Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dear Esther discussion


CONTEXT: When Dear Esther was re-released last year, Katie mentioned on Twitter the ghosts she saw and Brendan and I quizzed her about it. We moved to a G+ thread because that was the trendy thing at the time. Brendan recently asked to make the thread public, but because G+ doesn't let you do that, I'm reposting here with permission from Brendan & Katie, only editing to remove organizational posts and unwanted metadata.

Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Right! So I only ever saw two ghosts myself.

1) Just past the tanker is a house on a hill you go up a winding path to. Just beyond that is a downwards path hugging the cliff to the beach. From that path you look to the right (opposite the back of the house) and there is a cave in a cliff face across a chasm. In there is a candle. As you watch, a ghost holding the candle walks away into the cave.

2) As you start your final climb to the antenna, about halfway up the hill, there is an outcrop ahead of you and a figure standing there. As you go down behind a rise and get to the outcrop yourself, it is gone. I thought I imagined it the first time I played through but definitely saw it the second time.

Also heard of a ghost in the final antenna fenced area and one near the crashed tanker at the start of the second chapter.

What other ghosts did you guys see? I'm curious, Katie, what 'creepy' ghosts you saw. Did they look different or did they just do creepy things?

Also, have we all played the game at least twice? Want to talk about some things I think are second-playthrough specific....
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
Okay, a caveat, first: I'm hoping to write an article on Dear Esther, so I don't want to give away too much of what I might be putting in that article
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I've played through five times with more to come /nerd :D Okay, here goes...
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Well I think this is a private thread only the three of us can see (right, Zach?) so don't stress too much about that :)
Zach AFeb 20, 2012Edit
this is a private thread. (ED- Was. Made public after I checked with Katie & Brendan)
the tanker one: when you first enter the area, hug the left wall. a pale form stands before you, it's easy to mistake him for the buoy in the distance. but it moves away.
i've seen the second you listed Brendan, but not the first.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
I feel like I'm the only one who saw it and I'm wondering if perhaps I imagined it.... two times. I love how this game makes you so uncertain as to what you actually saw or not
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
haha yeah the first time playing through i did see both the ghosts. but i investigated and convinced myself it was the buoy, or a bit of rock. then Katie confirmed there were actually ghosts and I was like "oh shit". and then she said they were scary and now i'm too scared to play it much more :|

i also saw, in the caves, the big area with the huge river - one of the paper boats floating down the river when you first get in (!). among other bits we can talk about after katie tells us about the scary ghosts.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Yes! Also, at the end of that river is a whole stack of paper boats stuck at the end where the water goes underground. Also, some photos of mammograms scattered on the sand by the water 0_o
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I didn't see any ghosts on my first playthrough. I don't know if I missed them or if they simply weren't there. My boyfriend told me he found ghosts in his game, so as I played through the second time I was definitely looking out for them.

1. First ghost was a silhouetted figure, near the beginning of the second chapter. As you walk towards the shipwrecked tanker, there's a small cliff overlooking it (walking to it triggers dialogue about the buoy). In every playthrough except my first, I've had the silhouette just standing there. Of course, as you move towards it, it disappears.

On my fifth playthrough I noticed this particular silhouette MOVING. I freaked. It was on the path towards the small cliff, and as I walked towards it I saw it move along the path to its usual spot on the cliff's edge.

2. Same ghost Brendan mentioned, a silhouetted figure standing on an outcrop, next to a candle. You can see him from the ground.

3. My creepiest ghost so far was standing in the fenced-in area around the antenna, and yes, this ghost was way different to the others. It had a freaking FACE! It was semi-transparent and its image shimmered like water. Looked to be a man, shirtless, staring towards the moon.

4. The last ghost I have not seen personally; my boyfriend did and he showed me a screenshot of it. It was in the same place as my own creepy ghost, but instead of a shimmering man he got a CREEPY FUCKING HOODED FIGURE THAT LOOKED LIKE THE GRIM REAPER shit I am still not sleeping right after seeing that screenshot.

Ghosts 1 and 2 have been stalking me on every playthrough since my second. I only saw ghost 3 on my fourth playthrough; boyfriend saw ghost 4 on his fifth.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
MY GOD. I am covered in goosebumps just reading that.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
I am never playing this game again.
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
Weird, I thought those was ultrasounds...

