Touched By The Hand Of Mod: Dear Esther

By RPS on May 15th, 2009 at 2:45 pm.


[Friend of RPS and General Editor of Resolution Magazine, Lewis Denby, had a revelation about games through Half-life 2 mod Dear Esther. We thought it'd be an idea if he told you all about it.]

Gaming revelations arrive in the unlikeliest forms. Through the thick, sodden haze of British autumn, peeking out past the thrill of zombie infestations and post-apocalyptic wastelands, I discovered a tiny little gem that totally defied my expectations. I’ve sat on this for too long. I want to tell you about it. I need to tell you about it.

Truth be told, though, I’ve no idea where to start. It’s difficult to know how to begin a piece like this, a piece in which you know you’re going to effuse wildly about something few will have heard of and less will have tried out. I’ve written and re-written this opening countless times, discarding each and every one. Too gushing. Not gushing enough. Too vague. Too pretentious. Nothing works, and everything descends into incomprehensible nonsense or obscure cultural reference. None of us want that. So let’s keep it simple:

Last year, a Half-Life 2 mod changed my outlook on games forever.

In a way, that it would be this sort of amateur creation to have such an effect makes sense. The mod scene has the potential to be a land of limitless creative opportunity. You’re not restricted by publishers’ requests, or the demands of your perceived audience, or your own barely competent technology. You’ve an enormous blank canvas to paint on, and all that holds you back is your imagination. But that’s the thing. Most of the stuff out there is bland. A quick trawl through ModDB.com is likely to throw up an endless stream of level packs without context, stories without character. The terrorists are invading. Or is that the aliens? Often, it’s hard to tell and even more difficult to care, which is why Dear Esther is one of the most poignant and important freebies out there. If you’ve a copy of Half-Life 2 on your Steam account – and, let’s face it, you really should have – you owe it to yourself, and to the exciting future of gaming, to download it.

Dear Esther turned me into something of a fanatical child. I was so taken by it that I drafted a thousand-word interpretation of the story and emailed it to the creator. Every time it crosses my mind, I scour the internet for people’s responses to this glorious masterpiece, reading through forum threads and blog posts and whatever else I can feasibly locate. Sometimes, I’ve been delighted that others share my views. Other times, I’ve been horrified by people’s remarks. One player, on a forum I can’t remember, gave tips for speeding the game up. “Bunny-hop around the island,” he said. “It totally destroys the atmosphere, but it’s more fun.”

If you’re looking for fun, I’ve no idea why you’re playing Dear Esther in the first place. This is fearless, classical tragedy. It ends with the sound of a heart monitor flatlining, for goodness’ sake. Lead designer Dan Pinchbeck describes it as “an interactive ghost story,” but the inevitable connotations of that are misleading. This isn’t about bumps in the night or any other hackneyed horror archetypes. It’s deep, heart-tugging, emotional trauma. Dear Esther is indeed ghostly and ethereal, but it’s all thematic notation. Really, the only horror is in realising how truly heartbreaking this tale is.

Some people will tell you it’s not a game. Depending on your definitions, maybe it isn’t. You play as… well, that’s never revealed, and since it’s all in uninterrupted first-person, you’ve no way of finding out. During your time on what initially appears to be a remote Hebridean island, a disembodied voice will read fragments of a series of letters, written to a woman named Esther who we’re never introduced to. And you’ll explore, climbing higher and higher up the mountain in the centre, piecing together the proverbial puzzle and trying to establish, often in vain, just what this place is.

And that’s it.

I’m doing the fanboy internet-browsing thing again. Here’s a comment I like: “it’s an unremarkable island full of something strange.” It goes some way to hitting the mark of describing what Dear Esther is all about. At first, it’s just an island, seemingly uninhabited except for a few specks of wildlife. But as you progress, and as you become filled with the melancholy of this nameless man’s memoirs, you begin to notice things. Obscure patterns carved into the cliff face. Paper boats dumped on a beach. A tiny figure up ahead, peeking through the mist for a split second before darting out of sight once more. You never fully learn what the island is, but there’s more to it than first meets the eye – and, by the finale, you’ll have cooked up a tantalising set of theories, each barmier than the last.

