Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Eleven

By RPS on December 11th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.


Some games ask: “What’s it like to be a plumber trapped in a world of perpetually-kidnapped princesses?” Others examine the belief systems that lie behind our ability to deal with putting three similar shaped units in a line. Others still ask: “Would you like to go for a walk?” That’s day eleven’s question in the advent calendar of waking dreams.

It’s… Dear Esther!

Jim: Individual games often end up being representative of particular ideas or motifs within game development. They end up telling us about specific approaches or philosophies of design, and some of those will end up being held up as the prime example of that set of ideas. It seems to me that Dear Esther is one of those sorts of games. If Dear Esther tells us anything, then I think it’s a sort of statement about how we’ve come to love very specific things that are normally regarded as single aspects of the overall gaming package. That the experience of Dear Esther has divided so many people seems like a comment on our own ability or inclination to appreciate atmosphere and environmental art over gaming complex mechanics. Dear Esther has caused numerous people to argue that it is not a game at all, and in some ways it seems to epitomise the sort of “corridor” experience that it’s easy to denigrate and dismiss when it comes to discussing first-person experiences. There is plenty of subtlety here, but little in the way of depth, little to learn or master, and exploration that is merely walking a path. And that’s offended some sensibilities. I have some sympathy with that, because it’s missing out on the greater part of what makes games interesting.

I think what is important about Dear Esther, though, is that it has managed to be so moving, and so beautiful, and strike a note with so many people, while being mechanistically minimal. It demonstrates that we want to be able to see incredibly beautiful environments laid out for us, and stripped of challenge or task. It is, in a sense, a sort of tourism. It chimes with many remarks I’ve heard over the years (particularly with regard to MMOs) that it might be nice, just occasionally, to be able to explore these worlds – these astonishing imaginative acts of environmental conjuring – without the impediment and time-cost that they usually demand.

John: Dear Esther is championed as being the first commercially successful “art game”, argued as demonstrating other similarly experimental, atraditional projects as financially viable. But I can only see it as demonstrating that an art game must be at best simplified, at worst mediocre, to succeed. I hear these words as an ominous threat.

The artistic statement I see Dear Esther as having successfully made is that people will continue pressing W no matter what story is burbling away in the background. Unfortunately, it isn’t an arch commentary on the state of the industry. It’s a game I’ve found myself liking less and less since I played it, increasingly annoyed by its fatuity. And perhaps more seriously, I feel that its pretentions caused people to wilfully ignore its significant faults.

The story it tells is a set of by-the-book cliches – gaming’s equivalent of “But Mrs White died 30 years ago!” – told with such self-importance that it feels the need to remove all player agency. A horrible introduction gradually reveals to you how impotent you are within the game’s world, until you eventually resign to being nothing but the person who presses ‘forward’. But good heavens, don’t even think about exploring! Alternative paths other than the GO THIS WAY straight on option wind eventually to dead ends, with no significance, just firmly underlining your irrelevance to the experience.

It is argued that “Ahhhhhh, but ahhhhhhhh – isn’t that the point?” No, I don’t think it is. I think that’s applied in retrospect, forgiving your negligible connection to the process to excuse the story you were just half-told. It certainly isn’t the experience had at the time, unequipped as you are with the information to know why it might rather lamely be excused that you’re barely involved.

Where something like Tale Of Tales’ The Graveyard understood itself, made itself about the inexorable nature of linear gaming, and indeed life, Dear Esther strikes me as ultimately naive and troublingly lacking in perspicuity – and I feel it abuses the system to impose itself on you, rather than embraces it to explore ideas. And ultimately, of course the butler did it, so why drag me by the nose hairs to point it out?

The caves sure are pretty though.

Alec:

The games, films, books and music I most value and most remember take me to a place that feels real but is not; a place so evocative that emotions, memories, associations and gut reactions rise unbidden in me. Pulling hitherto unseen things from my brain while firmly implanting new ones in it. Frankly, if something succeeds in this I don’t mind – care – what medium it uses.

Like Stalker – the Tarkovsky movie rather than the lesser but nonetheless equally important game – Dear Esther is melancholy made corporeal, a place that is despair tinged with hope. Spoken words mean nothing and everything; every scene is loaded with meaning and yet carefully avoids prescribed or didactic definition. Despair and hope both are in the eye of the beholder.

Esther’s shuffled, non-sequential dialogue didn’t seem, to my mind, to be truly trying to tell a story, let alone make any sort of statement. Rather, I felt, it deployed key beats of loss, loneliness and regret to create a loose structure and most of all mood within which to frame and accentuate the intermittently bleak and beautiful Hebridean setting. There is, I think, no author trying to make themselves known and heard here – just scattered phrases to stride through, ghosts that swirl in and out of focus around the explorer on his or her journey of introspection.

