Friday, February 28, 2014

Comments & Questions on Jimmy Corrigan

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.

Prompts on Marcuse & Jimmy Corrigan - also, you're stopping point

Images in Jimmy Corrigan

Do a close reading/viewing of an image, or brief series of images in Jimmy Corrigan. This means that you should select a single image (probably in a single frame or short sequence of frames, although it might be a repeating image), examine it as closely as you can, and explain in detail how it can help us understand either the book as a whole, or a particular section of it. For instance - you could analyze the significance of the details of Jimmy's apartment as he works up his courage to call Peggy, or you could analyze the details of the appearance of the "dream-robot."

The Instructions 

Pick some part of the "general instructions" on the inside cover of Jimmy Corrigan, and use those instructions (which are simultaneously serious and funny, very complicated and silly - this isn't easy material) to explain how we ought to read some section of the book (as short as an image, or as long as a few pages).  Note that the instructions appear in images as well as in words.

Marcuse and Jimmy Corrigan

Use Marcuse, including specifics, to analyze Jimmy Corrigan.  Alternatively, you may analyze Jimmy Corrigan in relationship with one other work of "popular culture" (I am using the term loosely, not precisely). You should, as usual, have a specific argument, in this case at least inspired by Marcuse (if you disagree in some fundamental way with Marcuse, this essay might help explain why).  The most obvious question you might begin with is:  "does my chosen work engage in, or try to engage in, the Great Refusal"?

Whatever your exact approach, it is critical that you engage with the "text" of Jimmy Corrigan on a visual level - analysis of the written text alone, to the exclusive of the visual elements, is not sufficient.

Note:  my intended stopping point is on this page, which is about halfway through the book:


Thursday, February 27, 2014

The ART of Dear Esther


            Growing up, one the enjoyable and more interesting things to do with your friends is play video games.  It can be anytime of the day there would always be an opportunity to play because you didn’t have to depend on the weather or anything epic happening like you would from playing outside with the other kids.  The reason everyone played video games is because they were not only fun, but can always capture your attention.  From playing games that involved shooting guns, fighting monsters, and racing cars just to name a few, would continuously seem to lock your eyes to the television screen of virtual world as if you were physically in the game yourself.  When thinking about the video game Dear Esther, none of these qualities rarely come to mind.  Not that it’s such a bad example of a video game, but that I don’t even see it as “being called” a video game in the first place.

            The main overall reason I feel as though Dear Esther isn’t a video game is because by playing it there is no objective on what is needed to be accomplished.  You mainly walk around an island by yourself while listening to a series of voiced-over letter fragments to a woman who is not around anymore that goes by the name of Esther.  You would think that this game would at least be made up to be some kind of puzzle or mystery in finding clues but it isn’t like that.  As creepy of a setting the game is being played in you would expect your character would have a gun and shoot something in harm’s way that pops out at you like most game’s but that isn’t what this game is about.  You wander from place to place as if you’re on a journey and hoping to get to the next destination that you’re supposed to be at. 

The game also doesn’t have any characters.  It states how there are character named Donnelly, Paul, and Jakobson but they are all unseen throughout the video game.  I don’t see why they can’t be seen which gives me another reason why this is called a video game.  Most video games I know of have characters that you can even choose from to make games much more fun.  One thing I will point out is the graphics that are being seen while playing this game.  Throughout the journey through the island I noticed how beautiful the scenery played out with the clouds being a certain color in the sky to the calm waters that settled about just off of land.  These illustrations were crisp and were probably the only thing that kept me into enjoying the game.  These are examples why I recall Dear Esther as being art and not a game.

            When I think of a video game I can still get the idea of Zork.  Even though there wasn’t much creativity being made into it, this game still had an objective.  While you’re still adventuring through land the one thing that stands out is that you still have a goal.  That goal was to return from the Underground Empire alive with treasures while still having to face obstacles such as grues, zorkmids, and many novel creatures.  Even though I didn’t quite like how Zork was played, I still look at that as an idea of what you’re supposed to look for in a game.

            Overall, from my experience of playing Dear Esther I must say that it was an optimistic but a more dreary type of game.  A lot of people may give it a thumbs up and so will I, but that would have to go towards the “art” of Dear Esther and not from it being a “game.”

Links for Today

Dear Esther Screen Shots

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/tgd6m1fchd6vr5x/yIQCKkr9qy

The Declaration of Independence

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

Book of Acts

http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/bib4410h.htm

What is Enlightenment?

http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/KantOnElightenment.htm

This is our initial screen shot:


Dear Esther: An Interactive Art Game

            Approach any man, woman, or child and simply ask “what is art?” You should then be prepared to face a barrage of varying answers. The ensuing responses about art may range from something as profound and literal as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to quite possibly something completely unexpected such as the architectural mastery of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The point is, when defining, analyzing, or envisioning art it is entirely subjective to the individual. The video game Dear Esther is no exception in this case and is quite often the subject of much debate. Dear Esther is an entirely unique experience which transcends the classification as a mere video game, and instead should be seen as an exceptionally crafted interactive artistic gaming experience.

