Critical Play: Walking Simulators – Ji Hong Ni

I decided to play Dear Esther, a virtual walking simulation game that was made in 2012 by The Chinese Room. The game touches on themes of death and loneliness. As we play the game, the player gets the chance to explore a desolate island of dilapidated structures by roaming and finding letters littered around the island. The overall feeling Dear Esther evokes is the feeling of melancholy. We get to walk around the island and read letters addressed to his dead wife. This immersion of space really makes the game create an atmosphere of grey which surrounds the player at all times. The level of complexity in mechanics also allows the player to play mindlessly with the intention to find out more, this feeling of yearning. Since the mechanics include just walking, it truly pinpoints the player’s attention on exploration and attention to detail rather than some complex storyline or flashy scenes. Dear Esther provides fun through narrative, sensation, and discovery through walking because the players have no choice but to feel the emotions through the space, sound, landscapes, and more. 


Formal Elements

  • Players: a Single-player game
  • Objectives: Using letters and exploration to find out more about what happened 
  • Outcomes: Finish the story and fully find out what happened
  • Procedures: Playing through chapters/levels is how players advance
  • Rules: Bounded by the directions of what the players can move in and reading the letters
  • Boundaries: the screen for physical space and the game world for digital boundaries

About the author

Junior studying CS with an Art Minor :)

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