I did not feel the need to jump or sprint or press E to use. I was fully engaged in soaking myself in this spectral fog of rumination, in my own personal purgatory that just so happened to look like a remote Scottish island. Scenes have been burned into my memory potentially forever, and skeleton piano notes echo around the back of my skull whenever I envisage them even if the actual melodies are lost to me.

I feel melancholy when I think of that clifftop path and my solitary trudge towards a blinking light I was far from sure I would ever reach – or wanted to. I feel wonder and a soft warmth towards existence when I picture those trailing rows of candlelight and bobbing origami boats. I feel determination and euphoria when I envisage climbing that towering, swaying mast, staring down at the silent, certain land below me and then, with my arms outstretched and a mile-wide smile, soaring. Free.

I remember no words. I don’t care about those words. I don’t care about what buttons I pressed, what buttons I could not or which roads were closed to me. I don’t care if it’s game, film, book, painting or song. I care that I felt something so strong, that the manipulation of my negative emotions was so expertly done that I now immediately go to a very particular place and a very particular mood simply by seeing or imagining a scene from Dear Esther. As a result of writing this piece, I will be melancholy for the day. I call that triumph.

.

96 Comments »

  1. pakoito says:

    Second disagreement of the calendar, but to be honest I haven’t played LoneSurvivor yet. Dear Esther is neither a good story by literature standards nor a good game by press buttons for stuff to happen standards, all in my opinion.

    Some caves had a couple “woah” moments, but that doesn’t make the game worthwhile.

    • NathanH says:

      Given that it isn’t literature and it isn’t a game, how relevant should we consider those standards?

      • pakoito says:

        Pre-edited: What is it then? Interactive screensaver?

        Post-edited: Movie? Painting? All of it? Well, it didn’t succeed at those either.

        Now, I can understand that if you bought into the game premise it may be a bit better, but I can get emotional about a dead fly on the window sill because in the end it’s all subjective.

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        • NathanH says:

          I’m not really sure what to call this sort of thing. It seems to be digital multimedia art. I haven’t “played” it, and I am not really interested in it, so it’s not my place to judge whether it is any good at being what it is, but I think it should be judged on its own terms.

          • Kitsuninc says:

            But it still needs to be judged on some terms. There’s a story, but it’s not very interesting. There’s gameplay, but it’s not engaging. There are graphics, but I don’t feel they’re interesting enough to play the game for. I didn’t find there to be anything else that caused me to enjoy my time either, so I don’t see much to be gained from experiencing Dear Esther.

            These are just opinions, mind, my point is that you have to judge something by some standards, even if it is a unique thing.

          • P7uen says:

            Well To the Moon wasn’t much of a Gamey Game McGame either, but if one wails and gnashes their teeth because they can’t put it into a category then they miss out on a wonderful experience (and deserve to be poked in some of their eyes).

          • Kitsuninc says:

            But To The Moon has a story that is completely amazing the whole way through. I also hate people that think games need to be gamey, as I love Visual Novels, and they really do not get enough love outside of Japan. But even a VN can be judged by its story and maybe its artwork, despite it not being a book or a picture.

            Edit: I’m not saying that something needs to be defined in ways that we commonly judge other things, either, if something is enjoyable despite not having or being good in the typical areas, that’s great. But being different isn’t a Get Out of Criticism Free card.

          • jrodman says:

            As for myself, I found Dear Esther to be top-5 game ever narrative.

            And yes I consider it a game, although it does probe the boundaries quite a bit.

          • a2217613 says:

            Nowhere near my own calendar. I’m afraid I didn’t buy into the experience – and obviously if that’s the case, the ‘game’ therefore has very little to offer.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0

        • RobinOttens says:

          Well, given that Dear Esther is good at exactly the thing I loved most about the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Myst games (though not as good). I’d say put it in the same category as those. ‘Games’ encompass anything from board games to sports to roleplaying, videogames and visual novels. So if you must put a label on it, I’m sure you can call Dear Esther a game.

          Anyway, Dear Esther is good, but I wouldn’t have put it on my magnificent advent calender. Having played the source mod version of it years ago, it was a good enough re-release of that, but not that different. And there were other, better first-person atmospheric exploration games this year.

          • CelticPixel says:

            Yes, it has that Myst thing going on. It’s an exploration game. I don’t understand the ‘is it a game?’ confusion.

          • pakoito says:

            There are no branching paths to choose from or items to interact in a specific order. I think there are a couple of Easter eggs but they are not part of the core experience.