            Enter the world of Dear Esther. We begin our journey by standing on an unknown and uninhabited island just a few feet from the shore. There are instant subtle cues right in front of us that any gamer would embrace, like walking toward and exploring a decrepit cabin. MacDonald felt just as I did saying “You are led, without ever really feeling like you are being led, by subtle visual cues that stand out against the landscape and draw you towards them.” We are plunged into this game with no directions, and for me at least, no clue how to even move at first. But once we learn how to walk it’s quite easy to be struck by the captivating scenery that surrounds us. The sweeping sound of the shore, the monumental cliffside in the distance, and the ripped skyline which is open just enough to emit a beam of sublime light can alone provide as much realism and beauty as a Monet painting. The gaming reviewer Pinsof felt “Dear Esther is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played at points, overcoming any sense of dullness the rest of the experience put me through.” But this beauty is even more exemplified when the narrator begins his poetic monologue from what can only be understood as fragmented journal entries to someone named Esther. The music provided with our journey can be quite moving and sometimes even quite eerie when the dark piano score begins to play. These latter segments, especially inside the cave, felt like using the “W” key was giving us the ability to see an art exhibition.
            In Dear Esther, even with its artistic form, can at times take a semi-conventional approach as a game. First, the controls are rather simple and common and can be summed up abruptly. You can walk forward, laterally, and backward at a rather snail-like pace, zoom in your view, swim up when in the water, and when you embrace the darkness of some buildings and caves a flashlight automatically comes out. As Pinsof bluntly puts it “you literally hold down the “W”-key for 70 minutes -- even ducking, the only other action, is automatic.” His statement is not too far from the truth. We may be simply guiding our player through this uninhabited Hebridean Island picking up pieces of the story as we go, but this isn’t just walking with no cause and you’re surely not spoon fed the entire game. Like many other games, you must in fact find and walk along the correct paths in order to advance in the game. If you feel like venturing into the dark waters like I did, you’ll find that you can even die. When you’re drowning in the water we see a dark flashback to what looks like a shipwrecked boat, providing a rather powerful message. So, the notion by many that this should not be considered a game should be laid to rest because it adheres to a lot of familiar territory many other conventional games take, but with more artistic qualities.

            A very critical piece to this entire argument is the use of narrative qualities throughout the game. Consequently the plot and gameplay would seemingly become entirely one-dimensional and devoid without the storytelling from our mysterious narrator. As Allistair Pinsof says “Even when the words fall flat, voice actor Nigel Carrington makes them come alive with a rare spirit. He adds a weight to the syllables that make them sink into your gut,” and the heart. Dear Esther forces the player to fit pieces of a cryptic puzzle all together in order to form a vivid understanding of the events that took place prior and during our narrators inhabiting the island. For example, when the narrator relays to us a disjointed story of a car crash it almost seems random and may be written off. However, later in the game during nightfall as we ascend from the caves we see candles scattered along several parts of the beach. They only become revealing when we approach candles intentionally surrounding several pictures of a woman, and later more candles enclosing various parts of a car. At this point if the narration didn’t help you enough, then the symbolism and blatant imagery should bring everything together. Esther was our protagonist’s wife whose life was tragically cut too short due to a car crash. Our shipwrecked narrator feels anguish, despair, and hopelessness as we arrive closer to the final moments of the game. It was these images and the poetic words from our narrator’s perspective where emotion and sympathy is evoked from us, the player. This is similarly reminiscent when looking at a painting and reading an interpretation of what the painter was trying to convey. Here is where a game transcends what it means to be a medium of entertainment and becomes coupled with art. 

           Dear Esther made me reevaluate how I perceive gaming now. I’ve come to realize that there doesn’t have to be a clearly defined set of objectives or a mission, weapons, or even an ability to jump, run, or open things in order for a game to actually be considered a game. The artistic form and somewhat conventional qualities make Dear Esther into a piece of interactive art gaming where the player is working with the medium in such a way that it achieves a specific purpose (Interactive Art). This specific purpose is shown in Dear Esther as it is revolutionary to gaming and art because it doesn’t confine gaming to an individual genre or art to its own genre. Thanks to Dear Esther, in the next few years we may really begin to see a shift in people perceiving video games as art.




Allistair, Pinsof. "Review: Dear Esther." Rev. of Dear Esther. Destructoid. N.p., 12 Feb. 2012. Web. 24. Feb. 2013. http://www.destructoid.com/review-dear-esther-221082.phtml.
"Interactive Art." Art Interactive. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2014. <http://www.artinteractive.org/interactive-art/>.
MacDonald, Keza. "Dear Esther Review." Rev. of Dear Esther. IGN. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 24. Feb. 2013. < http://www.ign.com/articles/2012/02/13/dear-esther-review>.


Dear Esther as Art and Game

Dear Esther as Art

    Dear Esther is an unusual piece of software. It defies easy categorization. Its nature as an interactive experience places it on the boundary of the common definitions of "game" and "art." To label Dear Esther may not affect the experience, but doing so allows for easy discussion of its place in the landscape of modern media. Dear Esther is an important example of art, and an important achievement in video games, and recognizing this is an important step in the evolution of modern art.
 
    To establish that Dear Esther is an important artistic game, it must first be defined as a game. As Allistair Pinsof of Destructoid says of Dear Esther, "yes, it is a game. There are rules and keys and narrative triggers and all those things we come to expect of a $9.99 purchase on Steam" (Pinsof). The argument made here is that Dear Esther should be defined as a video game because that is what it is in form, if not function. Dear Esther is built on the Source video game engine, uses the same control schemes as most first-person shooters, and, superficially at least, asks for the same player interaction as most video games (Cameron). While it eschews the trappings of popular, successful video games, this simply makes it a different type of video game instead of a different medium altogether.
 
    Establishing that Dear Esther is a game can be used to determine if it is art. Film critic Roger Ebert declared these two states inherently exclusive, stating that, "Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control" (Ebert). This definition limits the scope of art to static media such as film and literature, assuming that the work of art must retain its artistic qualities even when unobserved. Dear Esther, however, applies narrative techniques borrowed from art and film to the experience of the player. The art of Dear Esther is in the authored design, which accounts for the players choices and invites the player to experience the narrative in the way that the designer intends. The hand of the author is felt throughout Dear Esther in moments when, as described in a review, "you are led, without ever really feeling like you are being led, by subtle visual cues that stand out against the landscape and draw you towards them" (MacDonald). This invitation to interact with the world allows the author to deliver the narrative in new, creative ways. As Nathan Grayson describes in a piece on Dear Esther "taken in conjunction with the option to explore and digest the world as we saw fit, it created a perfect environment for both building this all-consuming curiosity and slowly but surely sating it" (Grayson).  By creating systems that respond to the players actions with the intention of providing an emotional and potentially self-reflective experience for the player, the developers of Dear Esther act as artists, and their creation, art.
 
