It seems like once you get to college, you don’t have time to read anything you actually want to read anymore. By the time you’re done with what you have to read for your classes, your eyes refuse to absorb any more information from text-based mediums. But fear not! There is an answer! It can be found in Dear Esther, a first person indie game that might as well be an interactive short story.
The game was developed by award winning game studio The Chinese Room of Amnesia: The Dark Descent Fame Dear Esther was built in the Source engine and was first released in 2008 as a Half Life 2 mod. In 2009 it was overhauled by professional game artist Robert Briscoe, and in 2010 the game was granted a license for an independent release instead of remaining only a mod.
If you have no time to read a novel, play through this short story, even though actually reading most short stories would probably take you less time that playing through Dear Esther would. That is not to say that Dear Esther is a long game. On the contrary, it is only about two hours of gameplay if you explore as you play and only play through once. However, I think that this game has a lot of replay value.
The game is beautiful. Clearly Briscoe knew what he was doing, because I spent at least 15 minutes staring at rocks and stalactites in my first play-through of this game. The whole environment is gorgeous, in an eerie kind of way, and worth taking time to enjoy as you play. Like any good book, the game isn’t meant to be rushed through.
The environment isn’t the only thing that’s beautiful and eerie, either. The haunting soundtrack switches between soft piano and truly unsettling choruses of voices. That might sound a little strange, but it’s great, trust me.
The story, which is vague and mysterious enough to please anyone who likes to analyze games for hours, is uncovered a piece at a time as you wander the island you are on. Where you uncover the story fragments and what fragments you recover is random, so each time you play the game you will get a whole new experience.
The game consists of four chapters, each of which take you through a different environment of the island that the game takes place on. The chapters go in order from left to right, though this is not immediately apparent because the chapters are not numbered, and you can start in any one of them that you like the very first time you open up the game. This is a strange concept to most of us, since we’re used to unlocking chapters as we play, not having them all available from the start. I guess this chapter set up is like a book, though. All the chapters are there for us to read in any order we like as soon as we have the book. It’s just probably better to start in the first one.
You can find Dear Esther for Macintosh or Windows on the developer’s website specifically for Dear Esther, or on Steam.