How Confusion Leads To Immersion In Dear Esther

From beginning to end, The Chinese Room’s ghostly game, Dear Esther, continuously blends the natural with the supernatural to create a feeling of confusion. Many of the elements of the game are portrayed very believably, including the landscapes and scenery, but other moments of the game cannot be explained realistically. What this supernaturalism does for this game though, is it plays with the human instinct to find a meaning in everything, while also never truly providing that concrete meaning. In the case of Dear Esther, the supernaturalism works to disrupt this search for a meaning, ultimately drawing the player further into the game in search of said meaning. In my opinion, no other moment of the game plays with this supernatural sentiment more than the final scene of the game, during which the main character of the game jumps from the top of a large radio tower, only to turn into what looks to be some type of bird and fly over the island and the surrounding waters. By placing this odd moment—along with the narration that accompanies this moment—at the very end of the game, the creators of the game leave almost zero chance for the player to construct a sensible meaning to the narrative. In many cases, what may have seemed like a logical interpretation of the game, becomes completely disrupted by this spectral ending. This not only works to frustrate the player, but it also works to keep the player interested in the many narratives that exist, awaiting the player’s discovery, which may possibly lead to a more solid and certain narrative interpretation.

If there was any inclination that the gameplay was one not actually taking place in a realistic moment, that inclination was completely solidified by this ending to the game, but that may be the only thing that was solidified in this moment. Other than that, the player is left utterly confused as the main character gracefully flies over the landscape. The only consistency that the ending offers is the final phrase which reads, “Come back! Come back…” which is heard every time that the character is presented with a situation that should lead to death. This ending offers no concrete evidence of a conclusion to the already choppy narrative that was being presented throughout the game, and that leaves a feeling of frustration in the player; a feeling that there is evidence or other clues hidden within the game that remain unfound.

While the most supernatural aspect of the ending is the fact that the main character turns into a bird and begins to fly around the island, the major points of confusion having to do with the narrative come during the final passage being read by the narrator. For example, during the narration, it is stated, “I will look to my left and see Esther Donnelly, flying beside me. I will look to my right and see Paul Jakobson, flying beside me” (Dear Esther). Until this point in the game, the characters of Esther, Donnelly, Paul, and Jakobson were all described as being four separate entities, but in this moment, they are thrown together and described as only being two characters. At this point in the game, it becomes very difficult to make sense of this abrupt alteration of character identities, ultimately creating great confusion with the overall narrative of the game. The second confusing piece of this final narrative comes from one of the last phrases uttered by the narrator: “From this infection, hope” (Dear Esther). It may seem like a very short and perhaps meaningless phrase, but it actually plays with one of the main plot points that arises throughout the entire game. From the beginning of the game, the player is led to believe that someone—possibly Esther—died as a result of a drunk driving accident, but at this moment, during the final conclusive phrases of the game, the player is told that there is some type of infection present. The phrase simply does not go along with the bulk of the narrative and therefore works to create an even deeper confusion during this final passage. While most of the game may give the player a chance to put together some type of logical interpretation of the narrative, this final scene works to tear that interpretation down, forcing the player to think even further into the narrative, causing an even greater immersion into the game.

Despite the disruptions to the overall narrative brought on by the mixture of natural and supernatural moments, there will always be a certain draw to Dear Esther experienced by many. This draw comes as a direct result of the search for a true explanation of the events in this game, which, as seen on the many message boards and gaming websites, may lead to countless interpretations depending on the narration unlocked during each play of the game. No matter what narration is unlocked by the player though, the extremely supernatural ending presented will always work to construe and alter any constructed explanations in the player’s head, ultimately inviting the player to play the game again in search of the truth.

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5 Responses to How Confusion Leads To Immersion In Dear Esther

  1. thawardasa says:

    I initially didn’t immediately notice the bird at the end, but played through the last chapter again to see it after we discussed it in class. I really enjoyed the subtle, eerie moments throughout the game that really provided a unique mood and deepness to the game.


  2. wuchimane says:

    I didn’t really feel frustrated or confused by the ending of the game. Although it is admittedly difficult to interpret in regards to the rest of Dear Esther’s narrative, elements of it made enough sense that it did not seem to come completely out of left field. The paper boats that you fly over before the black screen were referenced earlier in the narrative, and the moment where you drop into the flashback of cars on the road made me already understand the game’s world was detached from conventional rules about reality. In a way, the confusing ending was ironically fitting and provided closure for a game that doesn’t offer any suggestion of coherence in terms of plot the entirely time. With so many loose ends and unresolved questions, dying seems like the only way out.


    • amd197 says:

      You say that “dying seems like the only way out,” but the character doesn’t truly die by turning into the bird does he/she? The character actually seems to avoid death and therefore does not give you that way out which you mention. In my opinion, without that way out, the game continues to draw the player in to attempt to actually find it.


  3. devilzadv0k8 says:

    My opinion that I argue in my blog post is that ambiguity is a crucial part of what makes “Dear Esther” a game and not just a text. The bird’s shadow is the closest we come to actually getting to see our narrator. Still, we are given no clues about the identity of whoever it is we have been controlling. This accomplishes two things: it satisfies the player’s desire to glimpse whatever it is s/he has been playing, while making a subtle statement about death. In that moment, we know that our avatar cannot be human, but we do not know much else. We are free to assume whatever we want about our avatar being alive or dead or its possible human life. The bird figure is the closest we get to a conclusion.


    • amd197 says:

      I agree that seeing the bird is the closest thing that the game offers to a conclusion, but that still does not satisfy the desire for a concrete ending to the narrative. Getting CLOSE to an ending leaves a lot on the table to be desired and discovered, which in my opinion causes the player to want to continue uncovering different narratives and possible interpretations.


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