The video game, Dear Esther is an artistic simulation of the world that tells a story of a shipwreck on the coast of Britain. It has been argued whether or not the story-driven “video game” should be or should not be considered a “game.” Its lack of interactivity and player-engagement recontextualizes what Dear Esther actually is. The artistic creation, the value of a realistic simulated world and the serious attention to detail make Dear Esther more viable to be called art rather than an archetypal video game.
Dear Esther begins with the narrator introducing the story, “Dear Esther, the morning after…” As he begins telling the story, epic music plays in the background and the player is introduced to the plot of the shipwreck. The human player plays in the first-person, making the game a simulated experience. The player meanders around the area by clicking one key to move. A gray, eerie sky covers a dark ocean among the cliffs of Britain and led by a light, the player is able to wander around, look up, look down, turn around in every direction to observe the surroundings. But that is indeed the problem in which players have— that the player can only observe rather than be able to interact with the mysterious objects and happenings around them. A review of Dear Esther seems bothered by the limited interactivity,
“Dear Esther asks nothing of you but to occupy this world. There's very little interactivity; a torch comes out automatically in the dark, but that's pretty much the limit. You can't help but imagine a version of this game that lets you touch and feel, picking up pebbles on the beach to throw into the sea or leafing through old books in an abandoned bothy. 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” (MacDonald). It seems as though Dear Esther could have easily been a thrilling and interactive game just with a few slight changes to allow the player to be more involved with an objective of the game. Solely because the player holds down a key the entire game to move the character around in the first person perspective doesn’t seem to be enough interaction and game-play for Dear Esther to truly be considered a game, but more accurately considered interactive art. Another review suggests that, “Dear Esther is such a purely audio/visual experience that I have to conclude it would be better as a short film” (Pinsof) This statement holds true for many players, furthermore making the game more accurately called interactive art.
Dear Esther is an experience. The player participates (somewhat) in events through observing, perceiving a simulated reality, and “living” as the first-person player in the game. The experience becomes an artistic one— the players becomes lulled into the story of “Donnelly,” the legend of the hermit, as the first-person perspective of the player lives through the adventure navigating the cliffs and oceanside of Britain. An outstanding amount of detail and thought had to have been put in to the creation of this game— attention to the beautiful realm, contextual atmosphere, and setting. The waves crash against the shore as the player walks the path that ascends the cliff, a gull flies overhead, each footstep makes a sounds, sunlight peeks through the cloud cover in the sky. This is as well as the soothing sound of the narrators voice pulls the player into the game making this game seem to be an entirely artistic experience— one can’t help but be mesmerized. Rather than a game, another gaming reviewer recalled Dear Esther to be a, “Slow paced experience more than a game praised for the way it adapted first-person exploration to tell a complex tale of grief, illness and loss.” (Thursten) Having a personal experience is part of what defines art as art. Art is often ambiguous and subjective to the individual whom is viewing it. Dear Esther is similar, in that every individual player may have a different perspective and experience of the game. The game offers symbolism, parables, metaphors, symbols, and a mysterious story that every player will have a different experience and perception.
The game design of Dear Esther, as well as the artistic experience of playing the game reinforces that Dear Esther is more art, rather than video game. The game is led by the narration of a story, there aren’t any puzzles for the player to solve, and the lack of interactivity makes it a difficult case to claim this game as an actual game. Narrative and art takes precedence in Dear Esther making gameplay more of an artistic experience. The experience, appreciation of the story, and call for imagination are the ingredients which make the claim that Dear Esther is art more so than a video game.
MacDonald, Keza. "Dear Esther Review." Rev. of IGN. n.d.: n. pag. Web
Pinsof, Allistair. "Review: Dear Esther." Rev. of Destructoid. n.d.: n. pag. Web.
Thursten, Chris. "Dear Esther Review." Rev. of PC Gamer. n.d.: n. pag. Web.