Dear Esther > General Discussions > Topic Details
Cheechako Jun 2, 2013 @ 8:34pm
Being in the Space
Thanks to Gus for the title.

I’ve only completed one walk through of Dear Esther so far. I will probably give in another go soon.

Now I’ve read many comments that state Dear Esther is a boring game. I’ve seen many others that said it should be a short film or a book. Why are these the only options? Sure, we can add slide shows and power point and even animated GIF – but why are the old standards the only options?

A lot of the negative reviews or comments about Dear Esther compare it to a game. Some even begin with, “it is not a game, but…” This is not surprising. Dear Ester was originally a mod for a game. It uses a game engine. Although it has hardly any controls, they are typical of a modern FPS game. Many of us found Dear Esther here on Steam where we buy a lot of our games, or bought it bundled with a bunch of indie games. If we have it installed, it probably shows up in our library of games. If has been reviewed by many different game publications and sites, and has even won gaming awards.

But again, a lot of the negative reviews or comments compare it to a game. And, when compared to modern games, Dear Esther seems to fall short. When compared to a modern First Person game, Dear Esther seems to fall very, very short.

So again, why is Dear Esther a game? I am not asking why it was created in a game engine. I am asking why it is the only classification "a game"? Is it possible for Dear Esther to be something else – something that is not the few base choices: game, book, or movie?

So far, the only argument I gave for it not being a game is to avoid the expectations it will be held to when labeled as such. I think this reason carries some weight. As long as we keep putting it next to Bioshock, GTA, Limbo, or even Myst, we make comparisons that should never be made.

There are lots of other arguments to be made as to why Dear Esther is not a game. I can offer some up later if this turns into a real discussion and debate. For now, I will leave it here and see if anyone actually wants to debate this.

There's a good chance I will get a lot of responses from people that just want to point out that it is the most boring game ever and they hate it. Please - all I can do is ask - take those posts to another thread. There are plenty to choose from. I'm interested in discussing this with people that see potential in the medium - game or not game.
Last edited by Cheechako; Jun 2, 2013 @ 8:36pm
Showing 1-15 of 66 comments
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Rogue Ranger Jun 3, 2013 @ 12:01am 
It could be a interactive painting with a good story, lol.
SpyroGuy Jun 3, 2013 @ 11:52am 
I call it an "Interactive Novel" and sure, of course it is a game. It's like not labeling something as the same thing just because it looks a bit uncommon to us. For example: whales are mammals as well, but should we call them "fishes" just because their body at some point resembles to a fish's body? Of course not. (don't get into an anatomy debate here, this is only an example)
This is a game which tried out something new, something fresh, a new style which hopefully gets more attention in the future, so we can witness more games like this one and maybe it seems weird for the first look, but it's still a game.
I can't wait to see Everyone has gone to the Rapture! (a game like DE, yet still in development and being created by the same people) XD
Cheechako Jun 3, 2013 @ 12:18pm 
Originally posted by SpyroGuy:
I call it an "Interactive Novel" and sure, of course it is a game. It's like not labeling something as the same thing just because it looks a bit uncommon to us. For example: whales are mammals as well, but should we call them "fishes" just because their body at some point resembles to a fish's body? Of course not. (don't get into an anatomy debate here, this is only an example)

But that is what I am saying, except fish = game - we are calling DE a game because at some point the body resembles a game.

Staying with your example, I am suggesting that we have no word or term for "mammal" (what the whale is), so we go with the standard of "fish", especially when we can only come up with a few other basic chocies like bird and biped. The whale is obviously not one of those, so fish is the only thing left.

p.s. And what if Dear Esther is a game? How far-reaching and all-encompassing has "game" become? To stick with your example, what if we just call the whale and the fishes and all that "creatures of the sea."

So, games are just creatures of the sea. Sure, go take a dip in Dear Esther - an interesting creature of the sea. Oh, you didn't know I meant man-eating shark or hydrothermal vent worm? Sorry.
Last edited by Cheechako; Jun 3, 2013 @ 1:22pm
SpyroGuy Jun 3, 2013 @ 2:37pm 
So basically the true nature of the game is up to the player to decide. This conversation only proves how qualitative this piece of programming is.
Cheechako Jun 3, 2013 @ 3:32pm 
I am questioning how we label the medium and how important it is to label it, and how it becomes harder to label it when it defies all labels.

If somebody say, "I just got a new graphics card and I'm looking for a new game," I think it would be a disservice to recommend Dear Esther without knowing anything else. Even if they said, "a new game - something different," it might be better to ask what they normally like before jumping to Dear Esther.