    Dear Esther's authored design show that in form it is art, but its content prove that it is also, maybe more importantly, art in function. According to Marcuse, "In its advanced positions, art is the Great Refusal -- the protest against that which is. The modes in which man and things are made to appear, to sing and sound and speak, are modes of refuting, breaking, and recreating their factual existence" (63). Dear Esther engages in this refusal by delivering its narrative in a disjointed, non-linear fashion, as well as through the symbolism of objects in its world. The juxtaposition of the realistic, believable environments with the narrator's descent into insanity show the Marcusian refusal at work. They highlight the difference between the fictitious world of Dear Esther and the real world.
 
    Dear Esther's difficulty to categorize come from the same elements that make it interesting. However, categorizing it as a game and as art is important because it expands the definitions of these media to include more experiences like Dear Esther.

Works Cited:

Cameron, Phil. "Moved By Mod: Dear Esther's Dan Pinchbeck." Gamasutra. UBM Tech, 1 July 2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Ebert, Roger. "Why Did the Chicken Cross the Genders?" Roger Ebert.com. Ebert Digital LLC, 27 Nov. 2005. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Grayson, Nathan. "Dear Videogames, Stop Telling Me Everything." Rock Paper Shotgun. Rock Paper Shotgun Ltd., 29 Aug. 2008. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

MacDonald, Keza. "Dear Esther Review." IGN. IGN Entertainment, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon, 1991. Print.

Pinsof, Allistair. "Review: Dear Esther." Destructoid. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

"Dear Esther" as a Commercial Masterpiece

· 
In “One-Dimensional Man”, Marcuse states that, recently, art has been absorbed into the prevailing state of affairs, taking the form of commercials to sell, comfort, and excite (Marcuse 64). Presented as a video game, Dear Esther takes on the form of commercial art. In both the Marcusian and the common definition, Dear Esther can undoubtedly be considered art. Scenery, paintings, and music create a beautiful canvas, and make the game art in aesthetic sense. The form in which it is played makes it art in the Marcusian definition.
Dear Esther is aesthetically pleasing on many levels. First and foremost, it has extremely well-made visuals. The game starts on the shore with typical beach scenery and a cloudy sky. When the player reaches Chapter 3, though, the landscape becomes indescribable. The caves are so beautifully crafted with light, colors and intricacies that anyone would consider astonishing. There are also paintings within the game that are complex and interesting. Symbols for organic compounds appear often, and in the caves there are depictions of neurons and patterns that look like circuitry. In one alley of the cave, these paintings cover the entire wall.

They overtake the senses with their intricacy, neon coloring, and sheer number. This is art in an overpowering way, which is a different form than most of the other visuals take in the game. All of these aspects make the game enjoyable to look at.
The soundtrack and the letters add two other, less visual, layers of art to Dear Esther. The music is mostly piano and strings, but sometimes voices are heard when trying to set a “creepy” mood. It adds emotion and anticipation to the game, fading in and out to emphasize moments of narrative significance (MacDonald). It set a mood that could not be created by anything other than instrumental music. In this way, it works very well within the story, but it can also stand alone as art.  Lastly, the voiced over narrative is another layer of artistry, in a literature sense. The voice creates a story through letters to Esther, speaking in intelligent and carefully-crafted language. It uses metaphors and complex descriptions, as well as alluding to ideas without clearly stating them. These letters are the epitome of poetic language. The mystery and scarcity of the pieces of the letters make them special. These two aspects of the game create another layer of aesthetic pleasure, and therefore add to the artistry.
                Nevertheless, there is more to art than the pleasing aesthetics. According to Marcuse, art has the power of negation (Marcuse 63). It can make the observer realize something about our world that could not have been realized through any other medium. Dear Esther takes the player on a journey that is both similar and dissimilar to the world we live in. The first two chapters of the game are spent walking on the shore, something most people have done in their lifetime. The walking pace is extremely life-like, as well as the scenery that is experienced. This similarity breaks, though, when they player cannot go certain places, like on a couple shipwrecked boats. If the realness is not fully broken by these small roadblocks, it is completely discarded by the beauty of the cave. Nothing in this world can compare to the caves. These differences remind the player that there is a goal to be reached; that they are actually playing a game. The similarities create the possibility of players to find something in the game that relates to their own life. Becoming completely engrossed in game-play, it is easy to experience the narrative of the game as real. Once brought back to reality by the differences, the player can reflect on how the story might have related to them. The player experiences the story first hand, in a somewhat interactive and very enthralling way. It can be frustrating that the only interactions are walking and looking, but this is still submerging the player into the story. The player is in control of what he or she looks at; it’s easy to miss something if the player is not paying attention. Since looking and walking is all there is to do, the game suggests that the experience of the game is in what is seen, not what is done. In this way, it creates a need in the players to look around and interpret the scenes. This is an act related to viewing art, and not necessarily to playing a video game. The similarities to our world and the interactivity of Dear Esther add another, more complicated layer of art to the game; a layer that makes it art of negation.
                Together, the aesthetic and negating aspects of Dear Esther create a piece of art in both the common and Marcusian sense. It’s pleasing music, literature, and visuals have similarities to our world, but also differences that make it more attractive and meaningful. In “One-Dimensional Man”, Marcuse quotes Paul ValĂ©ry, “That which is ‘natural’ must assume the features of the extraordinary. Only in this manner can the laws of cause and effect reveal themselves” (Marcuse 67). The beauty as well as the medium of Dear Esther makes the player take pause. Being a game, it forces the player to look around and try to understand his or her surroundings. The dissociation of the real world and the world of Dear Esther creates an estrangement effect in the player, bringing him or her out of their element enough to be able to find bigger meanings in gameplay. The attributes that make Dear Esther aesthetically pleasing also make it a better form of art in the Marcusian sense.