          • The_Great_Skratsby says:

            And branching paths make the game? Gosh, the modern video game in a nutshell would like a word.

          • pakoito says:

            Well, given that there’s no interaction with the environment like in Myst the only mechanic I can think of would be branching paths (shitty gameplay mechanic per-se, but still valid). But it lacks that too.

            EDIT: This is not about classifying it as a game, but as a good one.

          • battles_atlas says:

            The whole ‘is this category A or category B?’ thing is tiresome. The only productive thing that can be said in this regard is that the simple fact that Dear Ester challenges the usual definitions can only be a Good Thing. Difference is a rare commodity. I don’t want to play many games like this, but I’m glad I played one. I thought Dear Ester was beautiful.

        • sonofsanta says:

          It’s an environment, and the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen in a game*, I think. (Although I haven’t played Proteus yet.)

          Refusing to call it a game because it doesn’t have puzzles (etc.) is like refusing to call ASOIAF/GoT a fantasy novel because it doesn’t have a Hero’s Journey in it. Things can be different, including opinions. I like that gaming is a little broader now than it was this time last year.

          *EDIT: in order to prevent arguments of circular definitions, feel free to replace “game” with “electronic multimedia experience requiring the input of an active participant” or other relevant spiel. Y’all know what I meant, anyway.

          • MikoSquiz says:

            We really could use a word for this sort of thing. It’s clearly not a game by any useful definition of the word, but there isn’t a better word to use for it. It’s like if we had to call geography textbooks fantasy novels because there’s all writing in, look.

            And maps, come to think of.

        • I Got Pineapples says:

          Really, we should probably be as harsh in judging arty indie as we are about AAA titles. I mean, it’s nice that they’re doing it but ‘It’s art!’ isn’t a defence when it’s not particuarly good art.

          • LeiterJakab says:

            It does provoke a lot of opinions both negative and positive that often tend to be somewhat more thoughtful than a FPS fanboy debate. It seems to make people think about games and interactive entertainment more seriously. Isn’t this kind of the goal of Dear Esther, and isn’t this a merit in itself?

          • I Got Pineapples says:

            Oh, this isn’t against Dear Esther in particular which i thought was pretty okay apart from not being able to move a little quicker. But I tend to think that once you go arty, you get to be compared against arty films and arty books and arty..art. I mean, of course your arty indie game is deeper, or at least gives the appearance of having more depth, than Faceshoot: the faceshootening. But that’s not what I’m going to compare you against, in much the same way I’m not going to compare The Bicycle Thief against Die Hard because they are going for entirely different goals.

            I mean, you can if you want but it’s kind of letting the side down.

            We should be able to say occasionally that some indie games are the equivalent of film school wank and should be judged as such without the battlecry of ‘It’s Art’ being a defence.

            But yeah, mostly, in Dear Esther? I just wanted to be able to move a little faster rather than spending ten minutes trudging back when I went exploring.

        • sophof says:

          I’m not sure why you feel it matters? The experience is what matters, nothing else. Putting stuff into boxes only helps us identifying stuff, but I never understand how it can help with qualifying the experience. Either you enjoyed it (on some level) or not, isn’t that all that matters?

          To be frank, I felt Dear Esther was pretentious too, but I still stand by the above. i have seen many people argue for instance that the Walking Dead is not really a game, or that the choices don’t matter. And this may all be true, but I feel all it does to them is destroying their own enjoyment by expectations.

          I think what is happening is that many shit games are using railroading and bad attempts at movies. Therefore railroading is now by definition a bad thing, but that is of course not true.

          • Brise Bonbons says:

            In order to talk about something we have to have a more robust framework than “I enjoyed it/I did not”. Now, any piece of work should define its own goals and framework to a certain degree, even if that framework is “I’m trying to be ambiguous and unclear”. That is part of the responsibility of a creator, after all, to create something that can speak for itself.

            Having not played Dear Esther, I can’t really say what it did or did not do to define its own rules and goals. But part of the process that we all go through to talk about something is to determine what perspective to look at it from, which involves talking about how it works, what it’s trying to do, etc.

            Putting it in a box (game, multimedia virtual installation art, interactive screen saver) is a somewhat limiting technique, but it can be a part of our process, as long as we move beyond it and look deeper at some point.

            Um… Not to jump on you personally about this, sorry. Just some thoughts about the topic.

        • brulleks says:

          Artificial sensory experience?

          Now I really want to find a second word that begins with ‘R’, despite actually quite enjoying Dear Esther.

          • NathanH says:

            Artificial Responsive Sensory Experience, Having Ordinarily-Ludic Elements.

