It was a dreary, rainy night in London when I first came across Dear Esther in the Steam Summer Sale a few years back. It was a bitterly cold night as only British summer nights can be, and so I sat down to a bottle of red wine and a game that I knew nothing about.
I came out of my haze an hour later, my wine untouched and my brain working in overtime trying to come to grips with what I’d just played. In fact I couldn’t even decide if ‘played’ was the right word to use. The experience left me elated, contemplative and truly touched me in a way that few games ever have, or indeed will again.
Dear Esther contains none of the elements that would constitute traditional gameplay. There is no environmental interaction and no combat. What the game gives you instead is (in a rather clinical analysis) atmosphere, immersive story and solid environments.
Moving through the game world feels like interactive poetry. The story is constantly narrated as you move through the environment and yet remains elusive as to its ultimate purpose. The story comes from a series of letters written by the narrator, and as the game progresses the stories of the characters entwined therein become more and more blurred leaving the ultimate meaning open to interpretation. Dear Esther is a game that deserves analysis, certainly on a narrative level, and when combined with the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack it serves as an experience, a journey rather than simply a game.
Leonardo Da Vinci once said “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Dear Esther is poetry that can be experienced, and in my determination that certainly qualifies it as a true work of art