Works Cited and Consulted

MacDonald, Kenza. "Dear Esther Review." IGN. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon, 1991. Print.

Pinsof, Allistair. "Review: Dear Esther." Destructoid. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.



Relying on Art to Entertain

                Concluding my personal experience playing the video game Dear Esther and after reading the reviews of others, I am inclined to conclude that Dear Esther can be considered a game but one that focuses on art more strongly to entertain the players.  In this paper, I argue that the game contains all the necessary components to be classified as a video game but has a much stronger presence of art than most other video games.
First, let us observe the definition of a video game and see how it applies to the three games we have played so far; Zork, Portal, and Dear Esther.   Merriam-Webster’s definition of a video game states that a video game is “an electronic game in which players control images on a television or computer screen.”  This definition obviously applies to all three of the games, if in the case of Zork the changing text is considered an image portrayed by the computer system to the player.  Merriam-Webster then defines a game in general as “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure.” Again this definition applies to all three games.  Mental activity is required to interact with the games in a constructive manner to produce entertainment. 
Next, let us consider the different structures present within the games.  Both Zork and Portal rely heavily on player interaction with the game environment to proceed through them to the end.  In Zork players must move around the text-represented world and interact with it to progress by picking up items and finding treasure.  Throughout Portal, players must continuously be engaged with their environment, altering it with the portal gun to advance through the levels and moving objects like blocks to activate doors.  However, in Dear Esther this level of stimulus from the player is almost entirely absent.  To completely finish the game the player simply needs to hold down the ‘W’ key on the keyboard and direct the screen with the mouse to discover the correct path to take by means of trial and error.  Finding the correct path is the extremely minimal interaction with the environment that is present in Dear Esther, there are no items to discover, enemies to defeat, or puzzles to solve. 
Without the mental stimulus involved with reacting to and manipulating the environment, Dear Esther engages the player with phenomenal visual stimulation from the game environment to entertain the player.  Zork completely lack pictures and therefore does not present this form of entertainment to the players, instead it relies on the interaction with the environment for entertainment.  Portal has visual stimulation but it does not rely on it for all of its entertainment, instead it focuses more on the interaction with the environment to make the game entertaining.  Since Dear Esther relies so heavily on the visual stimulation of its environment to entertain the player, the detail of the scenery had to stand out much more than other games.  In short, the game had to develop into a more prominent work of art in order to grasp and hold onto the player’s attention.



The screen shots above shows the difference in graphical detail between Portal and Dear Esther.  It is clear that Dear Esther has much more detail and is more visually appealing than Portal.  There is more to consider, however, about what makes Dear Esther stand out from other games as having a stronger reliance on art to provide entertainment.  As the player is wondering around, sometimes a short narrative will begin.  These narratives are really rich in language and tell parts of a story to the player.  More and more about the story is revealed as the player continues through the game.  This literary tale is also a work of art that engages the player to want to continue progressing in the game to learn more about it.  Short narratives by GLADoS are present in Portal but they are from the monotone voice of a computer and are simple descriptions of events that occurred, they lack the intriguing rhetoric present in Dear Esther.   

The reviews of Dear Esther all classify it as a game, but one that goes against the current ideas of what a video game is.  Pinsof’s review of Dear Esther articulates the same ideas portrayed previously in this paper.  He states that while the game is indeed a game because it has “rules and narrative triggers” it is less entertaining because it lacks the interaction typically included in other games (Pinsof).  MacDonald from IGN observes the game as a work of art used to tell a story and expresses his thoughts that the game illustrates the idea that “games have plenty of directions left to explore” (MacDonald).  Here she is saying that Dear Esther provides a new direction for the world of gaming; interactive storytelling.  Both reviews critique Dear Esther as lacking the interaction with the environment typically seen in videogames but also find it entertaining because of the immense graphical details of the game and the confusing yet mentally stimulating narrative.   In short, Dear Esther is a game that attempts to entertain its players by thoroughly relying on visual and literary art instead of the typical player interaction with the game’s environment as seen in other video games.



References

Pinsof, Allistair. Review: Dear Esther. Destructoid. February 13, 2012. 
Available: http://www.destructoid.com/review-dear-esther-221082.phtml

Keza, MacDonald. Dear Esther Review. IGN. February 13, 2012.
Available: http://www.ign.com/articles/2012/02/13/dear-esther-review

Merriam-Webster. Definitions for Video Game and Game. 
Available: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/video%20game
Availabe: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/game

Dear Esther. Computer Game. (2012).

Portal. Computer Game. (2007).