This unrelenting ambiguity arises from a particularly clever mechanism within Dear Esther, one that randomises which parts of the script you hear at a given point. “The gulls do not land here any more,” the opening gambit might inform you. Or the narrator might say, “I sometimes feel as if I’ve given birth to this island.” None of it links together in any coherent way, and as the author succumbs to dilerium, so does his writing. His notes become hazy half-memories, contradicting one another and escaping reality. We hear of a tragic accident on the motorway near Wolverhampton, but it blurs and intertwines with a broken leg on the island. We’re told of a driver, accused of being drunk but, in spite of his wrecking guilt, still feverishly protesting his innocence. He becomes a syphallitic shepherd who died decades ago. We’re told tales from the Bible. We see them scrawled on the rock, painted over with complex, obsessive chemical equations. It’s the story of a terribly disturbed mind, and the horrendous inevitability of his demise – and it’s horrible.

I love my Marios and what-have-you as much as the next person, but I still feel games have an incredible untapped potential for negative emotions. Some have tried – Braid stands out for having a bloody good go – but we’re still a little too comfortable with enjoying everything we play. Any stretches of sadness in this medium tend to be restricted to self-indulgence or vapid tearjerker fare, and even they invariably make way for happy endings and bunny fluff.

Dear Esther rejects pretty much every notion of what videogames should do, and instead presents a profound look at what they /could/ be doing. They could be telling stories that, while unforgiving and upsetting, exist within a format that no novel or film could ever reproduce. Stories that take clever audiovisual amalgamation for granted and go the extra mile, allowing the player to explore a tangible world that they would never otherwise be able to visit. In a sense, Dear Esther is pretty much non-interactive: nothing you do changes the course of the fiction, and there’s no element of challenge to speak of. But in another, far more accurate sense, the interaction is totally key. It’s your journey – whoever “you” are – and the intimacy heightens every emotion censor in your poor, overloaded brain. After watching me finish Dear Esther, my girlfriend asked me what it was I’d been playing. I turned to answer her, only to find I couldn’t speak. No words arrived. None mattered.

This is a mod.

And that’s kind of relevant, for two reasons. Firstly, we don’t want to pay for this kind of thing. Hell, look at The Path: people are upset that even exists, let alone that its developers had the guts to charge seven quid for their remarkable efforts. But this is the sort of thing I’d love to pay for. It seems illogical that we’ll all happily splash out fifty pounds for the same old story of science-fiction revenge, yet aggressively avoid anything that encourages us to engage our brains and challenge ourselves a little. Dear Esther was created on a shoestring budget for a research project. It’s painful to think such a thing needs that sort of academic justification just to get made, but I’m gleefully pleased that it did, whatever the reason behind it.

But more importantly, Dan Pinchbeck isn’t a game designer, or a professional writer. He’s a talented researcher and lecturer, but game design isn’t his job. For all intents and purposes, this is an amateur creation – an amateur creation that genuinely left me entirely speechless.

Oh, it’s terribly broken. You’ll get stuck on scenery, and might even fall out of the game world once or twice. Voice clips will trigger over one another, even if you do resist the urge to bounce moronically around the world to kick the pace up. And it is really, agonisingly slow. Too slow. It might all put you off.

But a little birdie tells me Dear Esther could be receiving a complete overhaul later this year; might be rebuilt from the ground-up, removing its fundamental flaws and technical inconsistencies. This is a truly exciting prospect, and leaves me more watery-mouthed than any other upcoming release you might care to mention. As it stands, Dear Esther is a remarkable piece of blemished beauty. To experience something so stunning, but something more complete… I’m not sure I can effectively convey my joy in mere words.

There’s a section towards the end of Dear Esther where the narrator repeatedly refers to the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. As you climb the mountain, the spellbinding music driving you upwards, you read Biblical verses scrawled on the walls. You reach the top, and turn a corner. The word ‘DAMASCUS’ is carved in enormous, chunky lettering ahead of you. Your destination.