Brendan, I don't really understand where you saw your first ghost and now I'm wondering if there is a path I missed?! Are you able to upload a screenshot or anything?
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
shit ultrasounds. that's the word. haha.
Zach AFeb 20, 2012Edit
the protagonist has kidney stones. they might be of that. i'm not a doctor.
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I KNOW RIGHT!!!! Just seeing the screenshot reduced me to a whimpering mess, I don't know how much I would've freaked had I seen that for real with my own eyes.
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
Oh, good point Zach. I did notice one of the ultrasounds had stone-like thingies in it.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
I don't have a screenshot, but in this DeadEndThrills screenshot it's essentially straight ahead on the opposite side of this house:http://deadendthrills.com/?cat=416

Like, if you walked up to the house, stood against the wall on the opposite side and looked in this direction, you would see the cave.
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
also: the molecule on the wall in the lighthouse is Ethanol. as in, alcohol. it is frequently pictured alongside pictures of things that look like neurons. and (probably obviously) the words on the rocks are bible verses but I have trouble assigning specific biblical meaning to them (other than the protag wonders if the inhabitants of the islands assigned verses to the rocks and plants and walked among them)

there is a grotto to the right of the caves entrance. the things in the grotto change based on the dialogue you having descending the cliff after jacboson's hut. Donnoly's book can be there. Or a suitcase full of clothes. I think I saw a car frame there as well but I can't be sure, it was my first playthrough.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
So who else got different things on the road in the flashback? First game it was two cars. Second game was a hospital bed.
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
yup, i got both of those, but not in that order. I only just today got the two cars. also i have screens of the other molecules but i haven't tried to parse them (damn organic chemistry and its convoluted naming mechanics).
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
It seems another playthrough is in order (during daylight hours this time). All ghosts of Esther, I will find you!

In the grotto, I often find dozens and dozens of books that have just been dumped off the side of the cliff. Or discarded clothing. I've noticed discarded clothing elsewhere throughout the game too...

I heard a theory about the nerves, chemical diagrams, and electrical diagrams, but I was annoyed when I found out because I considered them slightly spoilerish, so I don't know if you guys want to hear about it?
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I've gotten cars and hospital beds littered with coins. My boyfriend claims he was once dumped into a highway with absolutely nothing on it, not even road signs.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
I don't consider anything spoilerish at this stage (much of this is blowing my mind, though). So, proceed!
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
Okay - the chemical diagrams, as Zach said, were alcohol, suggesting a drunk driver ended Esther's life. The electrical diagrams are apparently that of a car brake, suggesting she died due to a brake system failure.
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I've had a few allusions to drunk drivers in my playthrough, but never to the failure of car brakes, so I was a little annoyed that that last part dictated how I interpreted the story!
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
that explains Paul, who claims he wasn't drunk, "just tired" (and one of the things you say as you ascend the beacon is that "he WASN'T DRUNK, just a victim of lines that failed to converge"). i never heard anything more direct than that, though.
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I forget what the nerves were... possibly something to do with painkillers, or even just pain itself.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Hmm. I think I had already suspected both of those (definitely the drunk driver, maybe the breaks) from my two playthroughs. Knowing what the diagrams are, then, just make me feel like I was right.

And yeah, I suspect, too, that Paul was the person that crashed and killed Esther

(and now I leave my computer for 10 minutes ors o)
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I get a wildly different story/interpretation each time, quite honestly. I had one playthrough that I swear suggested Esther was murdered; in another, the car crash was completely metaphorical and no one was dead.
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
you all went into the first cave, right? just before the end of the first chapter, at the foot of the brook. the protag has a conversation with paul after the crash, paul is def the driver.
anaesthetic and surgery are mentioned for the kidney stones. also the protag was in the car and had a head wound. i'm disregarding the painkillers for his leg since that happened before he TURNED INTO A GHOST HIMSELF (that's right! i went there! the protag is dead the entire time~!) and he couldn't have painted it after he broke his leg.
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
katie - wait WHAT. shit! i thought i had it figured out and I was just trying to see if the protag was dead or alive!

incidentally one of the rock paper shotgun guys hated the game because he thought he figured out the drunk driving thing on his first playthrough. loooooool.
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
hahaha. I might be reading into things too much though. I do adore my symbolism and freedom to draw my own conclusions... something I haven't had to this extent since Silent Hill 2! (brb, taking a shower)
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Yeah but to be fair that RPS guy was John Walker.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012

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The island itself definitely raises some interesting questions. Is it real? Is it a metaphoric landscape of the protag's mind? Etc etc. I also wonder if the narrator is the person you are controlling or not. Or, if they are who you are controlling, are they talking at the same time, or is it the recollections of an old diary or what?

I think there is no right answer, and I think that is great. Dear Esther is essentially the videogame version of a poem. You can play it in less than an hour then spend years trying to understand it.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Also, I am totally playing it again this afternoon now.
Katie WilliamsFeb 20, 2012
I've read that the island is based on a real place, so I don't know. One of my playthroughs clearly does support the idea of it being real; a journey the narrator has undertaken to come to terms with his grief. Other playthroughs have been a lot more open to interpretation. Ghosts make me wonder if it's metaphorical.