    • The_Great_Skratsby says:

      A good game isn’t simply defined by its mechanics, there’s a whole lot more to what we constitute as a game, otherwise stuff like Planescape or Deadly Premonition wouldn’t be heralded for what they are. Same goes for Dear Esther.

      • Bhazor says:

        Both those games have extensive worlds to explore, puzzles to solve and meaningful interactions that draw you into the great story they tell.

        Dear Esther has a thinly disguised corridor with random faux deep phrases that try to tell you a bad story.

        If the island had actually been open to you, as opposed to closed off by invisible walls on every side, then it might have been worth the effort.

        Again the same issue as with 30 Flights.
        What would I miss if this was a ten minute flash/short film?

    • Kadayi says:

      I have no particular issues with the linearity of the experience (most narratives are on the whole), but the lack of things to interact with Vs ‘you have triggered some dialogue’ through the simple act of walking into an area did kind of turn it into a bit of a gallery affair. Lovely art, but no real hook to it in terms of personal investment which is a bit of a shortcoming.

  2. airtekh says:

    I can’t say I was particularly moved by Dear Esther.

    The fact that I was being railroaded down a linear path impacted on my enjoyment of it. I feel like it would be better as an open-world experience, where you discover the landmarks across the island naturally.

    • pakoito says:

      There are some open exploration games coming that use this model. It makes more sense to me to have the user expose himself rather than putting him on a theme park ride.

    • Faldrath says:

      Proteus is the main example here, I think (and much more interesting than DE, in my opinion).

      As for Dear Esther, I agree with Alec’s take – it’s an “experience” (and the vagueness here is intentional) that sets a mood very well. That’s it, and nothing more, so trying to look for more will be pointless.

      • pakoito says:

        My point is, not a GOTY. It was interesting but not worth taking the place from other games.

  3. hello_mr.Trout says:

    i liked it! it would be nice to see more games using abiguity and exploration as methods of story telling, without feeling the need to add in shooting, or puzzles or something (for example; the new bioshock). however, it would also have been nice to have had a sense of player agency, like having multiple geographical pathways to progress through, or a button for deploying the torch – small things which would have increased the sense of the player interacting with the world, rather than being hemmed in to a single type of experience

  4. GameCat says:

    That island is perfect place for some Cthulhu myths horror game.
    I was just waiting for Dagon rising from the sea to conquer whole world.
    Also it’s worth playing this for last scene where

    SPOILERS!

    SPOILERS!

    you’re falling from that radio tower to peacefully glide right above the ocean. It was damn good. I want bird simulator.

    • Godwhacker says:

      Far Cry 3 has radio towers and hang gliders, have you tried that?

      • Kinth says:

        It also has a flying squirrel suit that lets you jump off anything.

      • Phantoon says:

        I haven’t, but I always don’t wish to wrestle with UbiDRM. I’ve never played a Farcry or Assassin’s Creed because of this.

    • GameCat says:

      Not yet.

  5. Stuart Walton says:

    The best thing about Dear Esther is the writing. To be clear, I don’t mean plot or narrative or story. I mean the actual stringing together of words. Every sentence has it’s purpose, there is no gratuity, no superfluous sentiment. It’s quite simply the morose poetry of a damaged mind, and it’s meant to be.

    Paired with the next best thing – the delivery of those lines – the performance is the core of Dear Esther. The third best thing, which is of course the world, is merely extra flavour. You can just listen to Dear Esther and it wouldn’t be diminished.

    It’s not a game. It’s obviously not a game. Criticizing it as one is being disingenuous.

    • Oozo says:

      I actually liked the sound of the words washing over me. Still, I can’t completely disagree with the guy who wrote that the opening sentence might be an ideal “found” entry for the Lyttle Lytton contest. Meaning that while I appreciate the performance and what the sound of the voiceover added to the experience, the actual writing… well, I found it to be not so elegant.

      (Much like Alex, I found it to be very atmospheric nevertheless, so I’m completely ok with Dear Esther showing up in the calendar.)

      • PleasingFungus says:

        More specifically, this article, which is a very entertaining (if critical) read.

        I love RPS to pieces, I really do, and there’s a very smart and balanced evaluation of Dear Esther by John Walker which talks about its virtues and limitations much more fairly and eloquently than I have done but Alec’s comments epitomise everything I hate about the way gamers talk about indie-games. The last time I checked, being boring, even intentionally, is neither difficult nor commendable. It’s not even arty. It seems to me that people who like games, and would like games to be recognised as art, can’t like art very much, because art is not boring. Yet whenever a game shows up that’s crap to play people start immediately hailing the tediousness of the experience as some kind of amazing artistic virtue, as though art is the cultural equivalent of eating your greens and something can only possibly be good for you if it doesn’t taste very nice.

