Friday, February 21, 2014

Comments / questions on Dear Esther & Marcuse

Post your questions/thoughts as comments to this post.  Again:  a paragraph is fine, or a couple if you feel so moved.  You are posting on a question, problem or topic of your choice.  Citing a particular passage is recommended but not required.

16 comments:

Jessica Craig said...

In chapter five, Marcuse analyzes the role of history and reason in politics and society. He defines reason as, “the subversive power, the “power of the negative” that establishes, as theoretical and practical Reason, the truth for men and things— that is, the conditions in which men and things become what they really are.” This seems to suggest that reason reveals truth and purpose. Later Marcuse asserts, “The closed operational universe of advanced industrial civilization with its terrifying harmony of freedom and oppression, productivity and destruction, growth and regression is pre-designed in this idea of Reason as a specific historical project.” Marcuse is pointing out that reason is a binary – it is both oppressing and freeing. Marcuse goes on to write, “If man has learned to see and know what really is, he will act in accordance with truth.” So is Marcuse saying that reason exerts its power by alienating individuals or by forcing individuals to conform to what reason dictates for their futures? If this is the case, I can see how reason is oppressive. But how does Marcuse account for varying amounts of logic, what about flawed logic or maybe flawed logic cannot exist (Reason=Truth=Reality)? How does Marcuse say that reason is freeing or does he think it is freeing? Is there freedom in the way in which one reasons or does reason follow a predetermined fate?

Becca Garges said...

Dear Esther was interesting to play. It was more like a poetic exploration rather than a video game. I have so many questions. What does it mean? Did I imagine it or did I actually see a figure several times ahead on the path and above on the cliff? Is the player the narrator/writer of the letters? Why the candles? What was with the weird glowing paint? Why was I in an underwater highway world for a few seconds? Does the player commit suicide at the end or does he turn into a bird? What were all the references to cars and motorways? The game was interesting to play but also unsatisfying. I barely had any control except to walk and look around, which got a little boring. Also I didn't like that I couldn't run, or at least couldn't figure out how to run. It was kind of creepy at times too, with the eery music, decaying landscape, and lack of life. Overall I liked the game because it didn't require much skill, but it was also a little slow and uneventful. I wish the ending was more revelatory.

Brendan Demich said...

I want to discuss what Marcuse is implying about the life of Socrates and what his forced suicide means for the oppression of philosophy. This seemed like a fundamental point to the development of Marcuse’s argument. From my basic understanding of the history of Socrates and Plato is as such. The Athenian government found Socrates guilty of acts of impiety. Plato, his student, was distraught by the injustice to his mentor and produces works that glorified Socrates’ philosophical thinking. I struggle with why Marcuse is focusing on this though. Superficially, he appears to be accusing the Athenian government of corrupt suppression of the pursuit of Logic. But I am having a more difficult dissecting the argument beyond this. Is Marcuse proving that this kind of pursuit of true Logic and Reason is still being suppressed? Or something else entirely?

Courtney Elvin said...

Playing Dear Esther was an interesting experience to say the least. I find the ideas and statements behind the game to be more genuinely interesting with the more distance I have from actually playing it. This may be because of how incredibly frustrating it was during gameplay to have a lack of interaction with the environment or understanding of the plot or characters. The idea that the interpretation could vary based on the different narrations presented is very innovative. Though from my experience, I finished the game completely confused, so I appreciate the idea of a non-traditional narrative within a non-traditional video game, but as a player, I was very frustrated and unfulfilled by the story at the end. This first-person navigation through the world actually made this even more difficult to interpret. While I was sitting behind the screen in my confusion, the narration coming from my perspective in the game seemed to know the whole story, but only share random pieces of it. Additionally, it is never clear who the player is and how that fits into the story, and the same goes for the narrator. Who is the narrator and who is the perspective of the player (if they’re not the same)?