According to the Steam page, DE falls into the categories of: Adventure, Indie, and Casual. These categories include everything from Batman Arkham City and Far Cry 3 to Myst and the Walking Dead. Minecraft, Cityville, and Harvest Moon would fit those far-reaching categories too.

Yet the examples I give to narrow things down a bit. I can think of other games to recommend. Sometimes, like with DE, it seems like all we can say is, "well, it’s a game but different – not your typical game." That says even less than adventure or casual.

So, if you like games that make you think long afterwards, then you’ll probably like Dear Esther. Eexcept that may not be true. There are many reasons you could hate Dear Esther even if you ONLY liked games that make you think long afterwards.

Perhaps we should just call it a puzzle game. :) (No offense to people that like puzzle games.)
-Z- Jun 3, 2013 @ 3:47pm 
Why not call it an "exploration game"?


As for anything else, I could put forth some ideas in my head, but I would need time to have them settle into some sort of cohesive format. I would, I think, be taking an entirely different stance from others who might post. While I am what would be called a "gamer," having grown up with games and all that, I am also something of what has been referred to (albeit with some notable amount of derision in other topics) as an "art guy."

But, as I said, it may take some time for me to sort out my thoughts.

For now, I'll leave you with a quote from the bard.

"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Nu Naoya Jun 3, 2013 @ 3:57pm 
I don't think puzzle quite fits. At best, I'd call it a "visual novel". While it's not in a the style of most Visual Novels, (See: Rewrite, Fate/Stay Night, etc) it kind of fits. There are no game elements, everything being mostly visual, and it tells you a story as you see said visuals, that being the "novel" part.

I still don't think it's quite right, though. Most Visual Novels are more straight forward. Actual novels, but with images (And music and sometimes voices). Most people refer to it as an "interactive story", but that doesn't quite fit either, as it was not interactive at all. The player is only a spectator who explores and listens, you don't interact with anything.

Cheechako, you said that I found something I liked or at least interested me in Dear Esther... Which is both true and not true. Dear Esther itself, there's nothing I liked about it. Sure, the graphics were pretty, but I don't care much for pretty scenery. So to me, the only part left was the narration and, well, gameplay. There is no gameplay, and I didn't like the story.

But what I think is that the idea behind Dear Esther is interesting, but that game, or the medium, leaves a lot to be desired. If more was added to it, I think it could become a great story telling medium. Lots of games are already great at telling amazing stories, so I don't see why this could be any different. It's just that the first attempt fell a bit short.
-Z- Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:03pm 
Originally posted by Izaya:
Most people refer to it as an "interactive story", but that doesn't quite fit either, as it was not interactive at all.
Actually, that's not entirely true. I found in my playthrough that there are optional paths to take, and certain paths to explore can provide addtitional pieces of the monologue that would otherwise be missed. In that way, there actually is a bit of interaction as the narrative is tied in some manner to how one chooses the path they take.
Nu Naoya Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:07pm 
Originally posted by Zaxoth:
Originally posted by Izaya:
Most people refer to it as an "interactive story", but that doesn't quite fit either, as it was not interactive at all.
Actually, that's not entirely true. I found in my playthrough that there are optional paths to take, and certain paths to explore can provide addtitional pieces of the monologue that would otherwise be missed. In that way, there actually is a bit of interaction as the narrative is tied in some manner to how one chooses the path they take.

I wouldn't really call that "interaction". In a way, it is, but to give an example I said in another thread, it'd be like walking in the park. You're not interacting with the park, you're just walking in it and seeing it. You could take a different path, too, and see other things about the park, but that would still not interacting with it. In this case, change "park" with "story".

While you can see different parts of the story by taking different paths, you're still not interacting with it in any way, just seeing more of it.
Cheechako Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:18pm 
Originally posted by Zaxoth:
"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Yes, once you experienced it, it really doesn't matter what you named it. But if we call it a rose then people go in with expectations of it smelling sweet.

Originally posted by Izaya:
I don't think puzzle quite fits.

There was a little sarcasm there - as in one huge WTF? puzzle.

Most people refer to it as an "interactive story", but that doesn't quite fit either, as it was not interactive at all. The player is only a spectator who explores and listens, you don't interact with anything.

Was it you that brought up the spectator argument before? That word is often used with sporting events. Typically, you watch events unfold beyond your control from one (or a few) limited viewpoint. You can't pause or rewind or take a second/closer look.