        Worth a look.

        (Also, the author isn’t a guy)

        • Stellar Duck says:

          Guy or not, I think she comes across as a quite an asshole.

          • Phantoon says:

            AND NOW YOU UNDERSTAND PORTLAND! That is to say, you understand how hipster-fish eat other hipster-fish in a raving circle of pretentiousness.

            Of course, I don’t think it’s possible to fully peel this “game” apart without getting a bit pretentious, because it’s spending more time trying to be “art” than actual “game”.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            I don’t mind people being pretentious. I just mind her foul language and insults towards everybody and their dog. It’s perfectly possible to take apart the game and not be an asshole in the process.

        • Brise Bonbons says:

          Well, to each their own, I was going to say thanks for an interesting read. I don’t agree with her view 100%, but it certainly gave me food for thought and a good number of chuckles to boot.

        • Oozo says:

          @pleasingfungus
          The author of the article isn’t a guy, but the comment on the article I failed to link to was written by a person calling him-/herself “guy”.

          But yes, I found that the original article made some good points, too, even if for me, the ratio of moments the game succeeded at what it wanted to do and those that it failed to do so was more positive.

        • Brise Bonbons says:

          I just wanted to point out that in the comments of that article, there was a link to this little gem, (NOTE: takes you right to the embedded player which will pump midi music out your speakers) which is a sort of puzzle/adventure game also set on an island with narration by/about a woman who is notable by her absence.

          Not saying it’s “the way Esther should be” or anything, but I do think it on topic, and a worthy little game that I hadn’t heard of before, but enjoyed thoroughly.

  6. marbled says:

    Haven’t played this but Jim’s point about how it would be nice to explore virtual worlds without the time investment really chimed with me. About 6 years back I did a free trial of City of Heroes, and at the end I had a few of the flight and super jump jetpacks saved up. I knew I wasn’t going to pay the money for a subscription (mostly because I was worried it would destroy my uni results!), so spent an afternoon just jumping and flying around every area I could access. Every enemy in these areas could destroy me with a single blow, but I didn’t engage with any of them, just dropped out of the sky and bounced away again. By the time my last pack ran out I’d seen everything I could access at that level, and felt like I was leaving satisfied. If there was a way to do this for WoW or Guild Wars, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.

    • pakoito says:

      You can do it on pirate servers, I have explored a good chunk of Azeroth and it was incredibly gorgeous.

      • Brun says:

        Don’t even have to do it on Private Servers for WoW anymore, as you can now fly pretty much everywhere.

        • Phantoon says:

          After leveling up, sure. And flying in Warcraft was ALWAYS boring. Exploring new areas might’ve been interesting or fun, but I never found any difference if I was flying or not. In fact, I enjoyed those areas more if I was riding a horse.

  7. AmateurScience says:

    Without saying anything about the art/game/whatever aspect. I’m glad I experienced it.

  8. Trillby says:

    This is a beautifully written advent calender article – all three opinions reflect a lot about your personalities and how you all interact with and think about games. I think that at the end of the day, that’s the main reason we your shouty louty mob of readers come here all the time; it’s very nice to be presented things we are interested in by people we find even more interesting. For me, more than anything else, Dear Esther has been a great psychiatrist’s chair for discovering how people I like (and that includes the RPS writers, obviously) react towards all the things that the game evokes – from the constraints and lack of freedom to the beauty of the environment – and why. Good stuff all round.

  9. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    Nowhere near my own calendar. I’m afraid I didn’t buy into the experience – and obviously if that’s the case, the ‘game’ therefore has very little to offer.

    I suppose it’s an interesting/unique little gaming-related oddity. But interesting/unique doesn’t automatically mean good.

  10. Caiman says:

    So happy to see this on here. I know the comments will be full of people who hated it, but I’m not one of them, and Alex’s point of view best encapsulates my own experience. In short, for a game that according to many shouldn’t be a game, it remains one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had. Why it had that effect on me I cannot say, but I’m thankful that it did.

  11. Gap Gen says:

    I’d argue that calling Dear Esther a game is a good thing, because it means the genre still has significant scope for definition. Otherwise, short story audiobook coupled with a corridor-walk through a desolate island doesn’t really trip off the tongue.

    I think I liked it. It was interesting, anyway, and while it’s not a direction I’d particularly want games to go in any significant way, it’s good that someone went there, and did a fine job of going there. Sure, its story didn’t have the same impact on me as, say, Bastion did last year, and I won’t ever go back to it, but I’m glad it exists and I’ve spent an hour or so wandering through it.

