Most of my knowledge of videogames comes from my brother, who is not a big gamer himself. So, my extremely limited knowledge of videogames is based off of the James Bond and sports games he liked. Safe to say, I am used to games with a clear goal that are almost entirely based on player interaction. In those games, you have to constantly be focused or you drop the ball, sometimes literally. Playing Dear Esther was basically the exact opposite of these, “With no goals, guns, puzzles or any of the other things that you often find in games” (MacDonald). You can keep “middle-finger glued down to the “W” key for the game’s duration” (Pinsof), eat a bagel and tell your roommate to turn down her music and not miss a beat of the game. For me, this was quite a different experience and felt more like a very dull movie with a lot of excruciatingly slow walking. Even, exploring in the game was quite prohibited. Most of the time the only way to move around was on the path shown. Try to deviate from that and you hit a tiny, insurmountable rock or fence or drown. Even when you get “lost” in the game it still seems like a path laid out for that purpose. While my knowledge of video games may be incomplete, I still think I grasp the basic concepts of gaming. If Dear Esther is a game, it lacks the engaging and entertainment factors that I value in videogames but I don’t feel I have an in depth or extensive enough familiarity with videogames to be able to label it one way or another.
I do agree with Pinsof that “it would be better as a short film”(Pinsof). I can honestly say I felt I gained nothing other than a sore finger from having the game presented in this format. A short film may have even been more engaging because you would not be constantly reminded of reality because of the need to move around. A short film would allow for one to become completely immersed in the plot and mystery of the story.
Whether Dear Esther is art is a much more complex question in my eyes. I believe art is a subject in which everyone has a slightly different definition or view of art, which makes it difficult to determine. The first thing many people turn to when defining art is beauty. The beauty does not necessarily have to be physical or obvious, but most believe it should be there. Dear Esther certainly has the physical beauty the scenery in the game especially “the cave section in the narrative’s 2nd act is astounding” (Pinsof).
I would argue that Dear Esther also has a second kind of beauty. A beauty that brings forth thought and emotion. The game is formatted so no one player can hear the whole story in one run-through. In general, it leaves more questions than answers and, at least in my case, sends the players out into discussion boards and reviews to try and decipher it, and get others takes. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Promote thought? Looking at the reviews for Dear Esther, one can find “there's been a lot of conversation about whether Dear Esther really counts as a game” and what it offers (MacDonald). It allows one to rethink their view of a small piece of the world and “If you do connect with it, Dear Esther can change your perspective on what games could be doing” (MacDonald).
Although it is confusing and at times undecipherable, the plot and narrative of the story lends itself to this definition of beauty, as well. Even if you have no idea what is going on lines like “This will be my last letter. Do they pile up even now on the doormat of our empty house? Why do I still post them home to you? Perhaps I can imagine myself picking them up on the return I will not make, to find you waiting with daytime television and all its comforts” (Dear Esther), still evoke some emotion. These chunks of emotion are few and far between, in my view, but they are still represented. With a more comprehensible story, we may have been easier to label this piece of the game art. Much of the story is just perplexing and extremely vague. Standing alone the story is mostly just confusing especially considering the fact that you never get the full narrative with one run-through.
While art may still be defined many different ways, Dear Esther fits my definition quite well. Art does not necessarily mean you have to like or even fully understand what you are looking at but it offers some beauty and a different and unique view of a subject.