I always felt like it read like an old diary. Like I was retracing the footsteps the narrator had recorded years before. (Hearing that he had broken his leg before you enter the cave seems to support this.)

And back to ghosts again, I should mention that Ghost #4 in my list did not actually look like a ghost (I term it a "ghost" because c'mon, I thought I was the only one on the island!). It was opaque. So that makes it even creepier - that a hooded figure that may very well have been real was just standing there, watching you, looking like the grim reaper.

Matt also felt the hooded figure was female, though I don't remember why.
Zach AFeb 20, 2012Edit
when I first emerged from the cave, my overwhelming thought was, "this is not real". at least, part of the island is not. the part that always gets me is the lines the protag has about the shape and form of the island: it is formed out of his kidney stones. the path of his infection traces a trail like the one he walks up to the beacon. the structure of the caves - i could swear - is meant to resemble some organic process occurring in his body. (I can't prove that and I'm probably & unfortunately wrong)

i lean towards the island being real and the protagonist physically being there at one point. he is absolutely the one who painted the rocks (with Esther's ashes?!? ewww) but the broken leg is clearly something that happens on his last journey - he speaks of his final ascent and clearly plans to kill himself. yet the way the game demands multiple playthroughs (which as far as i can tell is not the result of a specificmechanic, just an overwhelming curiosity on my part) and the subtle changes the island goes through...

there's too much on the island that doesn't make sense. you break your leg on the way to the cave, but the protag does not experience any difficulty walking (or breathing underwater indefinitately, for that matter) (normally I would discount that as part of the game. but this is clearly a FPS - it uses the source engine! - and that has a clear language for expressing hinderance, pain, shortness of breath, etc. it must have been a conscious decision to NOT use those elements, for a specific purpose).

in the final chapter, on the beach, the caves contain scattered pills and a needle and some sort of medical equipment - already used - as if he had already mended his leg. there are car frames on the island - which are wildly out of place unless you take into account the protag's specific trauma. the paper boats are still there, despite the protag speaking of watching them sink. the way you can't kill yourself at any other point except the very end. and, of course, that monumental ending where you do not re-experience the finality of yr suicide. that + the existence of ghosts + the existence of the grim reaper... I feel that you must be dead already, haunting the place that you last experienced in numbing detail in life. it's an abundance of detail.
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Idea! You are the ghost of a man who already committed suicide on the island and cursed to trace his last steps over and over. 
Brendan KeoghFeb 20, 2012
Okay. I just played through a third time and it was TERRIFYING while I tried to find ghosts.

I saw the one near the tanker and the buoy walking down the path, but it was incredibly feint and I never saw it actually stop walking.

I saw the one in the cave behind the hut yet again, but pressed the wrong button and didn't get a screenshot >_<

And I saw the one with a face and I wanted to scream or cry but my body couldn't decide which.

Some other things I picked up this time:

1) The narration is nearly certainly just the reading out of diary entries. When the narrator lists the items in the hut (they call it a... some word starting with 'b' that I can never remember so I'll stick with hut) he lists off 'and this diary'. I think that makes it almost undeniable that the narration is, indeed, diary entries.

2) The narrator talks about Esther, Paul, Donnally (sp), and Jacobson. But right at the end on this playthrough he mentioned he would be flying with "Esther Donnally" and "Paul Jacobson" (!!!!!!). BUT THEN earlier he talks about how he killed Donnally. AND THEN, nearly right at the end, in this playthrough, there was a big kind of epiphany where the narrator accepted that Paul actually wasn't drunk. So maybe (and I'm making this up as I write it) the thing is the narrator blames himself for the accident (I am certain now he was definitely in the car with Esther, at least). Man, this is blowing my mind.

3) THis time in my flashback there were smashed cars. I swear the last time I saw cars they were intact cars, but this time there was broken glass and doors and bits everywhere. Maybe I am misremembering my last time, though.

4) As for whether the island is real or not... I still don't. He does indeed use a whole lot of metaphors that essentially say "I am an island" that suggest the island is all a metaphor or in his mind. But diary entries exist for a real island, too. Maybe it is a dream/metaphor island based on an island he really visited?

