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Dear Esther

Last week I wrote about the narrative game StoryLines. Today’s pick is arguably not even a real game, but more like an interactive novel: Dear Esther. There aren’t really any goals that have to be accomplished. No tasks or choices, no levels(there are “chapters”), no upgrades, no overt rewards other than the experience and what the user makes of it. So, what then do you do in Dear Esther?

You roam an island in the Hebrides and explore it. When you enter certain invisible  “zones” on the island, you hear a fragmented narrative (incl. subtitles). Each time you play the game again, these fragments will be somewhat different from the last time. The experience is quite immersive and feels personal. It’s like being immersed in an epistolary novel. I felt that I had agency, that I was “there.” The island, rendered in 3D, is detailed and beautiful.

The game is only available in English, and since I don’t teach ESL, I won’t get to much into how this could be used for language learning purposes in practice. But in theory, this “game” delivers a compelling concept: player/reader agency, multimodal presentation, immersive qualities, individualization… Every player has different experiences, hears and reads somewhat different yet connected narrative fragments, and explores different parts of the island. Learners could work out what happened and create a more complete picture. There’s lots of potential for discussion questions: What was the experience like? How is this different from an epistolary novel or an adventure game? What’s the point?

This would be a great format for language teaching and learning purposes. I hope we’ll see more such “games” in the near future. And hopefully we’ll have some language options…

Next week I’ll talk about another mobile app for gamified storytelling… Stay tuned and have a great weekend!

Link to the game: http://dear-esther.com/

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