Quick Crit! Pseudo-Gods

GLaDOS

The motif of omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient characters has become a popular theme among video games—for examples, GlaDOS, the Master Hand in Super Smash Brothers, and the Witch in The Witch’s House.  Does this demonstrate a rebelliousness in the culture of the gaming industry as Portal’s pseudo-god seems to suggest?  Or, is it a device used to cover up the lack of player control in video games as The Stanley Parable would have us believe?  You decide.  Leave a comment in the section below.

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Quick Crit! Inspired Intentions

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Put simply, inspired intention is the term used for the way games make us do what we are intended to.  This can be achieved by setting the right mood with a powerful score, balancing good character development and suspense, and drawing the player’s attention with lighting, intricate design, and movement.  Good use of inspired intentions is an impressive feat in all games from The Walking Dead to Bioshock and is certainly worth mentioning when discussing all forms of ergodic* narrative.

*Ergodic = relating to video games, akin to literary or cinematic in books and movies respectively.

What games use inspired intentions to make you sympathize with the protagonist?  How?  Write your thoughts in comment section below.

If you care to read more about Inspire Intentions, read the detailed version here.  Or, hit follow for more insight into the art of video games.

Quick Crit! Island of Isolation in Dear Esther

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Dear Esther takes place on a Hebridean Island which depending on the interpretation is either metaphorical or a place the narrator strands himself with the intention of committing suicide following the death of his wife.  The player traverses this island and never comes in contact with another human (despite references to other inhabitants).  Furthermore, these inhabitants are referred to as hermits, lonely (like Jacobson), and out of touch (like the shepherds).  The visual text also shows the island’s isolation (and desolation) with crashed and decaying ships surrounding the island.  Thus, the player receives the same sense of isolation that the narrator feels due to the loss of his wife.  These are all things that could likely go unnoticed but, upon further inspection, show brilliance in artistic design.

What did you feel about the isolation in Dear Esther?  What other aspects of this game do you think The Chinese Room did well?  Leave a comment in the section below!

For more on Dear Esther, click here to read about the Narrator as a Jesus-figure or an Existentialist view.

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The Narrator as a Christ Figure in Dear Esther

Dear Esther (created by The Chinese Room) is a critically-acclaimed game that has redefined the idea of art in video games.  It is adeptly written and contains the same complex literary devices and themes as we see in canon literature such as Hamlet and To the Lighthouse.  The story is about a man who maroons himself on a Hebridean island after the death of his wife in a car crash; however, this seemingly simple story evolves into a much more complex story thematically and psychologically as the game progresses.  It later seems that the island is not truly there but rather a projection of narrator’s conscience*, while exploring the theme of religion.  One interpretation of religion in Dear Esther is centered around the narrator seeing himself as a Christ figure.

It is quite clear to many critics that references to the shepherds, Paul, and Damascus are biblical, but not many have been able to their finger on what they are supposed to mean.  I believe this is due to the shifting metaphors and unreliable narrative.  The first references to religion are originally fairly straightforward and align themselves more closely to the religious understanding that ends the story as well.  The narrator seems to be a Jesus-like character, not—in any sense—related to importance or benign nature but rather in reference to his self-sacrifice.  The idea of the narrator as a Christ figure could even be interpreted as the self-righteous importance the narrator puts in his own suicide.  With this understanding, the rest of the references neatly fall into place.  Paul is the man responsible for the death of the narrator’s wife, Esther, and therefore has persecuted the story’s Jesus figure, perhaps analogous to Saul’s persecution of Christians before Jesus’s death.

One of the first references to religion is Donnelly’s report of the island’s shepherds as “forsaken by God,”* which seems be a self-pitiful reflection rather than an insight into the island’s historical inhabitants—the narrator is the shepherd “forsaken by god”.  Taken in this sense, “forsaken by god” quotes Jesus in the book of Matthew, aligning itself with the view that the narrator’s sacrifice is akin to Jesus’s death.

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The shepherd, Jacobson, like Donnelly* is yet another foil for the narrator.  Notably, all three of these characters are isolated on this island while dying of a disease.  Needless to say, “shepherd” is another reference to the narrator as a Jesus figure.  Jacobson’s syphilis (which “tore through his system like a drunk driver”) is said to be caught from his “malcontented goats”, analogous to Paul who gave this psychological, or metaphorical, disease to the narrator by killing Esther.

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In chapter four, however, the narrator reveals that Paul was not drunk as he initially claims.  In fact, the narrator seems to describe the event as an act of fate, as “inevitable.”  The narrator kills himself at the point marked on the Cliffside as “Damascus.”  This seems to denote that the narrator is killing himself to make a point to Paul, since while on the road to Damascus after Jesus’s death, Paul converted to one of his followers.

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Dear Esther explores religion in a very complicated fashion, and so as not to make this a novel, I will leave this analysis with this one interpretation.  However, there are quite clearly—and intentionally—many ways to interpret the religious references in Dear Esther.  What do you think about religion in Dear Esther?  Leave a comment in the section below.

*The Chinese Room has stated that there are multiple interpretations of the same elements in Dear Esther and that these interpretations are intentionally conflicting.

*Quotes taken from The Chinese Room’s officially released script of Dear Esther.

*Donnelly himself is a foil for our narrator.  He is a dying man who writes a book about the island our narrator traverses.  In the interpretation of the island as only a metaphor, he is in fact the narrator, as suggested by the mention of “Esther Donnelly”.

For more on Dear Esther, read Island of Isolation or an Existentialist View.

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