When you think of games, you might think of dungeons and dragons or high-octane action-packed shootouts. What you might not be expecting are quiet, reflective, beautiful and meditative experiences such as Dear Esther.
Released in 2012, Dear Esther changed the landscape of gaming forever. A man walks a deserted Hebridean island, reading letters to his wife. A rich and poetic story of love, loss and redemption unfolds, accompanied by incredible cinematic visuals and a stunning orchestral soundtrack. The Telegraph described it as “a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of work. It is oil painting, poetry, eulogy and video game all at once. And it’s never less than fascinating.” It is frequently held up as proof that games can indeed be art. Dear Esther Live takes this powerful, emotional experience and brings it to the stage.
Imagine a film being shot in real-time, in front of you. The player pilots the camera through the landscape as the game is played, responding live to the nuances of the music and acting. The musicians are cued from within the game, but approach the experience as a traditional concert, following the tone and flow as it evolves; and the actor drives the story forwards, taking in the music, and the gameplay to shape and mould everything together. It combines the power of live theatre, the cinematic sweep of film, the beauty of orchestral performance and a subtle but innovative use of technology that underpins, rather than defines, the show.
Classical music lovers will be entranced by the haunting score, regularly featured on BBC Radio 3 and ClassicFM – where the composer, Jessica Curry, presents headline show High Score). A quartet, soprano and pianist, all world class players who have graced some of the most prestigious stages in the world, bring to life a rich and powerful suite of music that fuses a haunting minimalism with folk undertones. Curry, who has won a BAFTA and many other international awards for her music, has a unique and deeply beautiful, recognisable voice as a composer, working to combine contemporary compositional techniques with a deep love and respect for British classical, folk and traditional music. It’s impossible not to be transported by this extraordinary music.
Over the last decade, live orchestrations of film soundtracks have become more and more popular, and Dear Esther Live shares many features with these events. Imagine a film being literally shot in front of you – watching the camera being piloted around the world in real-time, and you are close to what the experience will feel like. Dear Esther was deeply inspired by the work of film-makers like Tarkovsky, with his masterful understanding of the slow unfolding of cinematic power; and the collaborations of Greenaway and Nyman, who fuse music and visuals at the deepest of levels to create holistic works that transcend their individual components.
Dear Esther has its roots in theatre. The games’ creator, Dan Pinchbeck, comes from a background in drama, and has cited as inspirations the work of avant-garde practitioners such as Robert Wilson and Edward Gordon Craig in their ability to create immersive, powerful storytelling worlds that operate with a magical pacing and abstraction. This obsession with that wonderful power of the live, of the capacity of performance to transport us as audiences, is at the heart of Dear Esther. On top of this floats an ethereal and poetic text that is inspired by the cut-up explosion of imagery of William Burroughs and fuses this to the love of landscape of Robert McFarlane and the drifting symbolism of poets such as Galway Kinnell and Andrew Greig.
Dear Esther Live is something very new – a ground-breaking use of games within a live performance setting. But it’s also something with deep roots in traditional performance from music and theatre, that is inspired by the beauty and power of landscape and language. Whether you are drawn by the music, the acting, the cinema, the technology or the poetry, Dear Esther Live offers a rich, emotional and deeply affecting event that will transport you to a deserted island and to the heart of love and redemption.