A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dear Esther is a poetic downloadable interactive story wherein players explore a lonely island while listening to a man read fragments of old letters. There's neither combat nor violence, save some descriptions of death and injuries within the letters. All players do is navigate the world and listen to the story. However, the story does cover some mature ground, including an accident caused by a drunken driver. There are no overbearing messages, but themes of love, loss, isolation, and the search for meaning permeate the narrative. Players are largely left on their own to make sense of the game's events and thematic concepts.
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What's it about?
DEAR ESTHER isn't like most games. It's a story told through an interactive medium. Players explore an empty island from a first-person perspective, moving over its shores and fields as well as through dilapidated buildings and glittering caves. There's no action, no combat, no puzzles, no objectives. There isn't even any jumping or running. Players simply slip through snaking environments, occasionally stopping to look at various artifacts and markings they find. Crossing into certain areas triggers a voice that reads fragments of letters which slowly weave together tales of multiple characters, including a woman killed by a drunken driver, a marooned man, and a person who lived on the island hundreds of years ago trying to make a living as a shepherd. Fragments play in random order, and not all appear during a single playthrough, leaving players to fill in many gaps of the puzzle themselves.
Is it any good?
Dear Esther challenges players' conception of what a video game can be. There will be those who walk away believing it's not a game at all but instead a new form of media-based storytelling driven by players pressing directional keys on their keyboards. This, coupled with the shape of the tale itself (which at times seems intentionally vague, meandering, and difficult to understand), will be enough to send some players off the deep end as they fruitlessly attempt to work out what it all means.
But there also will be some who find beauty in the poetry of the language used, who marvel at the game's undeniable visual splendor, and who appreciate the subtle but atmospheric score that enhances the game's dark, lonely undertones. In the end, it's perhaps not so much an interactive story as a multimedia rumination on the search for understanding and meaning in the seemingly random events of our lives. Dear Esther is certainly not for everyone, but those who cue to its curious flavors will find something quite memorable on this cloudy, windswept island.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about drinking and driving. How does drinking affect one's ability to operate cars and other machinery? Do you know of anyone involved in an accident that was the result of someone drinking and driving?
Discuss the notion of what a game is. What defines a game? Does it require objectives? Action? Puzzles? Or does it simply demand some minimal amount of interactivity, such as controlling a character's movement through a world?
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