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  • Stobbart Suicide Chapter

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I will Abandon this Body and Take to the Air: The Suicide at the Heart of Dear Esther

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Published
Publication date08/2019
Host publicationSuicide and the Gothic
EditorsWilliam Hughes, Andrew Smith
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Pages176-188
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9781526120083
Original languageEnglish

Publication series

NameInternational Gothic
PublisherManchester University Press

Abstract

The Gothic, Catherine Spooner asserts has never been solely restricted to books (2007, p. 195), and it is not surprising that the Gothic is a source of much inspiration for new media; Gothic tropes and elements frequently appear in a variety of videogames, including Doom (id Software, 1993) as Fred Botting (2002) argues, and more recently, the Portal franchise (Valve, 2007-2011)which Ewan Kirkland considers to have a ‘distinctly Gothic theme and tone’ (2014). Gothic narratives more widely flourish in videogames, a fertile breeding ground for the undead – vampires, zombies and ghosts are found throughout videogames history, and Gothicism can be seen repeatedly in the settings, aesthetics, and narratives of many of the videogames released.
Recent years have seen an evolution in terms of game content, with developers turning their attention from solely ludic enjoyment to ‘serious’ games that are explicitly foregrounding a moral aspect, dialectic content, or a strong narrative over play, with text-based games such as Gone Home (Fullbright, 2013), which deals with sexuality and acceptance, and Depression Quest (Quinn, 2013)which offers the player a chance to begin to understand depression through a choice based interactive narrative, one which requires the player to make decisions and react to some of the situations that a depressed person might recognise, including suicidal feelings and the reaction to those feelings– something not frequently explored in traditional videogames.
Gothic themes, tropes, and narrative come together in the 2012 videogame Dear Esther. Set in a perpetual twilight on a deserted Hebridean island, this game is part of a growing sub-genre known as the ‘first person walker’, which involves the player exploring a typically Gothic space – a setting as evocative as that of Frankenstein or Wuthering Heights. Through a subversion of gaming expectations and tropes, I argue that Dear Esther’s control system, and lack of interactivity with the games landscape allows the player to take the role of a ghost, haunting the island. I further argue that through the games construction the player forces the narrator, an unnamed male whom the player hears as she walks across and even inside the island delivering fragments of letters to the titular Esther, to endlessly repeat his suicide and the events that lead up to it.
Through its narrative and through ludic disempowerment, Dear Esther is not only able to offer the player a ghost story, but also provides an insight into the mind of the suicidal protagonist, through a tale of death, imprisonment, madness, and escape that is recognisable throughout the history of Gothic fiction, from The Castle of Otranto onwards, placing the player within the narrative itself, physically driving it onward, both through her actions and the replay necessary to come to a full understanding of that narrative, and asking her to interpret the information she discovers in order to discover the game’s Gothic heart.