The easiest way to write a weekly column, especially when given the guidelines “whatever you want,” I have found is to introduce some sort of constraint to focus oneself. This month (or thereabouts) I decided to look at a new genre that organically seemed to have come out of nowhere, the FPW (First Person Walker). I wrote about Dear Esther before on what I think it is saying; this week I look at how it is saying what it is saying.
Generally, not always, but generally a game delivers its meaning through its interactive elements. Either via mechanical metaphor or behavior instigation through the game dynamics. Dear Esther reduces its interactive elements down to those that every other game takes for granted: movement and sight. From this reduced spectrum of action the game has to deliver more not only to stave off boredom, but the ingrained anxiety of slowing down in a setting players have been actively taught to do so much.
Dear Esther has to provide enough material to deprogram its player base as well as engage them.
As for where the comparisons to Warhol’s movie came from, I’m not really sure. I was engaging with that work recently and certain critiques I’ve heard about them fit the same description of form I’d apply to Dear Esther. The extreme minimalism of a work’s form, regardless of merit, has the consequence of creating an extreme focus on tiny details that would be deemed inconsequential in any other production. Everything in Dear Esther is recognizable from more mainstream first person games, but seem wholly alien within Dear Ether’s presentation.
This piece is going to be one of those I wish I could rewrite in a month or so. I can just tell.