This game is doing my head in the more times I play.
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
here are the cars I saw. windows missing and door missing.http://steamcommunity.com/id/icepotato/screenshot/505764952602162529?tab=public

apparently i did take a ss of the freaky pile of books:
http://steamcommunity.com/id/icepotato/screenshot/505764952534447709/?tab=public

as well as the scan of the... whatevers. (notice the eggs in the background. he has a shrine to the eggs by the paper boats. one ending he says that esther is like an egg with... tiny black flowers? idgi.)
http://cloud.steampowered.com/ugc/505764868623609431/1E6B8D0C89440FB349D6D697609EC1509FDEC904/

any guesses as to some of the other symbols? this one looks vaguely golden-ratio-ish, but idg the significance. other repeated elements: the birds (kind of a freedom thing, hence his transformation - although in my second playthrough he mentioned they were trapped here by some sort of miasma thing. and the bird eggs. which... i don't know), the bible verses (mostly nonsense, imo - except for Damascus which I am pretty sure is not in the UK but is symbolic of a place-before-ruin thanks to the biblical verse)
http://steamcommunity.com/id/icepotato/screenshot/506890809854944497/?tab=public

also there is a shrine and painting or two that form the female symbol. one is in the caves before the beacon. i think they represent esther x.X;;;

fwiw I think esther-donnoly and paul-jacobson is a bit of a red herring. i think his beef with donnoly is that they were both hermits on the island, and since reading donnoly's book so frequently (hence the pile of the books in the grotto - he tosses out each one as he finishes it) he id's donnoly as a contemporary (when I think donnoly is a historical figure). i am also sure that the protag was in the car, as he speaks of laying next to esther as metal cools and clicks - and later he speaks of a head wound he recieved.

man, i need to start screencapping the dialogue too :|
Zach AFeb 20, 2012
oh also i thought the narration was him reading the Dear Esther letters he had sent which is +/- his diary. but i guess they could easily be separate which pokes a few holes in my theory that he's already dead. oops.
Brendan KeoghFeb 21, 2012
Well if he was writing a diary to himself after Esther's death, writing his own diary as addressed to Esther isn't a crazy idea.

I'm more and more coming around to the idea that he is already dead.

Unrelated, someone should write a cross-analysis of Dear Esther and Eminem's Stan.
Katie WilliamsFeb 22, 2012
I agree that they read like diary entries, but I'm not so quick to say that's for certain, personally. After my incredibly metaphorical playthrough in which it was suggested nobody had ever actually died, I hesitate to call any of the game real. Though Brendan, what you said about him essentially saying "I am an island" reminds me of that other idiom, "No man is an island". Given what you've said about his possible being dead, that's very interesting to consider.

I found Esther Donnelly and Paul Jacobsen incredibly confusing as well! I have absolutely no theories about that one.

Zach, regarding the eggs, I've had seen a few egg-themed things. Sometimes there are eggshells in the bothy. Often, I've had a nest with three hatched eggs in the underground cave (often surrounded by ultrasound scans and/or photographs). There is also the nest-shrine you mentioned, containing three unhatched eggs. Most interestingly, I sometimes find three rotting bird corpses on the beach, just before the nest-shrine. I wonder if there's a sort of rebirth theme going on?

With the Golden Ratio on the beach - while walking along the clifftop, I once had dialogue about Esther writing her name into the sand. I looked over the edge of the cliff, and there was the Golden Ratio. It was really adorably poetic. Esther = his perfection?

How many playthroughs are each of you up to now?
Katie WilliamsFeb 22, 2012

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Guys GUYS wtf new ghost sighting WTFFFF

http://steamcommunity.com/id/desensitisation/screenshot/470861971408632179

So it's a shadowy figure with a fucking ROTTING FACE. This screenshot does not do justice to its freakishness. It sways from side to side with jerking movements, quickly and very erratically. It's mainly all shadow except for its head, which looks like something out of a zombie game.

Zach did mention something about a head wound... and there are many references to mental illness throughout the game too.

Matt also reports a new ghost: in the caves! Just before you drop down into the water-filled hole (where you hallucinate about being on an underwater highway), there's a waterfall on the opposite ledge with a cave behind it. He claims the ghost is a shadowy figure that's still, but zips away into the cave as you get close.
Zach AFeb 22, 2012
so i looked at your picture and was like "oh come on that's not that bad" and then i read your description and i freaked out :|

I haven't had a chance to play again since we started talking. i think i might need to play more to hear about this "nobody actually died" thing. i haven't seen any dead birds on the sand, either. nor did i notice the shrine deep in the caves has eggs - does it change over playthroughs?

the birds are definitely full of meaning - especially given your inevitable transformation into one.

quick question - when you go into the lighthouse and into the bathroom at the very beginning, is it a bird or a bat that flies out of the house? i think i've seen both but it's hard to distinguish.
Katie WilliamsFeb 22, 2012
I was about to go to bed and was reminded of freaky zombie-ghost :|

The eggs and birds do indeed change. It's funny how that works. I'm always getting eggs; I know others who've never seen them.