Another question I would like to bring up: what is the distinction between the characters? After reading about the game, I am only left more confused about this issue. In the very last part of the last level, the narration says, “I will look to my left and see Esther Donnelly, flying beside me. I will look to my right and see Paul Jakobson, flying beside me” (Dear Esther, The Beacon Level). I was under the impression throughout the game and my reading since finishing that Esther, Donnelly, Paul, and Jakobson were four distinct characters, but the narration clearly combines them into two at the end. Why do this and how many distinct characters actually are referenced?

Tom Kappil said...

Having never played Dear Esther previously, what surprised me most was the ambiance of the game. Throughout the whole experience, I was expecting something akin to a monster popping out at some point, that’s how unnerving the environment was. The dark and gloomy weather, splattered, fluorescent scrawl upon the walls, blood splatters, and a narrator that did not seem all to stable contributed to the creepy feeling the game gave off. However, I still have trouble calling Dear Esther a game. The software in action did not require a lot of player input, does but does change dynamically with the player. It felt like an interactive movie more so than a game, but it still has too many game-like characteristics to prevent it from not completely being a game.
Marcuse this week was again very dense, but what I liked about his analysis was the concept that not all truths are the same for all people. He used the stratification of social classes to describe how one philosopher’s truth may not have the same applicability to one rich man than a poor man, and also brought up Plato’s allegory of the Cave, which questions if all reality is the same when reality is, by definition, a subjective experience.

Shane Bombara said...

Dear Esther to me was a pretty enlightening experience, for at least someone who does occasionally enjoy to play a video game every now and again. I actually ended up basically playing it twice due to the first time around my game didn’t save properly, so needless to say the second time around I was quite bored by walking at such a slow pace just to reach the same points in the landscape where narration would be cued. However, I noticed between my two times playing there were multiple and differing poetic narrations from our protagonist’s story or journal entries. I found that to be pretty cool to get a different insight when approaching a familiar sight or part in the game but being able to perceive my surroundings differently due to this alternate narrative.

Also, I, like someone else who posted before me, have to question who exactly Jakobson, Paul, Donnelly, and Esther exactly were because right as we plunge to our imminent death our narrator, who was referring to these characters singularly, refers to them as Esther Donnelly and Paul Jakobson. So, did Donnelly actually explore the island many years before him? Was Paul the pharmaceutical rep who didn’t drunkenly crash into Esther? Was Jakobson an actual shepherd who ended up dying on this island? And was Esther our protagonist’s wife? If these people are singular then okay, it makes sense, but to combine their names at the end into two distinct people threw me off some. This is the one question I’ve toiled over in my mind multiple times.

Kyle McManigle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle McManigle said...

I really enjoyed the experience of Dear Esther: the environment, the changes in light, the music, the story. It was somewhat of a Simtim thing for me when I was going through it. The only way I could describe what it could be is an incredibly surreal, out of body experience. I would in no way say that it is a game or even an interactive experience for that matter. There is no interaction between the player and the environment or material things, other than jumping into a few caves. Also, there are no decisions to be made in gameplay like some interactive games. There is but one route to advance through the game. That is not to discount the importance of exploring the other areas of the map, but just as Marcuse says, "progress is not a neutral term. It moves towards specific ends, and these ends are defined by the possibilities of ameliorating the human condition." The experience of the "mobile story" emulates this perfectly. The story is dark and foreboding, but sad and confusing. From multiple instances of the narrator, I envision the caves and inner dwellings as those of his body. He talks about pain killers and drugs to be taken for his condition, and there are organic compounds drawn on the walls. There is disease and deterioration, and there are huge openings of caves, covered in some microbe that is luminescent. He talks about syphilis, delirium, alcoholism, and there are great stones of blockage, messages written on the walls like, "A light from Heaven shone around him, and he fell to the ground." There are ups and downs, twists and turns, with the ultimate end being the leap from the large conducting tower (seemingly the means to the end of the somewhat lowly existence being discussed), which life seems to free from the body, and the soul takes flight in the form of a bird. This is interesting because in that same room of the message I just wrote, the candles surround a birds nest with three eggs in it. I went through the story two times, and I'm still not sure the overall message, but it is nonetheless extremely thought provoking. I'm not quite sure what to make of it or wherein the truth lies, especially due to the shadows or ghosts that you can capture with screenshots, but then disappear as you draw nearer or stand in the spots they were prior. Maybe this could possibly be a conflict with Marcuse's writings, such that, this nature is rather defined by the narrator, and by seeing what everything is, yet the communication and observation don't lead to understanding of truth. Maybe the line of thought isn't rational at all, but the entire thing is a part of an even larger metaphor. Maybe it's just a further example that things aren't really what they seem to be. I think Marcuse would say that Dear Esther is an art form in some way, but I'm curious to know what he would say about it, how he would interpret it and explain it, and what it means outside the context of the story itself.