I’m converted. I’m not sure how, why or what to, but it’s there.

Give it a go. It might convert you too.

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133 Comments »

  1. hydra9 says:

    I can’t wait to play this. Installing HL2 now.

  2. Dracko says:

    Dear Esther is good stuff, no doubt.

    The problem with The Path wasn’t so much that it was trying something different. It was that it did it badly and while deliberately – condescendingly even, if you note its creators’ interviews – ignoring what makes games work and compelling in the first place. The reason people pay for sci-fi shooters or the like is because they go in expecting fun and entertainment (I doubt a lot of them genuinely go in for the story).

    But something like Dear Esther is notable not just because you don’t take a heavy risk indulging in it, as you don’t have to commit cash to something you won’t necessarily realise you don’t want to support until far too late, but because it employs the medium to a fine degree. The point that it uses the Source engine well isn’t even relevant: It’s a functionally well-designed mood piece, which acknowledges its flaws and thanks to the wonders of online distribution, realises it can improve itself to be even better.

    Something that mainstream developers can’t necessarily afford to do – though they should know better, no doubt – but that a small indie developer like Tale of Tales shouldn’t dismiss because they think they’re on to something by ignoring why they’re using this particular medium in the first place.

    And I’d certainly argue that the reason negative emotions are mainly tearjerker nonsense is because those are exactly the wrong kind of negative emotions to focus on. I’d suggest you try out something like Silent Hill 2 or even Drakengard to see that disturbing material needn’t come to the sacrifice of what makes games work in the first place: Their visceral intensity and ability to transport us directly into strange worlds not necessarily constrained by any recognisable logic.

    And intelligent, thoughtful material needn’t either, and can still be playful – why do people hate play anyway, as if you couldn’t learn from it – just look at something like Windosill or *gasp* Marathon.

    But then again, I’d say people who do that, indie or not, are working in entirely the wrong medium, and should really stop bringing it down because they hate what it is and want it to be something it most clearly isn’t.

  3. Hides-His-Eyes says:

    I played experienced this when it first came out. It’s amazing and you should all give it a go.

    I’m not even sure what happened, actually. Or… Yeah.

    Just go download it now, then come and cover this comment page with ellipsis like everyone else will be. When you’re not sure where to go, near the start, the answer is to get over the rocks and across the top of the cliffs by the beaches (i got stuck there and had to ask google)

    apart from that, it’s all pretty self explanatory, insofar as it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s like… you know when you read a book about a crazy person? You know they’re crazy because the narrator tells you, and so you get a glimpse into their madness.

    This game mod is like being a crazy person, without the benefit of someone’s omniscience.

  4. sbs says:

    I played that back when that fine gentleman Cargo Cult mentioned it on his blog thingie. This mod is pure, unadulterated atmosphere, and I urge anybody who has HL2 to play it. Light some candles, fetch some tea, and enjoy.
    In fact, I think I will play it again tonight. Maybe spawn a buggy for the longer walks, too, because I feel crazyyyyyyyyyyyy

  5. Duncan says:

    Well reading this has freaked me out before I’ve even installed it as my fiancee’s name is Esther… :-o

  6. Chris Evans says:

    I initially heard about this through Dark Rock Games who helped Dan Pinchbeck work on Dear Esther though I never actually got around to playing it.

    I think I shall have to give this a whirl, really good read from Lewis.

  7. phil says:

    This THIS sounds exactly the sort of game we need, a true alternative to adolesent power fantasies. Role playing a hopeless dying madman. David Lynch, meets Kafka meets actually wandering around and interacting with a nightmare. Playing this tonight. Possibly playing Eternal Sonata immediately afterwards as a constrast.

  8. pepper says:

    Definitely sounds interesting, but bad emotions have been used before, anybody remember the godly game SWAT 4? The Children of Taronne level did a outstanding job of actually hitting you at a point when you dont expect it.

  9. Joe says:

    Played it when it first came out and it is very, very good indeed. I was kind of drawn through the same as you, but I liked the end most of all. The final ascent up the mountain, the turn of the corner, the sudden swell of music and the feeling that somewhere inside the character and yourself a little dam of something important had just started to overflow was actually quite remarkable.

  10. Dracko says:

    phil, we really don’t need anything other than good, smart game design. The lack of that is far more criminal than any adolescent power fantasy and it’s probably not accidental that they’re usually the ones that come up with solid design choices.

    Because they’re focusing on making games, not writing novels.

    Be careful, pepper! A game can’t be entertaining as well as disturbing! You wouldn’t expect a book or a film to entertain while teaching, would you?!

  11. apnea says:

    A really, really great mod. Left me scrambling for more info on the creator, the script, the soundtrack, anything.

    Seeded it to some other gamers who, while not big on the artsy games scene, were spellbound too.

  12. Kast says:

    The whole experience (which I played through a few times when it first came out) is greatly aided by some excellent voice acting and music which really does drive you onwards.

    Though you can get lost a few times on the island, it’s not really detrimental to the experience (where’s my thesaurus?). You can download the tracks from ModDB and listen to them whenever. Actually, I think I’ll go do that.

  13. danielcardigan says:

    The guy doing the voice over was great.

    Don’t think I got as much out of it as you other people, though. When I finished it I had to reload in case I’d missed something but I hadn’t. Reminded me of the ending of Life on Mars TBH. Oh and Denby – spoilers much? On yer bike!

    I was playing it during my current all-games-are-crap mood, though. Really outstanding voice over work though.

  14. pepper says:

    Be careful, pepper! A game can’t be entertaining as well as disturbing! You wouldn’t expect a book or a film to entertain while teaching, would you?!

    Entertaining and distrubing are one and the same if you would ask me, i think most people are frightened by the fact that they could enjoy a horrific event.

    I’ve seen teachers whom where very and entertaining, some writers also know how to write about a subject and entertain the reader whilst he is enjoying himself.

    So yes, i think one can enjoy himself whilst playing a disturbing event or game, of course these boundaries differ per person.

  15. Lewis says:

    @danielcardigan

    I don’t think anything’s spoiled there. Which bits did you reckon were pushing it? It’s not like there are any “I’m your father” twists in the tale, or anything.

  16. Jubaal says:

    Could any kind soul please let me know how I actually get it installed and play it. I’ve downloaded it, but there is no automatic installer and no instructions on where you need to put the files. Any assistance is much appreciated.

  17. ...hmm... says:

    tried to download this a few months back and that failed.
    might give it another go.. is there any date on this whole overhaul thing or is it really just hyperbole? is it best for me to wait?

    TELL ME INTERNETS

  18. abhishek says:

    Jubaal: I haven’t tried it yet but I would imagine it’s simply a matter of extracting the mod into your sourcemods folder (which would be \Steam\steamapps\SourceMods). After that, restart steam and the mod should show up on your games list.

  19. Lewis says:

    @Jubaal

    Plonk the foler in Steam/steamapps/sourcemods, reboot Steam, and it should appear in your Games list. EDIT: abhishek beat me to it.

    @…hmm…

    Errrr… I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say. It’s all a bit up in the air, from what Dan’s told me.

    I’d play it now, as if it happens, it’ll be a while yet. They’re currently finishing off their new mod, Korsakovia, and then are hoping to set about on the remake afterwards. Providing they’re “allowed” to, given that their mods are supposed to contribute to game design research.

  20. Jubaal says:

    Thanks Abhishek & Lewis, I’ve actually already tried that but it doesn’t work. Thanks for the help anyway. It seems to be missing a .exe which I would think isn’t right!

  21. Premium User Badge Vandelay says:

    I played this a while ago too and had similar experience. Certainly a unique thing in the world of video games. I only played through it once, but I think multiple plays would probably be beneficial, so I may have to go back to it again.

    SPOILERS

    As well as the climb up the mountain side mentioned in the article, I also loved the piece where you find the woman inside a small building. Every few seconds her eyes would disappear, allowing you to see right through the eye sockets to the wall behind her. Leaving the building and returning would make her vanish. Particularly creepy as I had become convinced that I had imagined the brief glimpse of her going over a hill.

