dear esther

Credit: Flickr - Tom Watts
Credit: Flickr – Tom Watts

At the beginning of Dear Esther, the character is standing on a dock looking at a massive island with many different paths set out for me to follow. I got so frustrated that I restarted the game about three times because I thought I went the wrong way. I soon realized that there was no “goal” in this game which was very frustrating. I was also very frustrated that I couldn’t touch anything. After I accepted that I had no goal and pretty much no hands, I tried to enjoy the story and just explore the island and see everything it has to offer.

I ended up at the beach where I found a cave with phosphorescent paint on the walls…it was chemistry. Honestly I’m not sure what the story was because it was difficult for me to understand what the narrator was saying but I think Esther was his wife who died from some sort of accident. I’m not sure how chemistry was involved. The path’s with candles ended up leading me toward the red light and then my character jumped off the tall signal tower which I thought was strange, but then I think I turned into a bird or something because I just flew off into the night.

Dear Esther is a beautiful game. The detailed landscape felt so realistic with the wind blowing the plants and hearing my own character walking around. The best part was the cave which was just breathtaking, I wish I could see it in real life. Although I really didn’t like the game because there was no purpose, I enjoyed the setting very much. I was able to appreciate it more once I got past the fact that there was no goal or purpose but I was able to appreciate the intricate beauty of the game.

Dear Esther Reflection

I was excited to start this game based on my experience with Gone Home. I enjoyed the historical background and mysterious plot of Gone Home and figured that Dear Esther would have a similar feel. As I started the game I had the initial confusion that I did with Gone Home because I did not know where to start. I was tempted to google Dear Esther and learn more about how the game worked but I remembered that it is not as short as Gone Home. As I ventured onto the island I figured I would start by entering the building attached to the lighthouse. I quickly realized I could not pick up items to examine as I could in Gone Home so all there was to do was look around. After realizing its just an empty abandoned building, I set out to try to figure out where I should be going. After wondering around the beach and deep into the island, I realized that there isn’t a specific place that I was supposed to be heading towards.

As soon as Dear Esther begins, the voice of an unknown male plays. The way this man speaks, specifically his accent and his word choice, plants the seed that this is not taking place in present day. But at the same time in one of the narrations he mentions a car alluding to the fact that it takes place within the last century. The narrated passages don’t really link up to one another that well. The information presented to me appears to be random pieces of a story that is being told to Esther. The only thing that I really picked up on is that this man has explored the island very thoroughly and is beginning to explain the story of a man who lived on the island, a hermit, who no one actually ever saw. I come to realized through my own exploring and the story that I am alone on this island. The creators of this game established an air of mystery with the loud gusts of wind, many abandoned structures, caves and random bursts of sad, ominous music.

I was not really a fan of Dear Esther which was disappointing since I enjoyed Gone Home so much. In Dear Esther I felt there was too much open space to roam which was slightly overwhelming because there was nothing I was really looking for so all I did was walk around. My character could not climb the rocks so I often felt like I was walking in circles and I was bored with my surroundings. I kept reaching the end of paths and would have to turn around and walk all the way back to try and find something else new which also then seemed to end up leading to a dead end. At one point I purposely fell off a cliff just to see what would happen. I felt that Dear Esther was very pointless and the story did not put itself together fast enough to keep me engaged in playing the game.

Dear Esther Reflection

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(My favorite part of the game, the amazing caves)

Dear Esther might be the most beautiful and realistic video game I’ve ever played.  I might not have the most extensive list of games that I’ve played to compare it to, but this game was truly incredible. Like Gone Home, this game is mostly comprised of exploring at the players curiosity.  There is a narrative and an overall ending point, but for me, the enjoyment came in simply exploring the games beauty.

I’ll admit that my first instinct was to figure out what I had to do to get to the end, and do only that. After experiencing the game for a little, and remembering my frustration in Gone Home that came from skipping all of the minute details in the game, I slowed down and began to try and just enjoy the game; which, believe it or not, I did. Walking around the exquisitely detailed landscape, I truly felt as if I was on this interesting island. I felt like I could feel the breeze that I saw moving each and every unique plant that I saw; and that I could hear my own footsteps echoing in the elaborate caves. It was a little frustrating at first when I realized that my character couldn’t interact with any of the setting, but that frustration quickly fizzled because the detail the details in absolutely everything made up for the minimal interaction.

Because the game itself was so beautiful, especially the cave chapter, I found myself enjoying the game for that reason.  I still don’t think that narrative games with not too much for the character to do are my favorite; but I do think that Dear Esther has helped me tremendously in being able to look past aspects of the game I may not love to find parts that really intrigue me.