An Artistic Endeavor


An Artistic Endeavor
Innovation is necessary in order to keep any genre of entertainment exciting for its consumers. Video games are certainly no exception. In recent years, more and more variations of games have surfaced – from simulation games such as Electronic Arts’ Sims to the motion activated Wii system by Nintendo. All of the advancements calls a certain question into examination: Where is the line drawn for a form of media to be considered a video game? The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther no doubt challenges the concept of the traditional video game. Dear Esther, through its minimal player interactivity and its beautiful visuals and story, it qualifies more as an art form and less as a video game.
To begin, the definition of a video game according to Dictionary.com is “any of various games played using a microcomputer with a keyboard and often joysticks to manipulate changes or respond to the action or questions on the screen” (Dictionary.com). However, there are no changes to manipulate during the entirety of Dear Esther. The only thing that the “player”, and I use that term loosely, is able to do is move north, west, east, or south. Allistair Pinsof puts it nicely in his review of Dear Esther that: “You literally hold down the “W”-key for 70 minutes -- even ducking, the only other action, is automatic”(Pinsof). Any reviewer could not call that a “manipulation” as there are no decisions involved. One might argue that a decision would be which direction to move in. This does not qualify as a decision because it does not alter gameplay and nothing happens as a consequence; it only gives a different view of the artistic world. Additionally, the player is not presented with what the definition of a video game calls “action or questions on screen”. In games that would qualify as “interactive fiction” such as the video game Zork by Infocom, the player consistently makes choices that impact gameplay, such as picking up items and using them to do various things such as fighting trolls or even simply pushing a button. All of these actions have a consequence. However, in Dear Esther, there are no consequences. The only argument I find could be made against this point is that if you go too far out into the water in Dear Esther, you drown and have to restart from the shore. Even this “consequence” is practically meaningless, as you lose no progress, only a minimal amount of time.
Further, since Dear Esther does not qualify as a game, what does it qualify as? Art, which is defined as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance” (Dictionary.com). To call the art of Dear Esther “beautiful” seems like an understatement. For example, examine this picture from the cave in Dear Esther:
(Dear Esther Cave Screenshot)

Keza MacDonald claims in her review of the game that, “You don't actually do anything except guide the invisible protagonist around the island, taking in the natural beauty of the coast and the startling luminescence of the underground caves.” On closer inspection of this screenshot, one sees that the ground is intricately inscribed with the small outlines of tiny rocks. Off into the distance, the artist has taken the time to draw the moon, bright and luminous, in the night sky. Every line is placed so perfectly that it looks as if this could be a professional painting hanging in someone’s living room. 
Moreover, the writing in Dear Esther is exceptionally beautiful and certainly “more than ordinary significance”(Dictionary.com). The story is intricate and complicated one about the narrator who has lost his lover in a car accident and about various past residents of the island. The developers were able to focus more on the story since there is no actual gameplay, and it is written in beautiful prose with heart-stopping voice-overs that stuck with me such as “People moved at the summit but I could not tell if you were one of them” when the narrator is referring to his lover Esther (Dear Esther Wiki). He puts emphasis on the “you” when he speaks it, causing the player to hear the love in his voice that he harbors for Esther. Thus he is “expressing” something “of more than ordinary significance”: love (Dictionary.com). If actual gameplay would have been involved, then the significance of the story would have been minimized, and that is clearly not the direction that the developers wanted to take the game.
Overall, through the lack of interaction with the environment, but the beauty of the environment and story itself, Dear Esther has made its mark in media as more of an art form and less of a videogame. Although it does not qualify as a true video game, that does not mark it as a failure. Its beauty saves it and makes it into an even more unique experience than a video game could offer. That, in the end, makes the experience worthwhile.

Works Cited
"Art." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
<http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/art?s=t>.
Dear Esther Cave Screenshot. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
<http://i1.ytimg.com/vi/1JmLG_hHmfY/maxresdefault.jpg>.
MacDonald, Keza. "Dear Esther Review." IGN. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 27
 Feb. 2014. <http://www.ign.com/articles/2012/02/13/dear-
esther-review>.
Pinsof, Allistair. "Review: Dear Esther." Destructoid. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb.
2014. <http://www.destructoid.com/review-dear-esther-221082.phtml>.
"Video Game." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
<http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/video%2Bgame?s=t>.
"Wikia." Dear Esther Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
<http://dearesther.wikia.com/wiki/Dear_Esther_Script>.

Becoming A Character

Dennis Madden

Becoming A Character
Dear Esther is a breath of fresh air in a world populated with fast paced ‘twitch games’ and mentally taxing puzzlers. The unique presentation of a largely un-interactive world creates an environment in which we are not playing a game, but instead, one in which we are the game. By eliminating the reactionary overload imposed upon players by most video games, Dear Esther allows us a greater deal of mental freedom to make the game what we want it to be. When we are bogged down by an intricate story, complicated HUDs, objective lists, and fast paced high-stakes scenarios, we are forced to dedicate a large part of our cognition to simply fulfilling the game's ‘requirements’ instead of making it a personal experience. A quote from Courtney’s reaction to Portal prompted this analysis: I experienced having to take in a lot of first-time learning as well as analysis all at once. Even after getting somewhat used to the controls, I found myself getting sucked into the game and overlooking the actual analysis I had been intending to evaluate as I went along. Basically, I ended up playing most of it for fun without much thought as it being for a critical analysis, which maybe says something about the game itself or games in general” (Elvin).
 Dear Esther on the other hand, offers us essentially NO gameplay. Pinsof would even say “You better get used to it, because Dear Esther only has three things going for it: its writing, music, and visuals” (Pinsof). So then, if Dear Esther lacks gameplay, what is its purpose? I conclude that Dear Esther is less a ‘gaming’ experience, and more of a ‘personal’ experience. The simple familiarity of Dear Esther’s construction affords us the ability to seamlessly meld with our surroundings to become part of the whole that we are inexorably linked with: the environment.  “To summarize and elaborate: in a computer game we can have some object or objects that we are in control of as game players. We are agents acting upon them. There is a link between the game player and the controllable object. This means that there is a social and psychological link to this object that rest on motor activity. This link is often so strong that the object in control ceases to be understood as an external object to the game player but rather is understood as an integral part of him or her while playing the game. This is what I call the tactile motor/kinesthetic link. This link is the relation between perception, cognition and action. It is the foundation for my model of a Game Ego” (Pivec 51). Because Dear Esther utilizes such simple mechanics (walking), we can relate not only on a mental level, but a kinetic level as well. In Dear Esther, we are not subjected to alien worlds, physics defying machinery, or unrealistic superpowers, all of which are unable to be kinetically experienced by our human bodies in reality. Instead, we are given a setting where we can do exactly what a true explorer would do: walk, observe, and infer. This familiarity and believability is part of what makes it possible for players to ‘become’ the character in Dear Esther. MacDonald makes a great point: “If nothing else, Dear Esther presents one of the most absorbing and believable worlds in gaming”. Becoming part of a realistic environment is facilitated by the simple mundane mechanics of the human person. When Pinsof states “All you do in this game is walk. You literally hold down the “W”-key for 70 minutes -- even ducking, the only other action, is automatic”, I beg to ask if he’s ever been on a backpacking trip, or even a hike for that matter. He clearly does not have the skills necessary to ‘experience’ his surroundings.
As I (notice I, not my character) wandered over the cliffs and through the caverns, I wrote a story, guided by the stunning visuals and inspiring music. Whilst completing Dear Esther, one is completely capable of composing their own somatosensory masterpiece. If time is taken to personally experience the environment, a vast amount of information can be ascertained. For example…
Neurotunnel
This image is just one of which could foster hours of analysis. When I walked through, I noticed that it contained no less than 5 distinct and morphologically distinct types of neurons: multipolar, unipolar, bipolar, pseudo unipolar and purkinje. On top of that, the electrical circuitry intricately represents neurophysiological membrane models to a scary degree. Dopamine, a reward related neuromodulator, was constructed with chemical accuracy and strewn across the walls, along with ethanol. This scene, coupled with my embodiment in the character, dropped my jaw in a way that might represent my reaction to this scene in real life. I felt the walls and the cool, damp atmosphere of the cave. The glowing symbols shone in my eyes, and when I plunged into a pool, I felt the cool water envelop me. This experience could only be supported by a program which does not demand me to utilize complicated mechanics or unrealistic concepts. I ‘felt’ Dear Esther, I was there, because all Dear Esther asked of me was to be myself.

