Dear Esther Reflection


As I played through Dear Esther I couldn’t help but to compare it to Gone Home, and for the most part I found it lacking. It comes down to the idea of what makes a game a game, and many would say neither Gone Home nor Dear Esther are games, and they certainly aren’t in the traditional sense. However, what I want to know is what playing something rather than reading or watching it actually adds to the experience. In Gone Home, though it is not particularly more mechanically complex on the surface asked me to do a lot more in terms of constructing the narrative through source documents and that felt much more game-like to me. Furthermore, if a game is going to ask me to explore an area I should hope that it would feel deliberately designed and placed. In Gone Home each item felt important, or at a minimum helped me understand the characters more, whereas in Dear Esther I would stumble upon dead-end and dead-end that I felt added nothing and merely wasted my time.

That’s not to say Dear Esther was all bad, I particularly appreciated the voice acting and I felt the game did a good job in terms of the fragments they presented to the player. The blurring of identities between Paul, Donnely, Esther, and Jakobson was interesting and did get me thinking. Some sections of the game I thought were designed well like the cave (screenshot above) and I appreciated some of the visual metaphors like the empty hull with a cross in the middle meant to represent Jakobson’s weak chest (unfortunately some of my screenshots did not save correctly so I lost this picture). I did feel though that in a medium that allows infinity creativity in settings that perhaps some more surreal sections of the game meant to represent the inside of the narrator’s head would’ve been helpful. I think abstraction in general would have served the game better than an attempt at a realistic looking island which falls short with muddy textures and an uninspired aesthetic.

I did find myself thinking of Richard Bell and his discussion of Gone Home as a history game and Dear Esther as a literary game. I feel like Bell got the strengths of each game correctly and Dear Esther’s best parts do indeed lie in the literary nature of the narration. That narration was from the first person perspective, but unlike Gone Home I did not feel as if I was the character I was controlling. I was surprised that for a game that was intent on telling a story it did not try to create as much empathy between the player character and the player as they could have, and ultimately is the reason I felt like Dear Esther fell short of its lofty ambitions.

Gone Home — Live

I’ve always heard that this was an immense experience, but I’m only fully playing through it for the first time now.



The narrator’s voice directly in your ear (I’m using headphones) makes it feel immensely personal, it’s as if I’m receiving the phone call the narrator left for her mother. Audio, I think, does an amazing job of creating empathy (think audio in general instead of podcasts )and Steve Gaynor (the designer of Gone Home) recognizes that.

The constant rain with interjections of loud thunder creates an ominous tone for a supposedly happy event, homecoming, and the fantastic directional audio (some of the best I’ve experienced in games) really immerses you in the environment. It seems our player character is feeling a bit more Agamemnon than Odysseus.


10:30 PM

Time to begin

First plot details, looks like our younger sibling Sam is missing and we ought to find him. The child’s handwriting, even if cliche, makes it much sadder.


Got my first audio journal from Sam. She sounds much older than her handwriting? Or am I just wrong. House is quite creepy.



Traipsing through the Greenbriar’s house and looking at all their belongings feels like a violation of privacy, even if I technically am a Greenbriar.


Sam’s messages for Katie are terribly sad, what does she need from us that Mom and Dad can’t provide? More exceptional audio design and use. The game is beginning to establish the characters a bit more. Katie seems like a normal, college student happy to see the world and Sam seems lost and struggling, and still quite immature. (Worried about hanging out with Dan, “the weirdo”) And that, along with her dependence on her older sister, comes through strongly to me. I want to help Sam. I’m getting a feeling this game may focus on the idea of transitions. (New house fits nicely with it)




Looks like Sam forget something… Also, great house is known as “psycho house” and inherited from our reclusive, dead uncle. Creepiness checks out.




Why is a seemingly innocuous letter from Oscar hidden in a drawer? What other secrets are there? This is becoming a multi-faceted mystery. The handwritten letters also do a good job building authenticity, immersion, and empathy.




Dad writes about conspiracy theories. This can’t be good.



Ok, the X-Files is circled on the TV Guide. Definitely trying to ante up the conspiracy tones. Of course the X-files is about rational explanations vs paranormal. Is that what’s going on here? Is this all a red herring? Starting to get an idea of the Dad  history buff, fiction writer, conspiracy fan, and sci-fi (x-files). Actually, movie buff has tons of cassettes including more sci-fi (Blade Runner: Director’s Cut, The Andromeda Strain, X-Files) and other classics (Airplane!).

Seems a bit hands-off parenting wise, trying to parent by books.




Seems there’s at least one person Sam wants to know, must be the pink-haired girl in the army uniform whose picture was next to Oscar’s obituary.




My Avatar


Buzz Aldrin on the moon during the Apollo 11 Mission (


Hello everyone,

The above image comes from NASA’s Apollo archives which they recently posted to the Public Domain on flickr. I have always been fascinated with and romanticized space travel, and the closest I’ve ever gotten to space (besides owning these astronaut socks) is in video games. Games like Mass Effect, FTL: Faster Than Light and the upcoming No Man’s Sky have scratched that itch like no other medium has (even if I still think the real thing might just maybe be a little cooler). One of the most intriguing things about space exploration, at least for those with an adventuring spirit, is (boldly) going where no man has gone before and while I (and my fellow classmates) will not be the first to explore the medium of video games critically we will be among them.

So for this inaugural voyage of Writing about Videogames at Emory, my avatar will be the maverick adventurer Buzz Aldrin.

Signing off,



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