  22. phil says:

    @Dracko – “Good, smart game design” without an original or compeling story, or indeed much overall thought, can give you stuff like Dark Sector. An original and compelling story, with somewhat shoddy, off putting design, can give you Pathologic.

    Given the choice I’d have both quality play mechanics and a stimulating plot, though if I was forced I’d play something a bit broken and new over a solid, dependable tale of a man with super powers, a hood and a nemisis sporting tentacles.

    I agree game developers shouldn’t be novelists (though PS:T could compete in many terms with the best in fantasy fiction); developers have the potential to tell stories in entirely different ways. Big stories, small stories, absolutely any story, though most seem stuck telling the same ones for the moment.

  23. Frank Austin says:

    So, you won’t tell us what we play as, but you will tell us how the thing ends? Your spoiler priorities are all messed up, man.

    (yes, I know it’s not revealed.)

  24. ...hmm... says:

    @Lewis

    thanks a bunch for responding; i was possibly being a bit lazy, just checked the moddb page. Ill retry downloading this soon :) good article btw

  25. Marty Dodge says:

    Very interesting this sort of thing is being done in mods. There is hope for game story-telling after all. And to think this is “merely” a mod.

  26. futage says:

    @phil

    “I agree game developers shouldn’t be novelists (though PS:T could compete in many terms with the best in fantasy fiction); developers have the potential to tell stories in entirely different ways. Big stories, small stories, absolutely any story,”

    I can’t wait till we finally fucking realise that narrative is not central to what games are. I also can’t wait till we (gamers) rid ourselves of this naive, adolescent and painfully basic model of what art is/does and stop applying it to games when imagining how they could be art.

    I suppose it’s a problem with the media and public in general, this lack of understanding (and education) as to what art is. This misbegotten notion that that which is linearly emotive, depictive or expressive is art. Rather than that which is explorative and incomprehensibly dynamic (which, frustratingly, games always were until we tried to make them like films and push them into this teenager’s idea of what art is).

    We’ve seen the A-Level emo-kid’s sketchbook version of ‘games as art’ enough, now I think. We’ve seen the Michael Bay of games. The Scorsese of games. Even the Bergman and De Sica of games.

    But where’s the Dziga Vertov of games? The Rodchenko of games? The Malevich? The Duchamp and Bueys? Schwitters and Tzara?

    They’re right there, in the essence of what games are and do. Until people fall back onto this lazy, facile, imbecilic model of what art does and use them to, yet again, “tell stories”.

    There’s nowt wrong with stories but, fuck me, there’s so much more these things can do – and do more naturally.

  27. Pace says:

    I was also intrigued by this mod for a while, but eventually I just got confused. It definitely had that ‘ambiance’ thing going on, but the story telling went a bit too heavy on mystery for my liking. Towards the end I just felt lost. (I mean, I’m all for being cryptic, but this was just too much.)
    I like that these sorts of things exist, but they’re just not for everyone. Funnily enough, my experience with this mod suggested to me that The Path probably wasn’t for me either.
    (and here’s another review you may have missed.)

  28. graham says:

    A nicely written article by Lewis.
    Gaming needs more discussions and stories of the journeys we embark on and not just news. The 21st century has been characterised by rolling news.
    That said I am fairly unlikely to play/ experience this as I have such a list of games to get through but reading about it is just as important. Good work.

  29. The Hammer says:

    People can’t prefer that they do get told linear stories in their games? That sounds fairly like ideological warfare.

    And games which tell gripping narratives can’t coexist next to games which don’t want to?

  30. Dracko says:

    phil, Dark Sector was pretty good for what it was, though. The story was simple and suggestive, and was mainly boosted by the bizarre creature and level design, just the way they should be, and other than that, the voice acting was good. And I certainly wouldn’t say its design was without its flaws. I got it cheap and I don’t regret it.

    And besides anything else, the sooner developers realise that the events you’re actually playing are integral to the narrative, the story even, the better.