References

Elvin, C. (2014). Narrative And Technology Blog. Retrieved from http://pitt-narr-and-tech.blogspot.com/2014/02/commentsquestions-on-portal-marcuse.html

MacDonald, K. (2012). IGN. Retrieved from http://www.ign.com/articles/2012/02/13/dear-esther-review

Pinsof, A. (2012). Destructoid. Retrieved from http://www.destructoid.com/review-dear-esther-221082.phtml

Pivec, M. (2006). Affective and Emotional Aspects of Human-Computer Interaction. Amsterdam: IOS Press.


Prompt 2: Interpretive Truth in One-Dimensional Man and Dear Esther


Dear Esther does for video games what Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man does for society, as each consciously acknowledges and challenges the norms of the respective field. Marcuse fundamentally questions the way the world thinks, and Dear Esther fundamentally questions what it means to tell a narrative through a video game. Marcuse’s line of questioning the idea of truth resonates tones found in Dear Esther. While Dear Esther is not a completely transcendent from one-dimensional thought, it approaches the notion of a less traditional story.
The appreciation of the choices in Dear Esther in the context of One-Dimensional Man first requires a fundamental understanding of Marcuse’s assertions on truth and its perceived limitations. He argues that the world as perceived by the individual necessitates interpretation and transformation to fully understand what it is (Marcuse 93). He asserts that the truth is assigned to a condition based on the term “‘intuition,’ i.e., a form of cognition in which the object of thought appears clearly as that which it really is (in its essential qualities).” as seen in Classic Greek philosophy. Marcuse goes on to say, “It is not a mysterious faculty of the mind, not a strange immediate experience, nor is it divorced from conceptual analysis. Intuition is rather the (preliminary) terminus of such an analysis -- the result of methodic intellectual mediation. As such, it is the mediation of concrete experience” (Marcuse 94-95). Essentially, to Marcuse, the truth is mental analysis and transformation of that which is experienced concretely.
As far as video games go, Dear Esther is a strong example of Marcuse’s idea of an unsure truth, or at least an interpretive truth. The music and the narration of the game is presented in a selective and semi-randomized way. While the monologues from the narrator are fixed to appear within one of four levels of the game, there are countless combinations of pieces of the story that the player could receive, leaving the others not to be presented during that gameplay at all. Game creator, Dan Pinchbeck, says, “I was really interested in what people made of it, how they joined up these dots that may not actually have any grand scheme behind them. How much they will create a story from all these pieces, where I only have limited control over how they fit together” (Pinchbeck). The entirety of the story is up for debate depending on how each individual playthrough is interpreted because of the distinctly fractured presentation of select pieces of information.
In that respect, Dear Esther is a conceptual example of Marcuse’s arguments on interpretation of concrete experience. The game challenges the traditional format of a linear plot to one that embraces the idea of ambiguity that can only be resolved by individual intuition. Pinchbeck explains, “this place was almost beyond a direct answer, that you’d never really get there, but be left with these pieces that almost make sense, but you’re never fully sure of it” (Pinchbeck). This game is both frustrating and enlightening to players (arguably in the way that Marcuse’s work is), as it encourages them to extend the realm of how a video game or any other form can tell a narrative.
Another layer of ambiguity comes into play when the reliability of the narrator is questioned. Yes, the game is played from a first-person perspective, and that does play a role in the experience, but the narration comes from an unknown source and unknown character. Even the creator admits, “You are almost as in the dark at the end as at the beginning, or at least, you can’t trust any of the understanding you’ve developed over the course of it” (Pinchbeck). In the third level the narrator describes, in one of the possible narrations, that he “swallow(s) fistfuls of diazepam and paracetamol to stay conscious” (Dear Esther, The Caves) even referencing his “delirium” in another passage. He describes feeling “almost lucid” in the fourth level, and describes times of blindness from the pain (Dear Esther, The Beacon). The fact that the narrator is under the influence of an unregulated number of painkillers supports the idea that his narration may not be so reliable. Among other potential factors including grief, hallucinations, or even lack of existence altogether, the narration cannot be taken completely seriously. However, according to Marcuse, individual analysis of concrete experience of the player creates an interpretation that can be the truth. Pinchbeck agrees, stating: “I think you can go through Dear Esther and not really understand it, not really have a clear sense of what happened, but still have this engaging experience” (Pinchbeck).
The overlap between Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and Dear Esther brings up some very complicated ideas of truth and reality. Marcuse addresses: “Thus there is contradiction rather than correspondence between dialectical thought and the given reality; the true judgment judges this reality not in its own terms, but in terms which envisage its subversion. And in this subversion, reality comes into its own truth” (Marcuse 98). His ideas and definitions of how one’s truth should be interpreted echo in the way that Dear Esther presents a narrative. The presentation is unconventional and fragmented, often making little sense, but it’s about the intangible experience of questioning vs. acceptance that the player takes away from the game, which is intended to be an individually distinct experience.

