Dear Esther Live: when an interactive story becomes a live event

The reason why people play games is because they want to be entertained in some way and the kind of entertainment associated with a game usually requires some type of challenge or a goal to reach.

Still, there are interactive experiences that don’t offer any practical challenge and that it wouldn’t be correct to consider “games”. One of these experiences is Dear Esther.

Within a pure artistic context, Dear Esther would have been accepted as a quite good kind of entertainment: there is a story that needs to be unveiled, the environments are stunning, the soundtrack majestically highlights the key moments of the narration and the “game” rewards those players who pay attention to details. The only goal is to reach the end of a short journey and to unveil the story connecting the information provided by the narration to the visual elements.

The issue with Dear Esther is that its non-game status wasn’t very compatible with the gaming community and culture or, more generally, with anyone who wants a challenge or “to beat the game”. There is no “game” in Dear Esther. As an inevitable consequence, the reviews of the players were extremely polarized, as this chart from Metacritic shows:


In other words, people either love it or hate it. Some players don’t like the narration and think that its uncalled pompous style hints pretentiousness, other players archive this experience saying “All you do is walk around” (a dismissive statement that has contributed to name this kind of interactive stories as “walking simulators”) and other players lament the fact that you can finish the game in less than a half hour.

Would you measure the quality of an art exhibition by the minimum time required to reach its exit? Would you think that the only thing that you can do in a museum is walking? For some reason, the fact that Dear Esther and other “walking simulators” are confined in an electronic device deprives them of the same artistic merits that people can find in a live artistic event…

…that’s why Dear Esther has become a live touring event in UK:

It’s a live playthrough of the game, with a narrator and live music.

I really hope that people will not conclude that “All you do is watch and listen”.

So, wait, instead of playing a “walking simulator,” you watch someone else play it?

What really is the point, I must ask? Is it that a live orchestra plays alongside and that somehow “transforms” the experience?

To each its own, I guess; but it occurs to me that if the original work struck some as pretentious, this new one seems to turn the dial up to 11.


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Why, yes of course!

The point of a live concert is to entertain people. This one has also a narrator and visuals.

Really? Do you really think that is what I was asking about? :roll_eyes:

On a second thought, no, it was a bit improbable that you wanted to know what is the point of organizing a concert. :neutral_face:

The reason is quite clear: the expectations that come from your medium and category.

Let’s say you want a “choose your own adventure” book. You find one that, people assure you, has a wonderful intriguing plot. You buy it and begin to read, completely absorbed in the story, but after a while you notice you’ve been reading and reading and never ever had to make a choice, throw a die, something like that. And you’re almost halfway through.

In the end you read it all, and they were right, it’s well written and all, but you had to make only one choice and it didn’t influence much the difference in the ending. You’re upset.

Why? In the end, it was basically a novel, and you love to read novel. So why are you upset?

Because you wanted a gamebook, not a novel. So, if you’re selling a game, people expect to have the mechanics that games have since the beginning, that is, at least the challenge.

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Yes, I think that it’s the kind of phenomenon that I was describing here:

The issue with Dear Esther is that its non-game status wasn’t very compatible with the gaming community and culture or, more generally, with anyone who wants a challenge or “to beat the game”. There is no “game” in Dear Esther.

Regardless of how Dear Esther was described to potential buyers, the issue was simply that it was presented to gamers and in a context where people expect a game.

Paradoxically, the diminishing label “walking simulator”, which was born within the gaming culture to send red signals about the non-gaming nature of an interactive story, is today very useful to immediately lower the expectations of those who want entertainment to be provided through the mechanics of “something to beat”.

That label says “Hey gamer, there is nothing to do here except to walk”, even if it’s false. In this way, people who expect “something to beat” will just ignore the product and other people who know that “walking simulators” can provide entertainment will enjoy the product anyway.

is this another game where the story that is told in the text has nothing to do with the scene you see? (I played Fidelio Incident and it was like this)

It’s not a game, but the narration has only subtle clues of what has happened.

The same is true with the visuals: there are clues of what has happened but they are very subtle.

One of the most important clues can be found right at the beginning of the “game” but it can be quite difficult to understand.


anyway, most of the plot is a recollection that happens in the mind of the character that walks, and is therefore only in text form?

The player has no idea where he is, who he is and what has happened. The plot needs to be reconstructed mixing few visual clues with details in the narration, which is provided through audio and captions. So yes, text.

But even if you don’t connect the few clues, at the end of the journey you’ll get more explicit scenes of what happened. It’s more a movie than anything else.

It’s a sad story of guilt and grief, but everything is provided through metaphors and as a result, the player never gets an explicit explanation of the events that he has to reconstruct.

If you didn’t enjoy the metaphorical elements of TWP or if you are the kind of player who wants to get all the answers, there is a good chance that you will not like even more this kind of entertainment.

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I hope the player is not a ghost. That’s the impression I get after watching one minute of it. :slight_smile: