Dear Esther seemed to have ushered in a new genre of game last year: the First Person Walker. In its wake followed other notable games like Thirty Flights of Loving, Proteus, and the upcoming HD release of The Stanley Parable. Also, are the entries of its sister genre the Third Person Walker with Journey and Bientot l’ete. Much has been written on whether or not it and its brethren are games or not, but not a lot on what the game actually accomplishes.
Dan Pinchbeck, Dear Esther’s creator and a researcher at the University of Portsmouth, set out to see what would happen if you stripped everything possible out of a game and left only the bare bones of interactivity behind. It was an experiment to explore the intersection and interrelation between gameplay and storytelling. The result is a game that strips out any ability to interact with the world other than observing it. Many have dismissed it by calling it a guided tour of an island, but really it is an apt description of, if not what it’s about, the player’s behavior in the game.