Detachment in Dear Esther

The point in Dear Esther that really caught my eye was the moment when the player finds their character left underwater staring at what seems to be the aftermath of a car crash or a hospital bed. To me what makes this particular moment so poignant is how it seems to separate the player from reality. Before this moment the world created for us in Dear Esther is a fairly believable one. When the player is walking through the hills, the caves, and the beaches of this island we are being told a tale. It at first would be very understandable to think that your character, which you never see, is the narrator giving a glimpse into his life.

He talks vaguely about a car accident with someone who is drunk and as you listen to these snippets of narration a lot of possibilities come up. It is hinted at that the drunk might be your character and narrator and at the same time there are writings that imply that it was another who caused the accident.

The reason I chose this moment is how it made me feel when I played through it. The player’s movement speed is decreased and you find yourself either staring at a smashed car on the side of the road or a hospital bed left in the middle of a dark street. You watch as the bubbles rise from your character. This mechanic really gives the feeling of being in a drug or alcohol induced haze as there is some impending doom. Both the crushed car and the hospital bed can very easily be seen as symbols of death and pain.

The moment leading up to this scene has you jump from a high height into a pool, everything goes dark and when you can see again you are in the scene. It feels like the game is having us jump into a pool of his memories so that we can see more vague hints at something terrible. A huge point in this game is how they never give you a complete understanding of what happened in the life of person whom you are following. The programmers use a great deal of literary reference and randomly generated dialogue or even whole scenes. This aspect helps to give me the feeling of being a daze rather than being in control of the main character. It is rather similar to feeling detached and allowing things to happen to your person.

Most video games will often try to have you feel like you are immersed in the world they create however Dear Esther gave me such a feeling of calm acceptance. It made me feel that whatever came next it didn’t truly matter. I say this as a compliment because I imagine this is how the programmers would want me to feel as it seems to be how the narrator would imply our character feels. He has come to this island to die after having lost everything important to him, if you interpret the game that way. That is how I interpret that game and so while it does have me feel detached it is how the game also has me feeling closest to how I think the character feels as he plans to end it all.

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One Response to Detachment in Dear Esther

  1. weirdblueman says:

    Personally, I didn’t experience an emotional connection to the narrator/character in this game the way that you did but I find it very interesting that in your experience it was able to convey that. For me, I was not able to really get invested emotionally in the story, but I did definitely identify that the narrator was in this detached state mind. I thought it was interesting that if you did something that would cause you to die in game before the ending, the narrator would say come back, as it placed you on the path again. This kind of made me think the player was not the narrator, because if the narrator was just hoping to die on the island he could easily have done it any point and the game could have ended…but I guess the point of feeling detached like that was that the narrator didn’t just want to die, he wanted to explore the places on the island to reminisce. The dying would really just be because he did not care to continue living, not because he particularly wanted to die. I think this is a feeling that many people tend to experience at some point in their life, and I thought it was a very interesting topic to bring up.

    I kind of wish I had managed to get invested in the game the same way you did, because I’m not sure the experience was really the same without that feeling of relation. Either way I agree that the game did a good job of atmosphere and making it clear the narrator was facing a feeling of detachment, and I think it’s interesting you were able to pick up on that and relate to it.


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