    Cutscenes are so last millenium.

    While we’re at it, they should also realise level design is a narrative structure too. This was essential to the 8-bit and 16-bit generation, and it hasn’t changed now.

  31. Super Bladesman says:

    That Windosill was a very interesting tip too – thanks Dracko.

    I’m also going to give Dear Esther a go for sure!

  32. Rohit says:

    I do remember bunny-hopping in this mod.

    At least I finished it.

  33. Irish Al says:

    Reminds me a lot of certain parts of Clive Barker’s Undying.

    Not being able to run is maddening.

  34. Psychopomp says:

    Downloading now…

  35. phil says:

    No one was talking about games as art – For my money they’re not. Fairly pithy summation of why not here: http://worldofstuart.excellentcontent.com/artsem.htm

    As games as art is not a particularly interesting debate to drag up and we’ll just end up throwing tedious art thoery links at each other, so let’s move on (that said, who do you think gaming’s Bergman is?)

    Yes, “telling stories” could be seen as reductive, almost a limitation on what games are and what they do, providing we limit ourself to only consider only how story is traditionally parceled out. That wasn’t what I meant. We shouldn’t focus on the words, cut-scenes and static pictures to the exclusion of the overall experience.

    Darko, I agree that ‘narrative’ is what we experience playing any game level, a match of pong had a story to it.
    The scene of exploration, the stress of combat, a feeling of isolation and the postive reinforcement that comes with ‘success’ – all those things can be essential to a games story. Dear Esther looks like it is telling a story that is a country mile away from the standard game narrative – which I think we can all agree is a very good thing.

    And Dark Sector, pretty good, really? It felt like someone had cut and paste the design docs from three other games then blanded out all the original ideas.

  36. Thirith says:

    @futage:

    Games don’t have to be narratives – but they can be, and some people enjoy narrative-based games a lot. What’s wrong with that? I find the majority of ludologists quite narrow-minded and boringly prescriptive in their ideological “Games shouldn’t ape other genres!”

    @everyone who’s played Dear Esther: should I download the mod now or should I rather wait until the re-release is out?

  37. Dracko says:

    No one complained when Dead Space did that too.

    Hm, Thirith. All games are narratives. I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    And what’s this about complaints against aping genres? I honestly don’t recall that ever happening. I mean, sure, way back in the days before the crash, games had to invent themselves, but now most every one of them when not referencing older games are referencing tropes in horror, action, historical drama, etc.

  38. Eli Just says:

    Played this when it first came out, and it’s really great. Everybody should give it an hour and I think you will get something out of it.

  39. Lewis says:

    @Thirith – I fear I’ve made the re-release sound a little too concrete. If you wait, I’d wager you’ll be twiddling your thumbs at least until the end of the year, if not – y’know – forever.

    @loadsofpeople – The main thing that’s interesting about Esther is how far it strips back the interaction while still having your control be important. cf. Fahrenheit, in which it sometimes feels like you’d be better off just watching a film. Here, though, the fact that you are there, exploring this place, is what seems key to the atmosphere.

    That, and the incredible music, script and voice work.

  40. Dracko says:

    Yeah, that pretty much nails it: Atmosphere is one of the major things games are expert at providing, but it still feels underused for the most part.

  41. futage says:

    @phil

    I was talking about games as art because because this game is not a game (as the original post acknowledges) and is art.

    I’ve not played this game (there’s another level on which of course it is a game – it shares the superficial form) so I can’t comment on it specifically and it does look quite interesting, for what it is. But most of the games which have walked this line recently have been both bad games and bad art. Like Jack Vettriano or something.

    I don’t agree with much of the article you linked – the author sets out a very personal (and limited) definition of what art is and then says games cannot be that. I agree with his opening statement, particularly: “Why do we care whether videogames are accepted as art or not?”, though. I think it’s concerns like that which lead us down the wrong ‘Paths’.

    I don’t think the question as to whether games can or cannot be art is a valid one. I think they are art already. And we’re looking in the wrong places in order to try to ‘make them into’ art – angsty emotionality, linear narratives and adolescent-sketchbook aesthetics.