Following the Right Path: Dear Esther


At the beginning of Dear Esther your character is standing near a ramshackle, old house with multiple paths laid out around them. The question is which path do I follow? There is a tall signal tower in the distance with a blinking red light on it, do I want to go there? Where should I go? Presumably all the paths lead to the same place, but each has different details. After exploring the house and noticing the empty paint cans on the floor and the phosphorescent structural formula for ethanol written on the wall I elected to take the uphill path. I wanted to see if I could get an idea of where I was or where I needed to go by proceeding to the highest ground and doing a quick survey. Curse my curiosity! I got sidetracked from my task when I noticed a cave and after some further exploration I lost focus and managed to walk straight off the side of the hill. After I took the plunge down the hillside I attempted to make the most of the situation by exploring the beach. After coming across a diagram in the sand that resembled the Fibonacci sequence I doubled back up the stairs. I figured that if I made an effort to seek out man-made objects then that would guide me down the right path: I was right to a certain extent. I definitely get half credit for trying.

I kept trying to follow man-made objects. I thought that those were my trail that I should follow because it’s what is out of place on the island. The caves and coves and beach are all naturally occurring so I made it my mission to seek out every artificially manufactured object I could find. After drowning one too many times while desperately attempting to swim out to an old shipwreck in order to investigate I stopped and rethought my path-finding strategy. I looked back at my notes and looked at the list that I had compiled of the items I had come across and roughly cross referenced them with where all of the narrative stories had popped-up. That is where I finally found my pattern, the one that I would follow until the end of the game. I didn’t need to chase after all the inorganic entities on the island; I needed to follow the light.

I stopped trying to swim out to the shipwreck and invested some time looking at the glowing symbols in the cave—one was a brain cell, one was another type of biological cell, and I couldn’t identify the third. After passing by a rock formation reminiscent of Stonehenge I found houses on the hillside. There were more glowing symbols written on the walls of the homes, which meant I was following the right path. After climbing down to the beach the next signal appeared in the form of a lit candle at the mouth of a cave. The cave was aglow with the phosphorescent paint and bioluminescent fungus. As I explored the cave every once in a while I would come across another candle. After wandering through many tunnels and falling into more underground ponds than I can count I exited the cave and came face to face with the path, the light from a trail of candles illuminated it. From that point on all I had to do was follow the candles to, what is ultimately the most prevalent and significant source of light throughout the game, the signal tower. That steadily blinking red dot in the distance, constantly beckoning. Light was the key to finding the path, I just needed to orient myself toward the signal tower and start walking.


Photo credits:

anonymous from

Dear Esther Reflection

In class, I asked you to spend at least a couple of hours playing Dear Esther and to keep track of your progress through the game — where do you go and what brings you to decide to follow the path that you do? Write a blog post with a 2-3 substantial paragraphs discussing your pathway and the patterns that you notice in the game as you play. As with Gone Home, pay particular attention to how the game establishes setting and time, both at the start of the game and then throughout and how the game establishes character. Do you feel like Dear Esther is very similar to or very different from Gone Home? In what ways?

Dear Ester Reflection

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It would be impossible to discuss Dear Ester without first acknowledging the gorgeous graphical and environmental design. With a logical scale, precision audio, and just the right amount of shading, Dear Ester does a fantastic job of making the player feel like they are on the island. Especially detailed is the hillside paths that are covered in photo-realistic foliage and artwork of the cave system under the island. In addition to outstanding land design, the skybox is incredibly detailed as well. The player is presented with a day and night cycle that corresponds to the shadows of objects, creating a recognizable reactionary response that adds to the immersion of gameplay. Other than the parts where a glaringly white text box pops up and covers the bottom third of the screen, I felt highly immersed in the game.

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I started out exploring the abandoned buts that were on the cliff side under the impression that I was supposed to learn something about who the inhabitants of the island were. I was surprised, however, when I realized that my character was unable to interact with the environmental objects and pick things up. Certainly, the inside of the houses were dirty, but there seemed not to be evidence that anyone had lived in them recently.

I then proceeded down to the beach to look around. Again, I must stress how nicely the water texture was layered over the sand. It is also here that the soundbox plays it’s part perfectly. With headphones the sounds of the ocean crashing onto the sand to my left and the echo of the canyon to my right, I actually felt my presence on that beach.

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The most interesting part was the caverns under the island. It is here that the thoughtful lighting became most apparent. There are few cases where the lighting failed to illuminate crucial details and the light was designed to be felt in the air as shown by the screenshot above. The cave sequence seemed important because it combines both a sense of discovery and claustrophobia, which utilizes a real player fear to represent the narrator’s state of mind. The effect is interesting because, of course, I wasn’t there, but I received a very present feeling as I was exploring the cave.

After finishing the game, I realized that Dear Ester is a combination of a dreamlike world and internalization. From the notes, it seems that the island is a physical manifestation of a person’s mental state, perhaps signifying either hallucinations or some disorder. Certainly, from the way the game path places the player at the lowest point of an island (a beach) and guides to the player to the very top (the radio station), we are experiencing a journey of self discovery for the narrator. Whether or not this journey ends for the narrator and he is delivered to peace, however, remains to be seen beyond the abrupt ending.