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Part-Time Gamer: ‘Dear Esther’ and ‘Proteus’

I am sure that there are some people who will try to tell you that Dear Esther is not a game. Those people are wrong, but I can understand their point. There are no enemies. There are no real obstacles to overcome. There are not even any buttons. Well, that’s not entirely true. You walk and look like in most other first-person games, but every other button just focuses your view. So, why would you want to play it?

Dear Esther is a hauntingly beautiful game set on an abandoned and mysterious island where the island’s mystery takes a backseat to the tale of loss and tragedy that the protagonist narrates. The narration, which is different every time you play, is a letter to Esther that recounts the strange history of the island and reveals clues to the identity and fate of the various characters in the story.

The thing about this game is that it is one of the best game stories I have ever played. It is compelling and thought provoking in a way that I haven’t experienced before. I don’t go back to games that often, but I can see myself coming back to experience the lonely and tragic island again and again.

Dear Esther brings a maturity to the medium that is sorely lacking. While so many other games are obsessed with keeping pubescent boys entertained for another hour, this game is interested in showing a complex and ambiguous narrative in a different form than is standard. I don’t think this story would succeed in another medium. As a movie, you would not feel the same connection that you do when you are the one walking through this empty island. This immersion is so crucial to the story.

As a part-timer, you will be happy to know that an entire play through takes an hour or two. Once you have completed it, you can go back and revisit any one of the four levels and experience a slightly different version of the same beautiful story.

Bonus Round

While Dear Esther features a first-person tour of a mysterious island that is a semi-randomized tour through tragedy and loss, Proteus is a first-person tour of a mysterious island that is a semi-randomized tour through nature and electronic-ish music. Another game that has mistaken people mistakenly suggesting that it isn’t really a game (They are wrong. It totally is a game.), Proteus is an unguided stroll through the wildlife on a pixelated and musical island in a game that celebrates exploration.

This is another game that made me feel real emotions without explicitly telling me that I should. I loved wandering around the island and just had a blast chasing these weird, little woodchuck-type things and running around. Clocking in at less than an hour, this is another short game that fits easily into a hectic life.

These are two games that challenge the traditional model of what a game is and what a game should try to do. They are very different from each other, but both are worth your time.


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