    I agree with what you say about all games involving narrative but I don’t think this is something worthy of much note. You could say the same about much of human activity – watching/playing sport involves a narrative, going for a walk, baking a cake.

    Games are less reliant on narrative than most other time-based cultural forms. Game narratives tend to be weak because they don’t need to be strong – as you’ve at least implied, the strong part of game narrative exists in our heads (where I’d rather think of it as a dialogue than a narrative). Strong narratives in games usually come at the expense of those things which are unique to games – the dynamic dialogues, relational/contextual symbologies and truly complex ‘narratives’ (if we must call them that).

  42. futage says:

    Oh and also @phil…

    The Bergman thing. What I really meant was that there’s already stuff which does stuff in games equivalent to what Bergman did with film. I mean, we’re at that level, we need to take the next step.

    @Thirith

    I’ve got no problem with narratives in games or narrative-focussed games. I’ve got problems with people who sacrifice the game for the narrative to make bad art.

    I feel that games do narrative about right already (when they do narrative) in the mainstream. The most ‘artful’ games tend to be the ones recognised, again in the mainstream, as great games. Games like Half Life (a weak narrative, but one perfectly suited to its form). The mainstream, in this instance, ends up being more sophisticated in its appraisal because it doesn’t blind itself with a juvenile and regressive idea of what art is.

  43. Dracko says:

    futage, the sooner we all move away from the foolish notion of art in the first place, the better off we’ll be. There’s been no such thing since the Industrial Revolution.

    I mean, who would argue chess is art? It’s a game. It’s accepted. There’s nothing wrong with playing. I wish people would stop thinking there was, because I think that’s really the core of the issue.

    Trying to justify games as arts wreaks of self-doubt anyway, and it amuses me to no end that gamers still stick to it without even having much of a cultural background to discuss art’s history in the first place.

    Just because Mummy and Daddy don’t like games doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile!

    Beyond that, I agree with most of what you say in your latest post: Trying so hard to make “art” leads to disingenuous, characterless nonsense that relies far too much of trying to be anything but a game.

  44. Small Ivory Knight says:

    I don’t have Half Life 2, but I do have Team Fortress 2, which is Source as well. Would it work? Or should I go buy HL2, which I’m not certain will work on my overtaxed laptop.

  45. Thirith says:

    One interesting thing that games can do with narrative is make you into an agent, or at least give you the illusion of agency – and this can create a strong feeling of involvement and complicity. If done properly, this is quite potent.

    Out of interest: which games do you think do “stuff equivalent to what Bergman did” or to Scorsese?

    @Dracko: in what way (except the most academic/theoretical) is Pong a narrative? Or Colin McRae Dirt? Or Unreal Tournament? In what ways is it useful or interesting to examine them as narratives except in the most abstract, formalistic way?

  46. futage says:

    @Dracko

    Except the first paragraph, I agree with everything you’ve said there.

    The fact that I would argue that Chess (or rather a particular game of chess, for the participants) is art probably explains my disagreement with the first para.

    I think art, and the language it’s generated, is useful for talking about this stuff (but, like you say, it requires a degree of education).

    Also agree about no art since the IR, as it happens. That’s to say, it’s a useful and valid way to look at things.

  47. Lewis says:

    Drako: what’s wrong with something striving to be art instead of striving to be a game?

  48. futage says:

    @Thirith

    Narrative isn’t necessary for agency (depending on how far you want to stretch the idea of narrative). I’m the agent in Space Invaders, Tetris and racing games.

  49. futage says:

    @Lewis

    The problem is that games are art already and that striving causes them to sacrifice exactly that which made them so. If games strove more to be games, they’d be better art.

    • tomz says:

      This is a truly exciting prospect, and makes me very astounded than any other upcoming release you might care to mention.
      __________________
      gout treatment

      .

  50. Lewis says:

    I meant more: what’s wrong with someone wanting to use a 3D engine to create something that isn’t what’s typically considered a game?