Commentary on that part of Dear Esther where you jump off a cliff into a little pool

Anyone who has played Dear Esther has certainly reached the part of the game where the character being controlled by the player must jump into a small pool in the caves. This moment is unique for a few different reasons. Firstly, it is the only moment in the game where the game denies the player’s common sense. Throughout most of the narrative, the character wanders on predetermined paths that are arranged so that players will eventually end up walking in the correct direction if they make sensible decisions. In real life, I would never jump from such a high ledge into a pool of uncertain depth, but the game forces you to do so—it’s the only way forward. The jump also leads to one of the few places in the game where the path is temporarily uncertain. The player may see the passage to the side of the cliff as the camera moves toward the water, but once the character is underwater, the path is unclear and must be found through trial and error. Most importantly, the jump and subsequent underwater experience serves to separate the player from the character in a way that is unparalleled by the rest of the game up until the very end. Throughout the majority of the game’s first-person experience, the character’s actions are completely controlled by the player, so long as the player does not try to move past the boundaries of the paths. At the cliff, however, the game essentially forces the player to make an irrational decision.

The question that I would like to consider is why this part of the game was not only included but made crucial to the progression of the narrative. It seems like keeping the player as connected to the character as possible would make more sense so as to increase the impact of the ending. The scenery in the caves is enough to keep players interested in the game without having to make decisions like whether to jump off a high ledge into a tiny pool.

Up until this point, walking on the paths seems to be meaningful. The player initially thinks that the paths lead somewhere, that seemingly random narrative segments will later make sense, that the character being controlled is travelling somewhere for a reason. This moment forces the player to reconsider that idea. If the objective is to reach a particular location, then this moment doesn’t make any sense at all—why is the character now allowed to jump off a cliff when he or she hasn’t been able to stray from the paths for the whole game?

I believe that the meaning that is created through this action is the same as that which is conveyed through the drawings on the walls, which go from simple diagrams to unintelligable nonsense over the course of the game. The paths and the drawings aren’t meant to be strung together into any kind of coherent structure. The same is true of the narration—neither ending sequence gives the player any useful information, and the referential, symbolic dialogue doesn’t necessarily form a coherent story. Instead, the game makes us question why we expect to receive a sensible, complete, chronological storyline.

The moment where the character must jump off the cliff defies the player’s expectations for the game. This is also done visually through the drawings on the walls and audibly through the narration, but the most interesting variation in my mind is the cliff. At that moment, gamic action is used to make the player think about and question the game and thus think about the meaning that it may be reaching for. The player has to make the character jump off the cliff to move forward, making the player question their assumption that there will always be paths through the island as well as their role as a player. This feeling could not be replicated through any other form of media because the meaning of this moment is reliant on action.

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5 Responses to Commentary on that part of Dear Esther where you jump off a cliff into a little pool

  1. wuchimane says:

    Not only does this moment challenge the narrative meaning of the game, but at a more surface level the literal meaning as well. The fact that that you seemingly escape the physical world of the game as has been established up to this point is an exploration of the game’s space that is, as you stated, only possible through a video game. This part of the game made me question not only the narrative of the game as I had assembled it in my head so far, but also my conception of the nature of the gamic world being constructed. Was the entire island a dream? A hallucination? Some kind of heavenly afterlife outside of but tangential to reality? None of these questions are concretely answered, but all are raised by this moment of the game.

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    • theterribles says:

      I agree – this was definitely a major turning point for me as well. This represents one of the first major “unrealistic” points in the game, and signals a point where the world starts to unravel. The game does rely heavily on logic up to this point, but as players we are then asked to make a literal “leap of faith.”

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  2. pjm92 says:

    I like this idea and didn’t think about this part in the game. I talked about a very similar part in the game where you are on the tower and if the game let me climb the tower, i don’t think i would have jumped. In your case with the cliff i had a slight thought that i knew i would live by jumping in but was definitely still hesitant. In Contrast at the end of the game (which is what i focused on) was a little different in that they take that hesitation and inner conflict of “should i jump?” away from one by , for the first time, taking matters out of the players hands

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  3. What really like about this moment in the game, and you definitely alluded to this in your post, is that it really gets to this idea that we’re not playing the game as much as we are observing it. This is a key point in the game where it becomes apparent that we’re not the ones in control. Obviously in most games there is a linear path to follow, but this game forces us into situations that seem pretty counter intuitive. The player is not the “hero” of this story. Even though it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to get injured by jumping into the cave, it’s not our story to create. It’s someone else’s story that we get to observe. It really makes you question the role of narrative in video games.

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  4. cjc112 says:

    I like your interpretation of this moment. I also took a second to think about whether diving down was the right course of action. Dear Esther does a good job of connecting the thought process of the gamer to the thought process of the main character. It is clear that the character is going through some sort of personal mediation. He stands at the ledge, not knowing what problems of his lie down there. We also debate whether this is the right course of action. Together the gamer and main character take the plunge.

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