sense of wonder I was talking about in the post. But if you really aren’t interested in doing the work to get your mind into that state of receptiveness, which I am sure many players aren’t because it’s not how they enjoy their games, then I can definitely see how you could be left wanting more, or feeling dissatisfied.

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