Thursday, February 27, 2014

Silent Video Game.

                For decades, the world has been plagued with video games that revolve around great deals of violence and high intensity. Unlike most popular games to date, Dear Esther refrains from the bloodshed and high power that many modern day gamers are used to. With well composed music, a deeply engaging narrative, and visuals that looks almost real, Dear Esther is a prime example of a type of video game that can be defined as interactive storytelling while also falling in the same category as ‘just another’ video game.
                While playing Dear Esther, the gamer is immediately introduced to the incredibly slow pace and dense, confusing narrative. These might hold back the drama of a video game, but they give the player more time to take in the dynamic visuals. Keza MacDonald, a game critic and self-proclaimed fan of art, praises Dear Esther as “it doesn't need puzzles or mechanics to draw you in”. The story alone drives the player to want more and see more, like many other games. The more the player sees, the more the story is told. Just like almost every other video game that has a story, the player must navigate through terrain to uncover more of the tale. The game intensifies both narratively and visually, when the character finds itself inside the paint covered caves. The chemical formula of alcohol can be seen plastered haphazardly on many of the cave walls. Although not directly stating it, the gamer can infer that someone had died at the hands of a drunk driver.
                To strip this game of its classification of a video game is ludicrous. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a video game as “an electronic game in which players control images on a television or computer screen”. Nowhere in that definition does it state that a game needs to be high action, shooting, car stealing, drug laundering, or even relatively easy to understand. With such a vague definition, Dear Esther is exactly within the parameter. Although the game lacks voluminous drama, the player deals with an extremely confusing storyline that may seem impossible to understand, but once the game is through the gamer has a plethora of ideas and wonders. Stitching together the narratives provides the player with an engaging atmosphere leading them to want more. The absence of headshots in this game does not make it any less engaging.
                Allistair Pinsoff gives the game high acclaim for the gorgeous music and splendid visuals, but remarks that Dear Esther “feels lazy”; but is wonder and intrigue not supposed to be present in modern day video games? Are video games not allowed to provide an intricate story without the ability to run but the ability to make one pace in their mind? The harsh criticism that faces Dear Esther is comparable to initial criticism which faced American composer, John Cage’s piece, “4’33”. Cage’s composition is nothing but silence for four and a half minutes. Although it seems confusing, many musicians now consider this to be an influential composition. Just because the piece lacks any true sound to come from any instrument, it tries to bring further meaning to what music is. This seems to be what the creators of Dear Esther did. It expands what a video game really can be. Both game and composition are far from the norm, but both fit the definitions of what they aspire to be.

                To completely remove the label of “video game” from Dear Esther would be an injustice. The game requires thought, time, initiative, and motivation to piece together the wildly fragmented story. Like many other games of this time, it gives subtle hints and clues that require the gamer to do more and focus more than if they were merely shooting a gun. Yes, Dear Esther is different than most games but at the end of the day it still is just that, a game. 

2 comments:

Adam said...

Note that we should use definitions which are productive, or which we agree with. Both Pinsoff and MacDonald have at least implicit definitions of what a video game is - a definition with some sort of orientation or values (Marcuse could conceivably be relevant on this topic) - you use a neutral and uninteresting definition.

You have your own values and ideas here. "Stitching together the narratives provides the player with an engaging atmosphere leading them to want more. The absence of headshots in this game does not make it any less engaging." - the idea that Dear Esther is significantly in contrast to violent video games is important to you - so why not make violence & the lack of it more central to your argument? You value "wonder," "intrigue," "stiching together" - you have ideas about why Dear Esther is valid or important. I'm reasonably clear (although you write too generally - you don't make any real use of specific here) on why you think Dear Esther is *of value*. I'm not at all clear as to why you think it is in some authentic sense a *game*. Your argument seems to almost implicitly assume that because it seems like a game, and because you find it valuable/worthwhile, that therefore it *must* be a game. There's no argument here about why *your* particular set of values should be used to *define* what video games are.

Tom Kappil said...

One of the issues I had with your essay was the use of Merriam-Webster’s definition of “Video Game”. You argued that Dear Esther was a game simply because it was played on a television or computer screen, but never really got around to defining what exactly a game was, you only covered the video part. After detailing the lack of action, you stated “Although the game lacks voluminous drama, the player deals with an extremely confusing storyline that may seem impossible to understand, but once the game is through the gamer has a plethora of ideas and wonders. Stitching together the narratives provides the player with an engaging atmosphere leading them to want more.”. To be honest, if you replaced the word player with “audience-member”, it would be a very good description of a movie that utilizes a cut-up narrative, like Pulp Fiction. You need to go a bit deeper in the definition of what exactly defines a game. The contextual definition for a video game you create sums to “on a screen, took time to go through, made you think, looked nice”. You need to expand and elaborate what a video game entails, because the vague way you defined it is too ambiguous, and covers everything from movies to newscasts. Until that is defined, you cannot conclusively say that Dear Esther is or is not a game.

You focus a lot on the aesthetic the developers were able to place in the game, and the minimalistic design used, which I liked, but you never really tie it to “is Dear Esther a game?”. You just say it stretches boundaries, but what boundaries specifically are never mentioned. The use of John Cage and his manner of composing was very fitting, and you explained well how Cage stretched musical boundaries, but you need to elaborate on what video game boundaries Dear Esther stretches. That point just falls to “I say it’s a game, and it’s unconventional, therefore it stretches boundaries”, but no specific boundaries were really mentioned. Dear Esther plays with many video game conventions and tropes, and bringing up a few would really strengthen your case.