That is why I named this thread "Being in the Space". One difference between Dear Esther and a film is that, if you go back in time a bit, things are not precisely the same as before. The differences are subtle, but you can only experience moments, and moments are fleeting.

This is different than rewinding a video or flipping back a few pages in a novel.

Technically, we are interacting - we interact with time. I think we interact with memories as well. The game seems obviously designed for more than just one or two walk throughs. Now you may not want to give it another go, but that does not change the design.

Memories are fleeting too, and the differences can be very, very subtle.
-Z- Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:27pm 
Originally posted by Izaya:
I wouldn't really call that "interaction". In a way, it is, but to give an example I said in another thread, it'd be like walking in the park. You're not interacting with the park, you're just walking in it and seeing it. You could take a different path, too, and see other things about the park, but that would still not interacting with it. In this case, change "park" with "story".

While you can see different parts of the story by taking different paths, you're still not interacting with it in any way, just seeing more of it.
I don't know of many parks that provide a narrative that changes based upon the path you walk.

And as you said, it is interaction, but just not the sort one commonly associates with "games." ...which brings us back to the issue of "Is it a 'game'?"
Last edited by -Z-; Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:31pm
Cheechako Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:30pm 
Originally posted by Zaxoth:
And as you said, it is interaction, but just not the sort one commonly associates with "games."

That's why I started the whole thread with a debate about calling it a game - about the labels we use and what the pre-conceived notions they can bring about.

I think there are valid arguments to say, "technically, it is interactive." But based on the common use of the word, if we call DE an "interactive game", it tends to create all sorts of expectations that DE does not live up to.
Last edited by Cheechako; Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:30pm
Nu Naoya Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:33pm 
Originally posted by Cheechako:
Was it you that brought up the spectator argument before? That word is often used with sporting events. Typically, you watch events unfold beyond your control from one (or a few) limited viewpoint. You can't pause or rewind or take a second/closer look.

That is why I named this thread "Being in the Space". One difference between Dear Esther and a film is that, if you go back in time a bit, things are not precisely the same as before. The differences are subtle, but you can only experience moments, and moments are fleeting.

This is different than rewinding a video or flipping back a few pages in a novel.

Technically, we are interacting - we interact with time. I think we interact with memories as well. The game seems obviously designed for more than just one or two walk throughs. Now you may not want to give it another go, but that does not change the design.

Memories are fleeting too, and the differences can be very, very subtle.

It is different, but it also ties back to my park example. If I walk in the park different times, I'll also experience different things. Different people might be around, for example. The scenery will also look different depending on when I go in it. I'm the one who controls when, where and how I walk, but I'm still not interacting with anything. That's why I chose the park example.

In a way, walking in some place IRL is very much like playing Dear Esther. Just that instead of different sights and people, you get to hear different bits of the story. With that in mind, you truly are spectating something that unfolds. Different things unfold, but you have no control over WHAT unfolds, and you certainly can't interact with the story itself, thus why I say I'm a spectator. In the same way that I spectate what's around me when I walk around IRL.
Last edited by Nu Naoya; Jun 3, 2013 @ 4:33pm
Cheechako Jun 3, 2013 @ 5:15pm 
Originally posted by Izaya:
In a way, walking in some place IRL is very much like playing Dear Esther. Just that instead of different sights and people, you get to hear different bits of the story. With that in mind, you truly are spectating something that unfolds. Different things unfold, but you have no control over WHAT unfolds, and you certainly can't interact with the story itself, thus why I say I'm a spectator. In the same way that I spectate what's around me when I walk around IRL.

Ah... so Dear Esther is just a walk in the park. :)

I'm not arguing with that, though. A walk in the park (if you don't touch anything) may be one of the better examples of what Dear Esther is "sorta like".

But again, talking about labels and the weight they carry, spectate implies "watch" to me, like watching the Go Pro video of the walk in the park. The real walk (and Dear Esther) allows us to pause unlike the pause of the video, and if we take a step back, wondering "did we just see something," we cannot really answer that question no matter what we see.

I think, perhaps, that is one of the points of Dear Esther. We can't really go back to a moment. If we take a step back or a second look, we cannot always clarify the memory with certainty.

If Dear Esther is a walk in the park, it is not a fresh walk on a new day. It is that attempt to capture a walk from long ago that is slipping from memory.
Last edited by Cheechako; Jun 3, 2013 @ 5:27pm
Captain Nermy Jun 3, 2013 @ 5:25pm 
Umm...it's a game. A boring game.
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