I keep coming back to Dear Esther. After Gameloop, and the discussion of art games that I had a few times there, Esther kept coming back to my mind. So I played it again.
Much like the last time that I played the game, I came out with some snippets of information instead of a grand statement about the game. I think I am closer to the definitive thing that I want to say about the game, but I honestly think I’m a year and a few more playthroughs away from hammering that out.
1. While a huge chunk of the events in the game are random, something that happens every time is that a gull flies over the player’s head when s/he leaves the lighthouse. At the beginning of this playthrough, my narrator said that even the gulls had fled the island, following the shepherds.
The narrative of the game, which culminates in the player character jumping from a tower and transforming into a bird, is all about closeness and distance–forced or otherwise. Esther is gone, and there is a gulf between the narrator and her. Jakobson died of some disease and froze on the island’s slopes, and he was dragged into some cave to rot. Donnelly died of syphilis, donated his body to science, was was disseminated into civilization. So flight, either into or out of, characterizes all of the characters mentioned in the game.
The very end of the game is a black screen. The only way to “complete” the game is to access the menu and leave. That is a flight away from the experience. It is an acknowledgement of the gulf between player and game.
2. The mailman knocked on my door while I was playing the game. I had the sound up loud. I was deeply invested. It shocked me. I got up, took the package from him, and sat back down at my desk; I was shaking. It took me a few minutes to get back into the rhythm.
3. I have listened to the Dear Esther soundtrack, in its entirety, over a hundred times since it was released.
4. “You have been rendered opaque by the car of a drunk.”
5. Another theme: remembrance. The narrator is remembering Esther, the inhabitants of the island, the researcher, and the goatherd. The stones themselves remember the island’s history; the cliff’s are a memorial to disease and isolation. The dents in the car, the lines on the road, all of these are material markers in time. Why does the narrator say he can only see the place where the accident occurred in his rear view mirror?
The philosophical message is that we have to start looking for the material markers of the future.
My writing this is both: I am looking for the signs of possible Dear Esthers, possible new experiences, possible new playthroughs. I am also remembering that-which-was. I remember that being that crouched at the knee and launched itself into space, becoming a bird.
6. “I have run out of places to climb. I will abandon this body and take to the air.”