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  • Writer's pictureIndy Goodwin

A Transformative Act - Indy Plays Dear Esther

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSION OF SUICIDE



You gaze at the pinpricks of light from lit candles in the bay as you climb the narrow staircase to the radio tower. It is the last thing you will ever do. But in every ending is a new beginning.

Dear Esther is a walking simulator game that follows our protagonist as he walks across a Hebridean island. Wracked with guilt and more than a little bit of mental instability due to the death of his wife you walk to the radio tower to... Well, there's no nice way to put this, and maybe that's the point. The protagonist will commit suicide by the end of the game. On the face of it, this sounds like a horrifying end. However, due to the randomisation of the voice overs presented to players at certain points of the game, I got a rather different perspective.

In my game, upon emerging from the cave system in the last chapter my protagonist spoke hopefully, wistfully. He spoke of a time he watched two air force jets fly.

"I sat here and watched two jets carve parallel white lines into the sky. They charted their course and I followed them for twenty-one minutes until they turned off near Sandford and were lost. If I were a gull, I would abandon my nest and join them. I would starve my brain of oxygen and suffer delusions of transcendence."

That was something that really resonated with me. To strive for the extraordinary, for something magnificent, no matter the risk? It's something I do every day. Living with a mental health disorder is a challenge I struggle with constantly in the hopes that I too will soar like a jet plane - albeit figuratively.

He echoes this idea of ascendancy again as he climbs the staircase to the radio tower. This time he speaks of transformation to rejoin his love.

"Now, you’ve settled on the opposite side of the paper to me; I can see your traces in the ink that soaks through the fibre, the pulped vegetation. When we become waterlogged, and the cage disintegrates, we will intermingle. When this paper aeroplane leaves the cliff edge, and carves parallel vapour trails in the dark, we will come together."

Leaping from the tower wasn't an act of desperation, but of control. Of acceptance. Of hope. He would never see his love again in this world. He could not undo the car accident that took her from him. But he could join her in another way and finally know peace. It is the ultimate risk for the thing he desires most in the world. A small price to pay when you think in those terms.

This whole level felt hopeful to me, from the music speaking of his determination to change to the soft candlelight lighting his way to the tower. It felt gentle, welcoming. The paper boat armada was a beautiful farewell to the physical remnants - letters to Esther - holding him to this world.

However, the really unique thing about this game is that the voice over clips and props change. Every time the game is played it shifts into another form. The hope I felt climbing up to the tower could be replaced with despair given the right combination of audio. In the director's commentary the composer Jessica Curry said the piece for that level was designed to feel obsessive and I did not feel that. Rather, I felt the incessant beat marked determination to change, to let go. Every story told is differently and that's something I had never really encountered before. It's incredibly clever. (Also if you haven't listened to this game's soundtrack it's on Spotify. Go listen. You won't regret it.)

Despite the replayability factor I feel no urge to replay. I am happy that the gods of random chance saw fit to give me hope. I want to believe he was reunited with his love. No matter what the protagonist had been through, he deserved that much at the end. Let me enjoy my version of the fantasy.


Dear Esther was an experience that I feel will haunt me for a long time and for the right reasons. An excellent narrative adventure, beautifully constructed. What end will you reach on your way to the radio tower?


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