Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blog 6 - Prompt 1

The word "game" is referred to in the Oxford English dictionary as being an activity where "victory or success may be achieved through skill, strength, or good luck." A game can challenge these boundaries and work outside of this structure but there must be adherence to the fundamental principal of success being achieved. Video games are merely a subset of all games but are use a computer (PC, TV, Gameboy, etc.) as the medium of interaction and presentation. A change of medium does not change a game's fundamental purpose and therefore video games can not skirt the original definition.

It is clear that Dear Esther falls somewhere outside of this definition of a video game and is at odds with how what we traditionally perceive a game. Dear Esther in it's most simple form does not present success or achievement in its resolution. Dear Esther's goal is clearly to tell a story and hopes to provide a game while presenting the narrative. However it is important to not confuse the conclusion of a story with the resolution of a game. In the end of Dear Esther a player achieves nothing and merely wanders into the end of the narration. Pinsof notes that "Dear Esther is such a purely audio/visual experience that I have to conclude it would be better as a short film." The experience is driven entirely by the narrative and the scenery rather than a motive to achieve something. In order to argue that Dear Esther is a game it must also be argued that wandering aimlessly through a city or moving through screens on a computer's desktop environment are games. These scenarios present a story of sorts but there is no success or failure other than perhaps the passing of time. The only action a player is allowed in the beginning of the game that is outside the confines of the narrative is walking into the ocean and nearly drowning. Immediately here the player is then pulled back into the narrative by the narrator exclaiming "Come back...." and then the player is reset wherever is most appropriate for the narrative. However later in the game we see that the character can actually swim when it is convenient for the narrative in the caves [1]. MacDonald notes that "You feel the urge to stop and stare, to wander off the path and explore, but there's always the awareness in the back of your mind that there's not really anything to find." Dear Esther attempts to be a game but it is continually moved from this course to follow the line of the narrative.

When moving away from Dear Esther as a video game because of its reliance on a narrative it is natural to question the experience then as a work of art. Generally defined art must transcend its simplest form and produce insight or engage in a commentary of an original realm of thought. However when defining art we must consider two distinct groups who engage with these new ideas. The first definition requires the insights presented by a work of art are perceived by its creators. Through this definition, if a person connects emotionally with his or her work in a way that they have never experienced then the work is art. However, works of art can be defined differently by requiring the audience to perceive new insight from the work. Here the work must be presented in a way that elicits a unique emotional response from its audience.

If we consider these two separate definitions of art it is hard to define something as art or otherwise. The art it is wholly dependent on a person's perception of the work. However, it is clear that a creator-centric view of art enables Dear Esther to have the potential to be a work of art. If we assume that the creators of Dear Esther were moved by creating the art then it is in fact art. Additionally if the a player of Dear Esther can find insight by playing the game then possibly it fits into the second definition. However this second definition is far less plausible in the case of Dear Esther. Dear Esther attempts to frame a narrative which in it's own right could be art but any original meaning that could be taken from the narrative is overshadowed by the attempts at game-play. Throughout the work, the complex language that is being used is hard to decipher. One such passage is near the end of the work when the narrator explains, "We will leave twin vapour trails in the air, white lines etched into these rocks. I am the aerial. In my passing, I will send news to each and every star." This excerpt holds metaphor and emotion that must be contemplated thoroughly to understand and find deeper meaning. Yet the player is presented with the words quickly and must navigate the world simultaneously. If the game is making an attempt to connect in an artistic way with its audience the game-play severely distracts this goal.



Allistair, Pinsof. "Review: Dear Esther." Destructoid, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.

MacDonald, Keza. "Dear Esther Review." IGN. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.

Swimming through caves in Dear Esther

1 comment:

Adam said...

Good opening definition - Adam has a similar approach, but you're a little more focused. However, I do think there is potential tension between "victory and success" here - think in terms of the sort of cooperative games which are sometimes imposed on kids, wherein everyone can achieve success by cooperating rather than competing... Might Dear Esther have some characteristics along these lines?

Your 2nd paragraph raises some implicit questions, starting with the relationship between "success or achievement" on one hand and "narrative" on the other. I'm not totally convinced that it's try that narrative frameworks (which are, after all, imposed on events or used to explain them - they are not the events themselves) do not inherently involve some concept of success or achievement. A philosophically engaged revision might engage with this question (I bet there are theorists of gaming who have worked on similar questions, although I'm hardly certain).

Your definition of art lacks clarity. Is it your definition? If so, claim it and use it as such. Otherwise, your definition(s) seem arbitrary, even directionless. At the least, you need to explain why you use them, if only in this context.

"Yet the player is presented with the words quickly and must navigate the world simultaneously. If the game is making an attempt to connect in an artistic way with its audience the game-play severely distracts this goal." If you explained/grounded your definitions better, then analyzed the difficulty in the game in more detail (maybe simply by writing in depth about your own experience of the ending), this could work very well. I think the approach is good, but the definitions lack grounding and your analysis of the game itself lacks detail - both of which could be addressed in a revision.