Kevin Weatherspoon said...

I must say that while playing “Dear Esther” it is clear that it was a very unique experience to me. This game is not played like the normal games we know of because it does not have you making any choices or tasks to be completed and hardly includes any interaction with the player itself. I look at it more as a game where you walk around exploring the world while trying to discover hints to lead you through levels and reach your goal of getting through the whole game. One thing I did like was the beautiful scenery and graphics that were played into it but I still felt as though it should’ve had more of puzzles or mysteries to solve throughout the game. At some points during the beginning of game I would actually get anxious because it would seem as though something horrifying or crazy would come after me from how creepy and strange the setting was and being the only one on this island. But while playing it more I didn’t get the same feeling because I knew more than likely none of that would happen. Overall, I like “Dear Esther” as of it being an experiment of visual story-telling, but I don’t think too much of it as being a video game.

Maggie Stankaitis said...


Adam created a prompt for a short essay about what Dear Esther should be categorized as. Should it be considered a game? a movie? art? or something else? Thinking about this prompt in congruence to “playing the game,” it made me wonder why the creator of the game didn’t make it more interactive. In Dear Esther the player passes by all of the physical items and things that the player (or I was, anyway) is so tempted to pick up. There are so many aspects of the game that could have been more interactive to make Dear Esther be more of a game rather than whatever else it should be considered. Was there a point to having Dear Esther have an ambiguous genre of play?

Despite the argument, and as someone foreign to video game, I thought it was an experience in itself. I found myself mesmerized by the artistic function of it, as well as the narrator telling the story. There were metaphors and foreshadowing that I found interesting and engaging. I would rather play/observe something like Dear Esther rather than an interactive game.

Another question I do have about the game is what is the significance of the biblical allusions and parables? I had a difficult time figuring out how the story, legend and biblical suggestions connected to one another.

Kurt Wichman said...

After playing Dear Esther I was happy to say that, unlike Portal, I completed it in its entirety. I would however hold back on truly classifying this as a game. From my personal opinion, this was more of an interactive story/piece of art. The scenes the player sees are beautiful and detailed and come with dense narrative. After going through the game twice, I realized that the short stories, or letters, that are being read come at different times and sometimes are not always included. Thinking deeper into I can only question who exactly the player is. According to Wikipedia it is heavily believed that the character is Esther's husband, but I personally felt as though that the character may be Esther herself. One can tell that Esther had died in a car accident. Could the gameplay be Esther seeing/viewing where her husband died? The game ends with the character falling from top of the tower and then becoming a bird. Was the character we were following ever alive then?

Jessica Merrill said...

In many parts of "One-Dimensional Man", Marcuse talks about how one has to be free in order to become the person he imagines us to be able to be. At the beginning of Chapter 5, he really focuses on how this freedom can be achieved. He centers on the fact that one does not have the ability to find the truth if one is trying to fulfill the necessities of life. A quote from this chapter emphasizes this, "Those who devote their lives to earning a living are incapable of living a human existence" (Marcuse 130). Even if the truth is readily available to them, through the knowledge of a philosopher or some other enlightened person, it can not be lived by the worker that devotes his live to serving the society. Marcuse points out that because this is the case, not all people in society can achieve the realization of the truth; "necessities have to be procured and served so that the truth... can be" (Marcuse 129).
In chapters 1-4, it seems like Marcuse imagines a completely changed society, and in my mind this is a society where everyone has achieved realization of the truth, and live their lives in accordance it. How, then, is society supposed to get to this point? It sounds like only a privileged few would be able to live a life in accordance to the truth. Is this the society he imagines? This brings about a point that there are always the portion of people at the top of society that are privileged enough not to work and can do whatever they want with their lives, like study philosophy in search of the truth. This is a fact of our society now, as well as historical ones. It seemed to me that Marcuse wanted a total change in the entirety of society, but after reading this section it seems like that is not the case, and that is disappointing to me. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Jake Stambaugh said...

