The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Is Dear Esther With Actual Gameplay (but I Like Dear Esther More)

ethan carterIt’s hard not to compare The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther. They’re both first-person games that revolve around exploration. Both games are visually stunning, and both place a heavy focus on storytelling. Both titles have an engrossing-yet-somber atmosphere, and both games feature supernatural elements.

Ethan Carter seems to improve upon Dear Esther in every conceivable way. While Dear Esther‘s story was fragmented and obscure, Ethan Carter presents a narrative that’s both coherent and unconventional. Dear Esther had no gameplay to speak of, but Ethan Carter is full of interesting puzzles. It’s exactly the sort of game I always wished Dear Esther could be.

But for reasons I don’t quite understand, I like Dear Esther more.

Dear EstherSometimes a game affects you in ways you can’t explain. It seeps into your skin until it reaches your heart and manages to capture it completely. It doesn’t matter if it’s obviously flawed; your love is a love that defies logic and reason. It means things to you that can’t be seen on the screen.

That’s how I’ve always felt about Dear Esther. It’s short, linear, and devoid of gameplay, but to me, it’s so much more. I’ve gone back to it on many occasions, and each time, I manage to discover something new. When I look at Dear Esther, I don’t see its limitations; I’m too enamored to notice anything but strengths.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is extremely enjoyable, but it hasn’t touched my soul. I’ve had a great time playing it, and I’ll almost certainly play it again, but it hasn’t haunted my dreams or moved me to tears. It’s simply a game — no more, no less.

Ethan Carter treesI don’t think that this means Dear Esther is some kind of masterpiece, nor do I think it’s a sign that that Ethan Carter is soulless. Sometimes a game just doesn’t resonate with you, and it has more to do with you than the game itself. Ethan Carter is intriguing, entertaining, and absolutely gorgeous, but it doesn’t give me palpitations or sweaty palms.

I wanted to fall in madly in love with Ethan Carter. I thought our romance could be one for the ages; a passionate love affair built on a shared interest in detective novels and walking simulators.

But it looks like the two of us are going to have to settle for friendship. I’m sorry, Ethan Carter. It’s not you. It’s most certainly me.

  • Brock Byrne

    Dear Esther isn’t a game, though.

    • Mandi Odoerfer

      Dear Esther’s status as a game is pretty shaky (see above, re: lack of gameplay), but it meets my personal definition. Yes, it’s literally a walking simulator, but interactivity is a core part of the experience. It wouldn’t be nearly as effective in another format.

      For me, there are titles that are obviously games, and titles where things are a little more questionable. Dear Esther is a game to me, and it’s not a game to others, and I’m okay with that.

      • Brock Byrne

        Definitions are universal and separate from subjective opinions.

        Dear Esther is an interactive art piece – somewhat similar to, but by definition different from, games. There are no challenges to overcome in Dear Esther, and the sum total affordances are ‘walk forward’ and ‘walk backwards’. (But why would you walk backwards? There’s nothing to do.)

        Interactivity is not exclusive to games.

        Otherwise by your own logic, simply going out for a casual stroll while listening to music can be considered “playing a game”.

  • Ben

    Have you tried Kholat? I think Dear Esther is my first love when it comes to the Walk of Art genre. There must be a dozen games I’ve tried, the only two that came very close were Ethan Carter and Kholat. As they look and sound stunning.