Character Identity in Dear Esther

Clearly, there are quite a few uncertainties in Dear Esther. One of the biggest mysteries is who the protagonist could be. Considering that gameplay changes every time, it is doubtful that critics will reach a singular theory. The implications of this mystery, however, seriously juxtapose traditional characterization within videogames.

Our character in Dear Ester is entirely invisible to us (other than the bird’s shadow we see at the end). We cannot say anything definitive about our character’s gender, race, age, appearance, or even species.

In a game like Warcraft, for example, the physical attributes of character identity are heavily emphasized, and it is much too easy to enact negative societal norms within the context of the game.

Although there is a male narrator, Dear Esther does not force a player to feel represented by any particular construct. We might be playing as the narrator or another male character, we might be playing as Esther, we might be playing as a ghost, or it’s possible that the entire time we’re playing as a bird.

Dear Esther not only allows players theorize about the main character, but also allows players to enact their own desired biases in a way that other games can’t. If you choose to believe that the entire time you’re playing as bird, you can. The ambiguity of the main character in no way confines players into a fixed portrayal, and allows the player to decide for themselves who the protagonist is, as well as attribute whatever physical characteristics they want.

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2 Responses to Character Identity in Dear Esther

  1. epiratequeen says:

    This is an interesting observation. I really like how it gets easier to speculate about the first-person character’s identity as the game goes on. Normally, one finds out more about a character as a narrative moves, but in Dear Esther, the (first-time) player goes from assuming that the character is the narrator to being able to question that.

    Like

  2. Steph Roman says:

    Thanks for bringing attention to the stark contrast of a game like WoW, where a character’s look means everything, to Dear Esther, where we have precisely the opposite. The more I learn about this game, the more resistant I am to figuring out these things. I only contend that a) a bird wouldn’t use a flashlight (or torch if you’re British) and b) a ghost wouldn’t need to.

    On my first playthrough, I didn’t separate the narrator’s voice from the character at all. But upon heavier thinking, the anatomical shapes of the island suggest to me it might be one big lucid dream, perhaps initiated by painkillers or anesthetic. Arguments can certainly be made for Esther as the character depending on your interpretation of things, so the more I think about it the more divorced I am from the character’s identity.

    Like

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