Dear Esther Microreview – 15/20!
Dear Esther is a first-person artistic video game, developed and published by The Chinese Room.
The player explores an uninhabited Hebridean island, listening to a series of narratives addressed to a woman named Esther. These monologue fragments trigger at certain points around the island, and are chosen by the game semi-randomly. Of course this may present a problem as different playthroughs reveal slight differences in the story, with certain readings are played while others get omitted, and I personally have had no interested in replaying.
Although the narrator’s identity is not specified, evidence suggests he may be the late Esther’s husband. In his letters, the narrator refers to several other unseen characters. One is a cartographer named Donnelly, who charted the island in the past. Another character, Jakobson, was a shepherd who lived on the island in the eighteenth century. The narrator also refers to Paul, the drunk driver who caused the car accident that killed Esther. The identities of the narrator, Esther, Donnelly, Jakobson and Paul become more and more blurred as the game progresses, as the narration moves between topics and relates the characters in different ways. The random selection of voice-overs inspires ambiguity and forces the player to draw their own conclusions to the story.
The status of Dear Esther as a video game has been contested and indeed the game does not follow traditional video game conventions. The experience focuses on a story told through fragmented narrative as the player walks around an unnamed island with minimal to no interaction with the game’s environment; no choices need to be made, nor tasks to be completed.
I belive this is a video game. It’s unconventional, true, but it is a digital experience played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program. Mildly bizarre, but beautiful, Dear Esther is worth experiencing at least once for it’s artistic value. Therein lies the problem, because although the game has something to say, you would have to play it multiple times to catch the whole commentary and with such limited interaction with the game’s surroundings one could get bored and uninspired to play it again.
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