The Chinese Room is a Brighton based games studio who specialise in experimental first person perspective games. In February 2012 the studio released Dear Esther and soon after the game found great critical acclaim. The Chinese Room was founded by contemporary classical composer Jessica Curry and writer/designer Dan Pinchbeck. Dear Esther Live is a play-through and performance of the game with live music, spoken word narration and projected visuals. The performance is part of the Sonica Festival 2017 and sits nicely within the eclectic and experimental programme of events, exhibitions and installations that all look at the ways in which music and visual art can be presented in unique and exciting methods.
The experience begins with the projection of a virtual environment onto a large screen to the back of the stage. Here the audience sees a craggy outcrop, rolling dark clouds and dark ocean waves that crash against the rocks. To the foreground is an old rowing boat that submerged in the icy cold water. It is a stark and alluring image. Despite being safe in the Tramway 1 performance space you can almost feel the chill of the freezing cold air and smell the salt from the wild sea.
We follow the protagonist from their point of view as they walk through the terrain of the island. We view a deserted lighthouse, evocative and startling caves and treacherous craggy outposts. As we walk the harsh conditions of the environment become overbearing and darkness begins to creep in. The journey is narrated by Ferdy Roberts. He as a rich voice and his words delve deep into the psychology of the character. He ponders the island’s previous occupants and recounts tragic memories that have shaped his life. Memory plays a major role in Dear Esther. As we walk through the landscape the words of the protagonist become more vivid and the music more evocative and powerful. This causes tension and builds up to a suspenseful conclusion where an unlikely, yet thoroughly fitting transformation takes place.
Dear Esther Live is a fascinating and absorbing way to present a video game and an exciting way to experience a virtual world with a fantastic live score. The Sonica Festival continues throughout Glasgow until Sunday 5 November. Edinburgh audiences will get the opportunity to experience Dear Esther Live when the show comes to the Usher Hall on January 20 2017.