Dear Esther is an intriguing, unique gameplay experience. It deprives you of the things you take for granted as standard aspects of videogames – you are unable to jump, run, interact with objects, or really perform any action aside from walk around and wait for the story to be revealed to you. All control is taken from the player – your path is very defined, and if you stray too far from the path or do something that causes your death the game brings you back, whispering “come back.” As a player you feel limited and misinformed – it’s very clear as you play a game that you will never get the whole story. At times the letters seem to contradict themselves and confuse the stories, adding to the helplessness portrayed in the game. The lack of control given by the mechanics of the game couples with the lack of knowledge made available to create this feeling in the player.
My interpretation of the end of the game is that the player is controlling Esther, who has slipped into a coma after getting into the car accident alluded to at several points during gameplay. The beautiful (sometimes unrealistically so) world portrayed in the game is a creation of Esther’s mind, and the letters are her confused memories resurfacing. The whispers you hear when you slip away, die, or lose your path is Esther’s husband, calling to you. And, at the end, when you finally jump from the tower, become a bird, and fly into the darkness, Esther is letting go. It is at that moment that she slips into the darkness and passes away, ending her story.
Working from the perspective of this interpretation, Esther is helpless and confused, exploring her own broken psyche through the world she has created and we travel through in the game. Holding this to be true, the lack of control the game developers gave to the players is very purposeful and meaningful. As players of the game, we step into Esther’s shoes. At the beginning of the game we know nothing, and knowledge is given to us at random intervals in flashes. Our ability to interact with the world is limited – we cannot pick things up or interact with our surroundings, we simply move through the setting and act as casual observers. This is what Esther is experiencing as well – amnesia, lack of control, and a limited ability to interact with or decipher her surroundings. As the game goes on things get even more confusing and unrealistic; the cave paintings drawn on the walls with phosphorescent paint become more scrambled and confusing, and at times the circuits, chemical symbols, and biblical references merge into amorphous, meaningless jumbles. At one point the player seems to pass out and wake up in an underwater crash scene (presumably the site of Esther’s crash). And finally, in the last chapter, bits and pieces of Esther’s life begin to appear on the island (such as her car door from the accident and hospital equipment). This is her mind slowly losing touch, confusing reality with the dream. By forcing the player to act in the first person with limited options, the developers are forcing us to become as close to Esther as possible – we are prisoners in her mind, along for the ride as she slips into oblivion.