I'm not sure of the significance of being a bird at the end - I mean, it makes total sense except that the bird would definitely NOT be you when you take the light source into consideration! If it really was you, its shadow would fall a long way behind you, off the camera. I know it might be something they bent the artistic rules for so they could include that bit of symbolism, but really - as an art obsessive, it irks me!

But but but I also have another theory about your being a bird. Sometimes I wonder if the bird is simply following you, a companion. My reason for this? Watch the bird's shadow at the very end, as you're about to glide over the water with all the floating boats. Most times, at least for me, the bird has followed me across the water. But once, the bird's shadow veered AWAY from the water as the camera drifted over the beach. I interpreted that as a sign of someone in the story leaving the narrator, whether by death or other means. Also makes sense, given the discrepancy between light source and shadow.

Regarding the lighthouse, it's always been a bird for me... but like everything else in the game, it's not always there. I got a little lonely on tonight's playthrough when the bird didn't chase me out of the building :(
Zach AFeb 22, 2012

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so earlier i said i wasn't sure if there was a specific mechanic that asks you to replay the game. i think i was wrong: the mechanic is that if you ever talk about it with someone, they can have either anywhere from a minor to a major difference in the playthrough, which will either lead to an argument or disbelief, and then you play it again and your mind will be blown.

now i need to watch bird shadows.
Brendan KeoghFeb 23, 2012
I never considered the birds doing anything different. I have always had the bird fly out of the lighthouse over my head at the start, and the one at the end, though I admit I can't remember which way the shadow veered each time.

The egg, too, I feel I've always had. The broken ones in the cave and the whole ones in the shrine.

That new ghost is terrifying.

I have too many conflicting and excited thoughts about this game to express any of them coherently. It is still absolutely blowing my mind.
Zach AFeb 26, 2012

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Okay, I think i figured out some of the Biblical stuff. Thanks to this review: http://gamechurch.com/dear-esther-and-blessed-curse-of-loneliness/ via critdistance.

"Paul on the road to Damascus". Paul the Apostle never makes it to Damascus. He turns back when the Jews (lol) plot against him - then he goes to Corinth.... where he writes a series of letters.

So that's why the game quotes new and old testament. New testament, Paul goes to Damascus (just as Protag goes to Paul-the-driver's - "My Damascus" - does he actually make it out there?). Old Testament, some kings love to talk shit about Damascus - once a great city / now a heaping ruin (painted on the walls of the caves). Also, "Acts 2:20" is up on the wall: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:", which is commonly cited as part of the prophetic Eschaton - clearly the theme here is the protag's self destruction and last minute renewal.

the game is a lot more about the biblical stuff than I assumed, partially because I am not up on my new testament.
Zach AFeb 26, 2012

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so I'm at home and my mom's a doctor. I asked her to take a look at the ultrasound. she confirmed it's definitely a kidney with stones in it. he would, in fact, have to go under anesthesia to have stones removed - that would be the "bottom of the well" where he looks up and Esther is there (probably pre-crash). however, only stones that have exited the kidney would be removed. So the ultrasound would probably be AFTER the crash, and the fact that it shows more stones would probably contribute to his depressive mindset (especially considering how painful they would be upon exit - although not necessarily before they exit).

also, it's more common to use CAT scans to detect kidney stones these days - although ultrasounds were along longer. So that probably points to the general timeperiod the game takes place in - CAT Scans weren't around until after 1972 in GB but matured greatly by the '90s.
Brendan KeoghFeb 26, 2012I have nothing to add at this time other than to say this is all so fascinating.
Zach AFeb 26, 2012
wait no wikipedia is misleading. http://www.sullivan-county.com/news/paul/paul.htm

"On the way to Damascus, Paul experienced a vision of Jesus that converted him from persecutor to believer" - visions, being one thing we are all wondering about in the narrator's relationship to the island (real or fake? not to mention the ghosts) - and persecutor to believer lends a different tinge to "my Damascus" - he goes to speak with paul not to belittle him but to commiserate with him.

and Acts talks a great deal about Paul (and the other apostles). of course christianity is not merely about sin and forgiveness - obviously appropriate here - but also about renewal and redemption - as in the eggs, signalling a new generation of life - and the final miracle of the narrator's transofmation into a bird - but also, and always most importantly - about the miracle of resurrection and life after death.

i think this is a deeply Christian game. that particular aspect of it doesn't resonate with me very much, but certainly the symbolism and mechanics of it line up very nicely with christian themes. it's very interesting.

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