I was surprised playing Dear Esther by the broken, ambiguous narrative. Maybe because it was a video game, and most games, even games lauded for good writing, don't come close to the level of ambiguity that Dear Esther does. I think comparing it to a film is valid in some cases, but at the same time the lack of plot or direction would probably make it a poor film. The experience of playing the game was interesting, but it left me with more questions than answers and I'm not sure if I like that.

Alec Brace said...

I consider myself a pretty talented and well experienced gamer as I have been playing video games for most of my life. In response to that, I have to say Dear Esther really did not appeal to me at all when I first started. Plenty of games start out with the player in utter confusion about what he/she is supposed to do and why, but eventually the mechanics and plot are laid out and the game becomes truly entertaining. Dear Esther seemed to almost make it a point not to do this and I have to say it bothered me a lot. Even after completely the extremely short story-line I was not impressed because I was still in a state of confusion. Then, I decided to try and apply Marcuse's estrangement-effect to the game, distancing myself from it and trying to reflect on what it could mean or what truth it is trying to represent that is hard to portray. My first impressions after doing so are that the game is trying to express the mental instability of Esther's husband after her death in the car crash. Essentially we are inside his mental state after the death of his wife, represented by the island. Here he has representations of her and the car crash along with some other memories of Paul Jakobson. Also present is him attempting to move on and continue his work but he is struggling a lot, represented by the glowing writings on the wall of incomplete electrical circuits, what look to be neurons, and chemical molecules. The fact that he is alone on the island could also be representative of him feeling so desperately alone after losing his wife. Overall I disliked the gameplay because it lacked any sort of interaction with the environment but I do kind of like how it leaves the meaning of the plot up to the player's own interpretation by leaving them in a state of confusion.

Dennis Madden said...

Dear Esther struck a chord with me: I've dedicated a great deal of time studying neuroscience, and symbols on cave walls throughout the island alluded to the human nervous system with surprising detail. i was able to identify no less than 4 unique morphologically unique types of neurons, multipolar (central nervous system), unipolar (projection), bipolar (sensory), pseudounipolar (also multimodal sensory), plus a Purkinje cell. On top of that, I was surprised to see that the neurotransmitter of interest in my research was accurately depicted: Dopamine (this is commonly understood to be critical in reward/addiction pathways, among many other functions). In the long heavily symboled cave (you know which one I'm talking about), there were detailed electrical circuit membrane/nerve models with surprising accuracy. I spent 4 credits last semester learning how to construct these electrical circuit models in the context of the nervous system, and I have to say, they are quite realistic. Additionally, the organic structure for 'Ethanol', the alcohol you drink, was obviously strewn about liberally, distorting membrane fluidity. Why such detail? In a rather technology-devoid island, these highly detailed diagrams seem out of place.

Kristen Welsh said...

I enjoyed playing Dear Esther. One of the things that I enjoyed most was the absolutely stunning graphics. I think its amazing that the developers were able to build so much detail into the environment, as I could see the ripples on the water, and the markings on the walls glowed neon. I thought the writing was also absolutely beautiful as well. I could tell how much the narrator was attached to Esther, and as a result I became attached to her too. I thought the selected music went well with each section, as it seemed to fit the mood. I especially thought it was fitting when I was embarking on the final trek up the mountain, and the speed of the music picked up and became intense and dramatic. While I enjoyed all of these things, I did have one looming question in the back of my mind the whole time: Can this really be considered a game? The only controls were to move/look around. You couldn't even jump(which annoyed me when there were rocks in my paths). Where were the hidden dragons you had to fight? Where were the people to talk to? I think there should have at least been a mini game where you can make your white marking on the wall like all of the people who are dying do. That would have been cool.