Today I would like to introduce a new column. I have always been an avid reader of game industry articles, both mainstream and Indie. There is a common trend in these articles. There are previews, news, and other fact related articles. Then there are your opinion pieces; reviews and editorials. They are all fantastic and serve their purpose. We need news and everyone loves reviews. Editorials, on the other hand, are an interesting beast. As a part of the ‘Magic: The Gathering’ community I came to understand that editorials are a subject of much controversy. People dislike other people’s opinions, because they are founded and strong in their own. Well, I would like to introduce a new type of editorial named “The Why of Indie Games.” Each week, on Saturday, I will present a game that I have played, either in the past or recently, which I feel deserves further discussion beyond that of a review. It is my personal opinion that games should not just be played; rather, there is a reason beyond fun for their creation. This stems from my belief that some games have greater purpose, and as with anything that has greater purpose, it creates a need for discussion. I also want to support discussion in the comments box below, as my opinion will only be the opinion of one man. Therefore, I will simply serve as a jumping off point for all of you, not as a final word. So pour yourself a fine glass of brandy, carbonated beverage, and a cigar if you please, and enjoy the first discussion topic: Dear Esther.
I have spent good hours with Dear Esther. After my recent surgery, I decided to delve into the mysterious ‘Half Life 2′ mod. I had read about Dear Esther. My eyes had glanced over reviews. I was prepared to not play a video game. I was still woozy from medication, and shooting enemies in ‘Bastion’ seemed like a nauseating affair. So, as I could not possibly take a stroll, I played a game which gave me that ability. But one does not so much play Dear Esther. Rather, it exists a literary work, or a personal interactive story. Even if it presents a broken one at that. Much of the explanations of Dear Esther‘s purpose are the reasons for the criticism it has received. Does the world need these interactive experiences?
One reviewer was especially critical of Dear Esther‘s use of the video game medium. The Chinese Room’s mod is posed as a classic case of right story, but wrong medium. But why must the video game medium be pigeon-holed? Are there not room for personal pieces of work in the world of games? Dear Esther‘s is conceptually foreign in a medium which takes pride in “play.” But just as people enjoy music and paintings that are personal to the artist, there must be room for that in the video game medium somewhere. People who have complained about Dear Esther have often complained about the fact that it is not a video game; however, if one is to go to a concert they are expecting to see music, but if they find they were rather headed to an art gallery they will likely be unprepared and upset. In the same vein if one expects to turn on Dear Esther and experience a traditional video game experience they will be sorely unprepared for what Dear Esther attempts at expressing.
Now, if I was to pose as understanding or having concept of what the narrator in Dear Esther wanted to convey to Esther I would both appear foolish and be acting fraudulently. I do not have the insight or knowledge to know the exact message the developers wanted to purvey to you and I. What I do know is that there were emotions, to which I can relate, that the narrator expressed; regret, anguish, and longing. Throughout my history gaming I would be hard pressed to find a game which pulled those emotions from the chamber of my conscience I feebly attempt to hide them. Dear Esther forced me to reflect. There stands the true triumph and purpose of Dear Esther. It exists as a reminder of reflection in a medium which all to often serves to pull us away from reflection.
I could easily congratulate The Chinese Room on the graphics and soundtrack, which are astounding; however, I cannot help but revel in the moments where I remembered how human I am, in a genre which often aims to make us feel more than. Dear Esther is an experience all its own. It is the developer’s reflection. Perhaps taking the hour and a half to play only reminds me of the power of self-analysis, but that reminder has taught me that while video games are fantastic, it is nice to lean back and think about my life, whether good or bad memories arise.
While Dear Esther may be an unusual medium for the expression of self-reflection, it may also be the medium that needs it most. Because regardless of how often we game, we still have a life and consequences to live with.
If you have yet to play Dear Esther you can check out The Chinese Room’s official game website where it is available for sale.