Based on our class discussion today, I just want to quickly post a few of the ‘games’ (I loosely use this term as these items are not games in the conventional sense) that I have found riveting in their approach and expression of what it means to be ‘entertained’ or to play. These games are influenced by and readily identifiable by their unique ‘interpretative pacing’.
I found this to be chilling, atmospheric and wistful. A romantic game in the sense that Wordsworth, Irving, and certainly the Shellys would find common ground here. As reviewed by bagofgames.com
“Dear Esther is a morose interactive storybook which was originally a Half-Life 2 mod and now returns several years later as a retail release powered by the optimized Source engine used in Portal 2.
Dear Esther is gorgerous. There will no doubt be controversy as to whether it is a good game and the case could even be made that it isn’t even a game at all, but I doubt anyone can objectively look at it and not say it’s beauty is breathtaking. During the course of my complete playthrough, less than one hour , I took nearly a hundred screenshots (the best of which I’ve posted at the end of this article). Not for the emotionally bankrupt.
To appreciate Dear Esther you must be introspective, empathetic and patient. You move along at a snail’s pace and at first I struggled with this. But soon after I realized that the realistic rate at which you walk isn’t there to pad out game length (which is astoundingly short) but to force the player to really absorb their surroundings instead of whizzing by one set-piece on their way to another. Each and every hill you traverse or corner you turn gives way to something gorgeous. Whether that be the water crashing against the rocks of an ancient beach from a cliff side high above, or a subterranean river carrying a birch log down stream towards immeasurable depths.
My favorite part of exploring the island were the random bits of trivia you can find if you look closely enough at your surroundings. Electronic schematics intermingling with chemical diagrams, a nest of broken bird eggs with ultrasound Polaroids littered around it, a candle lit altar found inside a sea side cave with a surgical tray of bloodied instruments and a disused defibrillator placed upon it. These surreal oddments don’t exactly reveal any great truths but instead help to flesh out the mysteries that permeate this adventure. Namely, Who is Esther? and What happened to her?
There are no weapons or enemies, no power ups to collect or areas to unlock. You can’t fall off a cliff to your demise or even drown yourself in the ocean. But as an interactive story it is surprisingly strong. The narrator’s voice acting is top notch and the emotions of loss and regret are realistically conveyed to the player.”
(For those with time issues, skip to the 6:15 time mark)
Perhaps the most unconventional ‘game’ I’ve ever played, here you play as a floating petal on the wind. You being with a shot of a closed flower in bud, in a pot, on a window sill. The flower then seems to create a narrative based upon its ‘origins’. The game does have a loose narrative regarding rural and urban landscapes, environmental issues and renewable energy. The actions you take in the rural landscape affecting the quality of life in the urban, indicating the renewal of the urban and the rural should be synergistic, not exclusive. Each petal you gain emits a note, and so the score is dynamic and set by the pace of play. Skip to 1:45 to 2:25 to see the flower interacting with haystacks, and the relationship this induces with the street lights, as at the start of the chapter, the light on an urban street fails. Towards the end of the level, the harsh and threatening issue of the malignancy of excessive power consumption (the collapsed scaffolding for high tension cables in the rural landscape) indicate the fractious nature of our relationship with energy and our natural world and its limited resources at timemark 6:30.
It is possibly one of the most uplifting play experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure to engage with. You control the flower through tilting the controller, with the occasional button push to speed up. The flower can solve puzzles in the landscape, by flowing on the wind around standing stones (which in later levels are supplemented by wind farms), linking certain types of flowers together to renew the habitat, etc. The score and stunning visuals create a soothing and enveloping environment. Hewing closer to dance than gaming, the lack of any voice, text, or any of the typical features of game-play make flower a unique experience.