  12. Syra says:

    I’m completely with alec on this, and bravo to rps on having a game in their games of the year list with writing from like, hate and meh perspectives!

  13. Jackablade says:

    So did some enterprising modder ever get around to combining this with Left 4 Dead? It’s seems like such an obvious thing to try, I’m surprised I’ve heard of it happening.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      “Dear Esther,

      The zombies do not walk here anymore. …”

    • sub-program 32 says:

      I myself was thinking Dear Esther and Slender. Just break the invisible walls a bit and it would be perfect!

  14. CelticPixel says:

    Wanted to like it more than I did, but a worthwhile experiment. Still, I hope games like this will claw back some player interaction. Why not trigger the story as I pick up and inspect objects? Why not let me copy the painted symbols on the wall with all that luminous paint lying around to unlock another caveat of the story? And walking all the way to the end of the beach to hear one piece of dialogue then having to slowly walk all the way back was not fun. At least Thirty Flights of Loving gave me an orange to peel…

    • Stuart Walton says:

      I’d like to see a mash of Dear Esther and Miasmata.

      An environment that is an echo of the narrator’s psyche. Exploring the environment yields clues, some are relevant to the environment, others come from the narrator. As you progress, a dual narrative unfolds, there are hints of allegory between the two. Maybe a few details starkly contrast. What is the real truth, what the environment shows or what the narrator has chosen to believe?

      Combining the clues from the environment resolves the dissonance. The context of previous revelations will shift, new questions may arise. The world may even change. And what if you make an impertinent connection, combine two clues that someone else may not think relate. Should the narrator’s viewpoint shift also?

      Dear Esther is an exercise in tourism, how would you like to poke around a little?

  15. suibhne says:

    Dear Esther seems to me one of those pieces that succeeds even if it only affects a few people, and that it has clearly done.

    I also can’t help but have some (grudging) admiration for a work that has absolutely no interest in meeting me on my terms. I either come and visit, or I don’t – it’s all the same to Dear Esther.

  16. sonofsanta says:

    I think that, on reflection, Dear Esther was my favourite thing of 2012. It didn’t outstay its welcome for me, it left me alone to do my own thing, and it was just beautiful. A lot of the time I tend towards enjoying games & movies for their ambience more than anything, so perhaps I am the type predisposed to enjoy DE, but still – I wouldn’t change it for the world.

    Well, I’d change the way it takes away your control at the very last; that did leave me feeling a bit cheated because, as Alec’s WIT at the time said, I’d've done it anyway.

  17. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    If anything it’s actually worth reading Dan Pinchbeck’s research papers involved in the creation of Dear Esther (the original mod), and even his massive FPS related PhD, that came prior.

    The whole point of the game is challenging convention, and resting absolutely everything on storytelling techniques of affordance and epistolary storytelling. It’s a great thing it exists, if only for the dialogue it has generated.

    • pakoito says:

      I’m ok with this and I understand what you mean, but DE is just not a GOTY candidate. That’s what the discussion was about, rather than its classification as a game, which I already stated on my first post.

    • AlwaysRight says:

      The_Great_Skratsby is 100% correct. Dear Esther is an honest and sincere attempt to make a successful game that is the polar opposite of what people expect a FPS game to be.

      Earlier this year I even had the good fortune to be able to talk to Dan in person about DE (admittedly I was steaming drunk… sorry Dan) and came away knowing he had his heart in the right place at every stage of its development. This wasn’t a pretentious art piece, or a cynical cash grab, it was a thesis written by a measured academic who loves games.

      (oh and the reason the game wrests control out of your hands while you climb the aerial at the end was done purely because of the source engines limitations (ie. collision detection meant people kept falling off the ladder))

  18. BlackestTea says:

    Wow, refreshed and the page has doubled in length.
    I don’t want this discussion, to be honest. I’m sick of it. It happens every time this game/thing is mentioned. Why do we have to argue it?
    I liked dear esther. I was happy to pay for it. I will go into my cave and be happy that it exists and forget about the people outside who shout at each other down over its merits or dismerits. I’m also happy it made the calendar, but that is only because it feels like and affirmation of the importance it had for me.

  19. Pod says:

    I’m disappointing by how few of these ‘best games of 2012′ I’ve agreed with. (i.e., only FTL). I think I’d be less dissapointed if, before making the calendar, RPS defined what they consider a game, because then I’d realise what we our idea of what a game is are very different things.

    I’d hardly consider Dear Esther and Thirty Flights of Loving games, for instance. And Stacking, as a game, was a bit dull. It was cute though. I’ve not played Lone Survivor so I can’t comment.

