Critical Play: Walking Simulators

Dear Esther is set on an uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland. It is is about a man wandering an abandoned Scottish isle as he comes to terms with the sudden and accidental death of his wife some time ago.

Walking tells the story as we are tasked with following an almost linear sequence of paths and corridors, looking at the sometimes surreal and metaphorical environment, having letters to the protagonist’s dead wife narrated, and occasionally stopping to read a written note. 

Walking is a surreal experience, with an ethereal, haunting atmosphere hanging over you as you discover more about the person who lives on the island and why they are there in the first place. The island takes on a more symbolic meaning as we progress through the game. The sparse gameplay and emphasis on discovery, object interaction over game mechanics gives an experience that’s experiential, more like a psychological art house film. Dear Esther is about as bare-bones as a walking simulator gets, since it is having a story told to me through narration and notes, as I press a button to walk forward.

With walking, the visuals, audio, and immersion were important. Especially the cave part – I spent extra time just admiring the finer details in the cave. The music was also beautiful, however much there actually was. The narration was well done, and the actual writing was just very beautiful.

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