Esther, completed

So much easier when you know where the save function is! I completed Dear Esther, and managed to do some comparative different routes to the final scene too. Notice the singular there, you can’t change the ending of this story, or at least I’ve not discovered an alternative ending. And now I can read the other online comments about the ending, it doesn’t appear anyone else has either.

I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say the final scene is a satisfactory ending to an atmospheric, poetic, allegorical to what was going on I’ve not much to add to the suppositions in my previous post, other than to wonder, at the last moment whether Esther and Donnelly were one and the same all along. Oh, and Paul might not be a drunk driver, rather a battered and unreliable car…

The Save function did allow me to explore the narrative structure in more detail, and what I observed in my previous post was confirmed, though there might be diversions from the main narrative path, they are but small distractions that will loop back to put you somewhere close to where you left the main story. You might hear a different narrative segment depending on the paths you take, but it won’t change your constructive interpretation that much, and you are also likely to hear the same segment on different routes through the story.

The strengths of Dear Esther are its atmosphere and sense of place. Which isn’t surprising, as that was the aim of its creator(s).Dan Pinchbeck, the game’s original author was researching presence (see below)  when he wrote it. I didn’t comment before on the exquisite soundtrack, both effects and music. When there’s no music playing the sound of the wind, the water and the echo of your own footsteps, maybe even snatches of a (your?) voice, all contribute to a suitably spooky atmosphere for a game wherein you are on a deserted island where somebody has been lighting and AWFUL lot of candles. But when the fabulous music kicks in your engagement in the scene suddenly kicks up a gear.

I don’t know much about presence yet, but it comes from research into telepresence. The ISPR introduce presence as “as a sense of ‘being there’ in a virtual environment and more broadly defined as an illusion of nonmediation in which users of any technology overlook or misconstrue the technology’s role in their experience.” I think I felt one jolt of that while playing Dear Esther (which isn’t a critiscism, I hope, as I was almost always aware of keeping my finger on the “w” key to walk around the island). I don’t want to say too much about when I felt it, for fear of spoiling the moment for anyone else who reads this and wants to try the experience themselves. Suffice to say it involves an unexpected visit to the M5, a real place in very unreal circumstances. In fact the unreality of the situation amplifies the emotional engagement with the scene, much as the musical score does in other scenes. For a moment I stopped breathing, forgot where or who i was, and let my emotional surprise take over. For a moment only, less than a second I’m sure, before I remembered to locate the “w” key and press forward to investigate the scene…

Its funny isn’t it, that apparently ADDING to the mediation – music, magical takes on reality – seems to have to opposite effect to what one might presume, it can distract you from the medium, and immerse you in that narrative. Well, I say its funny but I expect better minds than mine have already unpack and explained that effect. I’ve got a a lot a reading to do, starting with Pinchbeck’s academic work, now that I’ve played his game.