    • Ragnar says:

      I don’t think this is an issue of what RPS considers a game, as the other 10 games listed so far are undoubtedly games. You just didn’t like 9/10.

      Which is fine, really, as nothing says you have to like the same games as RPS (I too found Stacking dull, for example). And we know that certain games (Dishonored, Xcom, Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami) haven’t shown up yet but certainly will. But I’m curious, what would be your list of the top 25 games of 2012, if your only agreement for the first 12 is FTL?

  20. kataras says:

    I loved it, game or not, same as 30 flights of loving.
    /end discussion

    • Gap Gen says:

      I never *quite* got 30 Flights of Loving. I replayed the game twice after finishing it, convinced I missed something in the previous playthrough.

  21. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    I thought it was a beautiful experience. Discourse on whether it was too linear or mechanically simple misses the point entirely, on the order of discussing whether Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood should have lyrics. What emotions and thoughts does it inspire? If it’s ‘well it’s not gamey enough for me‘ then I just look glumly in your general direction.

  22. Stellar Duck says:

    I think I compare Dear Esther to a piece of music in my mind. I mean, a piece of music is the same linear string of sounds to any listener when you boil it down. Dear Esther is also the same to any player.

    But as with music, what ultimately determines the experience is the listeners/players willingness to examine the piece. To get lost in it. To discover the nuances. To contemplate the composition.

    While Dear Esther leaves a few things to be desired I suppose, in the end, to me, it was a magnificent experience and a contemplation of regret that hit me at a time where I was doing some soul searching with regards to stuff I’d have done differently.

    Thus Dear Esther spoke to me, in my context, on its own terms at that time. I can’t help but to think how I’ll experience Dear Esther in 15 years when I’m near middle age and the end is looming nearer.

    And anyone who goes all po faced about how it isn’t a game should be ashamed. That’s missing the point and leads me to think they have no poetry in their souls.

  23. I Got Pineapples says:

    I am an awful person because I would have enjoyed this vastly more if you could just walk a little damn faster.

  24. Deano2099 says:

    Hurrah for RPS slagging things off in end-of-year round-ups. What I miss most about the Eurogamer Top 50 is you guys being rude about console games.

  25. Runs With Foxes says:

    just registering my disgust at Stalker being invoked in an article about Dear Esther cheers

  26. Jae Armstrong says:

    “What’s it like to be a plumber trapped in a world of perpetually-kidnapped princesses?”

    ‘,:\

    You know, I’d actually be interested in playing a game that took this question and ran it completely seriously. Adventure Time: The Game: Srs Face Edition.

  27. Stevostin says:

    It’s not a game. It’s a video installation that happen to be on all computer rather than in the gallery or in a sponsored event on a city place and that features modern, rather than nostalgic/historic digital media culture.

    Once put this way, I think it’s easier to admit that it’s a really likable piece of popular – by the sales and the price tag – art.

    I wasn’t hugely moved by the story, although the final made me tickle here and here, but being non native I was probably not a good audience for the poetry of the narration. But I do appreciate a good painting when I see one and Dear Esther is indeed one. Doesn’t it strike anyone that with a standard game enging this very game is able to deliver you a representation of landscape of so far unseen beauty ? I read here that the “oh” and “ah” on the view doesn’t justify to pay this, but for me it does.

    Which doesn’t mean I didn’t have a few yawn, and wasn’t secretly wishing for a Vintorez to appear in the middle of my screen while some Monolith would be shooting at me ;-) But for that game, I’d agree to pay ten times what i paid for Dear Esther.

    I am happy that Dear Esther exist. It’s a great painting that you can enter and loose yourself into.

  28. Thirith says:

    Both in terms of ‘is it game or isn’t it?’ and in terms of the writing, I liked Dear Esther considerably better than that other RPS/storywhore darling, To The Moon. (For the record, I’m one of the biggest storywhores myself.) I found it more evocative, more intriguing and more touching (though less sentimental) than its JRPG-looking distant cousin. It’s not that I hated the latter, but its story beats and tone didn’t do all that much for me, even though the overal theme was right up my street.

    Dear Esther felt less ingratiating – and yes, it’s easy to parody it, but I found the combination of text, the sense of place and the visual details successfully poetic, perhaps not consistently so, but consistently enough to evoke a particular atmosphere and feelings more successfully than many other titles this year.

  29. gwathdring says:

    I think this is a good place to remind that the calendar isn’t necessarily about the “best” games, but also just games that were particularly interesting or important. Dear Esther was made important by the way it was received. That importance remains whether you view it’s impact or itself as good or bad.

