a game or not a game?
I have found myself to be as featureless as this ocean… For once, I agree with the voice; when I peer into the water, I see no reflection. Lately, the voice has been talking more and more about a serious leg injury, unbearable pain, a life-threatening infection and a quantity of pain-killers that would make even Rush Limbaugh blush. But the walker plods on without complaint, my steady pace maintained in the face of the character’s laments. The walker’s footsteps are often silent, and when audible have the regularity of clockwork. I look down into a chasm, and as the voice fills me in on its significance, I edge a little too close to get a better look— and fall in.
Last night, Boyfriend and I played Dear Esther. I use the word play very loosely. There is debate among the gaming community as to whether this "experience" qualifies as a "game" since there is actually very little interaction involved. The game is a first-person exploration of an island, underscored with a gorgeous soundtrack by Jessica Curry, and interspersed with monologues spoken by the unseen narrator. There is no real sense of who you are in the game and there is no real story. The "plot" is designed to be a free-form experience and once the game ends (yes there is a point where you know your game has ended) it is up to the player to interpret the events of the game.
Boyfriend and I knew nothing about the game other than the trailer we'd seen, so I can't say we were completely thrilled with the game right away. It's a digest-what-happened-and-then-form-an-opinion-about-it kind of thing. Nevertheless, Boyfriend and I enjoyed it overall. The graphics are breathtaking and the experience as a whole, I think, is one every gamer should have. We went through the game in about 2 hours, but, according to the website, each time you play through the game the "narrative" of the spoken letters to Esther changes slightly, so you can have a different experience each time, and possibly come to different conclusions about who Esther is, what the island is, and the relationship between them.
Can I recommend this game? Maybe. If you're the type of gamer who loves the storyline and the characters and the interaction of gameplay, then, you probably won't care for Dear Esther. It's like a visual piece of literature that you're reading out of order. I applaud The Chinese Room and the entire Dear Esther team for releasing a beautiful if not, experimental piece of art that is this game.
I gave Dear Esther 3.5 out of 5. The art and soundtrack were beautiful and haunting, but I don't know that I would consider it a "game" per se. It is an experience that I would recommend simply for its bravery to take a giant leap in an unexpected direction as far as the nature of video games goes.