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.