  30. dorquemada says:

    Disappointment of the year. Sure, environments were totes beautiful, but you couldn’t stray from the narrow path to explore them better, and after so much praise and buzz about the writing, I found it too pretentious and flowery for my tastes (and so did creators of “Dear Esteban”, it seems – love you guys! Love your game too! :D), as for emotional impact, “To the Moon” did it much, much better despite of uninspiring, meager visuals. I’m also reluctant to call it a game as well, “Interactive video installation” is more appropriate a term.

    However, there is one emotion “Dear Esther” succeeded to invoke in me, and that is doubt in next “Amnesia”. :|

  31. StingingVelvet says:

    I’m all for promoting and enjoying unique games, indie games, the whole bit. Yet this advent calendar list so far reads pretty much like “HA we don’t like your ‘popular’ games, so IN YO FACE!”

    Which honestly is more and more RPS in general lately.

  32. rapier17 says:

    Personally I throughly enjoyed every minute of Dear Esther. It struck cords with me on the immersion of the place, the excellent intergration of sights & sounds, the beauty of the island, the solemn, solitary howl of the wind, the beautifully articulated narration. What I also enjoyed, beyond the story, sights & sounds was the brilliant way the route was laid out through the map – this struck me much in the same way as the linear route through Half-Life 1 did – I felt like I was in charge of where I was going even though it was a preset linear path.

    Frankly this game resonated with something inside me and I felt thoroughly moved by the end and sat there for several minutes staring at the black screen once it was over.

    As an experience I felt enriched by it.

  33. Zankmam says:

    This “game” is utter… Eh.

    If Thomas Was Alone doesn’t make the list, but this does… Damn.

  34. pyrrhocorax says:

    When I played/watched Dear Esther, I really smelt the wet rock and seagull droppings and leg rot. That’s a compliment!

  35. Citrus says:

    This game was amazing. Made me think about meaning of life and our existence. I was in tears when the game ended. It changed my life. It was like staring at a painting at a art gallery.. only this time, it was moving. Moving me to tears, that is. I can’t believe how amazing this game was. I am so.. amazed.

    Oh god, I am crying again just thinking about the whole experience.

  36. captain nemo says:

    I love Dear Esther.
    I don’t care that you cant shoot/pick up/drop/explore every nook/move fast. I dont care whether it is or is not a game. I dont care if it is art or not.

    The atmosphere is deeply moving.

    So I’m glad it exists.

  37. ShatteredAwe says:

    Please put Mark Of The Ninja on this calendar. It really deserves a spot.

  38. Eight Rooks says:

    Gorgeous artwork, but it wasn’t anything like as grandiose an overhaul of the Source engine as reviewers would have had me believe, and the lo-fi textures and obvious polygons yanked me right out of my reverie on numerous occasions. Writing was mediocre (laughably purple in places for no apparent reason), the story was blatantly obvious, contained no hidden depths or profound insights and didn’t stick with me beyond “Oh, so that happened”. There was no element of suspense or anticipation whatsoever, and no opportunity to emotionally identify with anyone. Yes, it was a non-game, but it didn’t pretend to be anything else and I’m fine with that approach to development in theory. But it told a forgettable, unremarkable story and did nothing out of the ordinary with it. That wasn’t okay.

    The writing in To The Moon was technically awful (and it was a terrible “game”), but the heart behind it and the grasp of how to tell a good story eclipsed Dear Esther by miles. Anyone seriously putting DE on any kind of year-end Best Of list should take a long, hard look at what they really want out of their digital entertainment. If that’s you, and you’re really, really satisfied with some pretty pictures and armchair psychoanalysis that’s middling at best, well. Okay then. :(

  39. valz says:

    The only good thing about the “game” (I like to think of it as a simulated evening walk) is the way it makes me think about Lovecraft stuff I already knew.

  40. Sunjammer says:

    I think it’s ludicrous to bash Dear Esther for not being anything more than a melancholy mood piece. It has more in common with ambient music than literature. I enjoyed it like I enjoy a Tim Hecker album; It’s just droning vistas and the emotions you yourself bring to the table given your associations. Beating it up for lacking politics or “meaning” by your own standards seems completely opposite of treating it like art. You like it or you don’t, but complaining that it “is” boring makes you look incredibly silly. It “is” what it is, and you yourself are responsible for the value you get from it.

    Which is just like any game, I might add. I thought Crusader Kings 2 was utterly impenetrable, even dull. But I completely understand why people love it so dearly.

    Personally, I was quite taken with it. The cave scenes, the visuals paired with the music, got me misty-eyed. It had nothing to do with the story or its interpretation. I just felt grateful and happy and amazed and it just seemed like such a beautiful thing to be given. Besides Journey, no other game has reached that simple, direct connection with me this year.