Works Cited
1. "Dear Esther Script." Dear Esther Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
2. Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1964. PDF.

3. Pinchbeck, Dan. "Moved By Mod -- Dear Esther's Dan Pinchbeck." Interview by Phill Cameron. Gamasutra: The Art and Business of Making Games. UBM Tech, 1 July 2009. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24217>.

Dear Esther as Art

Dear Esther as Art

In essence, “Dear Esther” by thechineseroom is an interactive fiction that uses a video game platform to attempt to simulate the universe of the guilty and depressed. The beauty of “Dear Esther” has earned it well-deserved awards and accolades for its creative style. “Dear Esther” is a work of art because of the ability is has to invoke an emotional response among engaged players, but does so by rejecting the typical video game format.

Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man, explains art through events such as attending opera and theater that are elevated above normal life. Further, he states that to prepare for artistic experiences, “attendance requires festival-like preparation,” (Marcuse, 64). From my own personal experience, briefly testing “Dear Esther” before engaging in its entirety provided me with expectations and an idea of the best way to use “Dear Esther” for its purpose. I found myself going through personal rituals before beginning the “Dear Esther” experience. This ritual was vastly different than that of preparing for opera. The rituals involved eliminating all other sensory input other than “Dear Esther,” including playing in seclusion and quiet. While this may be different than preparing for a “high society,” event, it still was preparing for an elevation from normal life. I was allowing myself to be elevated above sitting in a room watching a performance, permitting thorough engagement.

But to accept that the preparations were for art, not just an impressive video game, it is necessary to define art, and argue that “Dear Esther” fits the definition. Art is an aesthetically pleasing creation that has emotional weight behind it. While an artist may create their art for their own purpose, the observer gives the real meaning to their works. Their connection with art is what gives it meaning. Good art is clear enough to allow observer to focus their attention, but they give the inanimate life by imposing their own thoughts upon the physical. “Dear Esther” does this through the most impressive world generation I have seen from game designers, poetic narration from a depressed diary, and a masterful music score. The vague background that develops over the play-through gives readers the perfect amount of information to instill empathy with the narrator. But the lack of clear details is what allows the beholder to impress their own feeling on the game, and experience an emotion that few have experienced:  the raw guilt of feeling responsible for a loved-one’s death.

With this in mind, classifying “Dear Esther” as a game is destructive to the fundamental purpose of its creation. The Destructoid review by Allistair Pinsof perceives this as a game, which causes their grievances with the game aspect. “Yes, this game is dull. And, yes, it is a game,” (Pinsof, 4). Pinsof does not shy from hyperboles of the art’s beauty, but question its medium. Understanding that “Dear Esther” is not a game to be “played” per se is critical to total immersion and meditation with the art. The player (for lack of a better word) is only allowed to appreciate the beauty of “Dear Esther” by becoming the narrator: a guilt-stricken, lonely, depressed romantic who is allowed to just wander the beach and caves of a beautiful island. When the game is “played,” the player’s only experience is “progress[ing] through movement alone and the goal is to see the end,” (Pinsof, 2). A far more fulfilling experience may be had with “Dear Esther” when the player has a different expectation than the one described.

IGN reviewer Keza McDonald is much more inclined to shy from calling “Dear Esther” a game.  “Dear Esther asks nothing of you but to occupy this world.” “You are led without ever really feeling like you are being led, by visual cues that stand out against the landscape and draw you towards them,” (McDonald, 2-3). This review describes the artistic ability of the designers to catch the user’s attention with emotionally charged imagery, and direct you. While this reviewer does appear to have deep appreciation for the art, they (for the sake of preventing spoilers) fail to express the created beauty. By realizing there is nothing to “achieve,” the player allows their consciousness to wander along a beach and create an emotional connection with the art. The Rock Paper Shotgun review by Alec Meer was able to exact the feelings that “Dear Esther” instills. “Dear Esther is, in a very real sense, boring. It is supposed to be. Lonely tedium, that slow, slow walk through a stark land, leads to subconscious introspection,” (Meer, 2). You are meant to feel lonely and pensive as you progress towards no goal grand goal. Liberating “Dear Esther” from its tag as a video game lends the user to walk through this introspection of reflective guilt.

Appreciation for “Dear Esther” as art is instigated by accepting that it tries to distance itself from video game characteristics in order to allow the user experience an emotional reflection. As an experimental form of medium for a video game setting to express art, the potential is created for an immersing, multi-facetted piece of artwork.

Marcuse, Herbertt. One Dimensional Man. Boston.1962. Beacon Press
MacDonald, Keza. "Dear Esther Review." IGN. N.p., 13 Feb 2012. Web. 27 Feb 2014.
Pinsof, Allistair. "Review: Dear Esther." Destructoid. N.p., 13 Feb 2012. Web. 27 Feb 2014.
Meer, Alec. "What I Alternatively Think: Dear Esther." Rock, Paper, Shotgun. N.p., 15 Feb 2012. Web. 27 Feb 2014.

Dear Esther: An Artistic Pseudo-Game

            Dear Esther is not a game in a traditional sense of the word.  A game is most simply defined as a, “form of play according to rules and decided by skill, strength or luck.” (Google) The lack of alignment with this definition comes in the physical “play” and how it is decided, in the case of a videogame, by, “manipulating images produced by a computer program.” (Google) Despite this, Dear Esther offers the viewer of these images, something different, something unique in which, “there’s really not much else like it.” (Indie Nation 63) It is not an interactive game, but a surreal experience that can be described as a mobile story.  The construction of Dear Esther is an art, and the gameplay, or lack there of, is to navigate this mysterious environment and narration to discover.  Therefore, Dear Esther is a piece of art in which simplistic game play runs through for it’s comprehensive view.  It is an artistic pseudo-game.
            In a review, of what I will from now on deem an artistic pseudo-game, Keza MacDonald notes that, “Dear Esther asks nothing of you but to occupy this world,” and, “if you’re at all interested in exploring what games can do outside of the traditional genre templates, Dear Esther offers an unforgettable two hours…” An island of magnificent grandeur offering more than meets the eye defines the world of Dear Esther.  The art lies in the construction of the environment controls the ambiance of the entire progression through what can be considered the art exhibit.  It is physical in the mountain, and the great caves of wondrous luminescence, but also metaphorically represented in the aw of the body, and it’s relationship to the soul.  The narrator says, “I am traveling through my own body, following the line of infection from the shattered femur towards the heart.  I swallow fistfuls of painkillers to stay lucid.”   The caves are the blood vessels, covered in microbes that light the way of travel, others riddles with crystals in the walls, relating to the narrators kidney stones of which it is noted, “when I first looked into the shaft, I swear I felt the stones in my stomach shift in recognition.” The walls of the caves are covered with organic molecule representations of the painkillers in his system, and vast circuits and neuronal cells, some connected to nothing, a depiction of severed synapses.  There is little to no distinction of character between the narrator and Donnelly, noted at the conclusion of the pseudo-game adventure through the art, not knowing if Donnelly or himself had made the island and the markings, but knowing that Donnelly, “became his syphilis, retreating into the burning synapses, the stones, the infection,” like that of the narrator.  The viewer thus becomes these personified depictions, no longer from an external source, but also the navigator of the environment himself, just as one becomes when staring deeply at a painting, walking through an exhibit, or in virtual reality constructions.  This is engaging above all, coupled with music that, “fades in and out with exquisite timing to emphasize moments of narrative significance,”  (MacDonald).  In this perfect coupling of music, narration, and movement along the flowing landscape, there is significant thought into what this experience is and should be: an expression of a person, or people beautifully crafted as an art in the form of a full-body [out of body] emersion to by the hands of the programmers, to incite feeling and emotion.  Dear Esther is art physically, metaphorically, and emotionally ground.
            The artistic world is then open for investigation and innovation.  The simplicity of such highlights the artistry of that world for all that it’s worth.  It is not game-play because there is no interaction with the parts of the environment with no skill nor goal to reach.  Objects are not meant to be disturbed so as not to alter the overall exhibit.  The “play,” metaphorically, is the flipping of the page in the story by walking through the exhibit, like a maze.  It is not traditional due to the, “stripping out most interaction, combat, and immediate threat.” (Pinsof) The choices have already been laid out for the person in charge of manipulation.  “You can explore this world with your own eyes.  You can also explore parts that aren’t worth exploring.” (Pinsof) Though the artistic assemblage provides but one means to the progression through the work, it’s wonder in engagement propels you to look into avenues that are subconsciously known to yield no further progress.  They are important however, because they can provide information and confusion, thus adding more to the construction as a whole.  This is exactly why the “game-play” is so simplistic.  The pseudo-game itself is discovery within the context of the artistic world.  Walking to unfold the story, just as examining other physical artworks in a museum, doesn’t always amount to enlightenment initially, as is such in the deviations from the “correct path.” The “play,” physically, is a slow walk to take in the scenery, and to make the ascension to the final stage, when the soul is freed from the body and takes flight.  The control of movement only comes in finding this final event.   The loss of control once the end is reached is artistically symbolic as all the previous unfolding had been.  There was never meant to be a vast game-play.  There was only meant to be the subtle confusion of finding your way walking through a winding maze to uncover scenery and facts amounting to the end of flight.  The facile limitation of movement is purposeful and empowering to the expanse of the atmospheric presentation.             
            Though Dear Esther might not necessarily be something that avid gamers would show any interest in, it is noteworthy.  It is an artistic expression and a visual auditory experience most “true games” lack.  Its goal is not to aimlessly kill people for no reason, to score a goal, or to overthrow power.  It is purely an occurrence of exposition and revelation that is discounted for what it isn’t rather than revered for what it is.  Dear Esther is a flowing modern-day work of art. 




Works Cited:

Google.  Definition of Game. 2014
Google. Definition of VideoGame. 2014
Indie Nation 63. “Dear Esther.” 29 May 2009. Web http://www.destructoid.com/indie-
            nation-63-dear-esther-133816.html
MacDonald, Keza. “Dear Esther Review”. 13 February 2012. Web. http://www.ign.com
            /articles/2012/02/13/dear-esther-review
Pinsof, Allistair. “Review: Dear Esther”. 13 Febraury 2012. Web.

            http://www.destructoid.com/review-dear-esther-221082.phtml