There’s something incredibly calming about immersing yourself in a game world where the only requirement is exploration and The Chinese Room excels at creating games in that fashion. My first experience with this type of game was with Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and while that game frustrated me because it lacked one feature that could make it more accessible for deaf players, the studio’s response to my frustration made me want to check out their other games, even though I’m not really that much of a PC gamer. And so I bought Dear Esther.

In Dear Esther, you simply wander an island (a spectacularly designed and detailed island) and throughout your exploration, you read excerpts of letters written to Esther, your wife. There’s not much to be said for action and gameplay in Dear Esther, but for me, that’s the appeal of it. I do love playing the roles of assassin, rogue commando and mage, running through game worlds doing things and interacting with other characters, of course, it was being able to do what is impossible for me to do in real life that got me hooked on gaming to begin with, but to be able to fire up a game and just sit back and enjoy it is a very welcome change. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself at many points throughout the game in awe of the artwork and appreciating how much care was put into designing this game. It’s exploring a beautiful work of art, really.

I play games on a regular basis not only because I like them, but because they help me to better manage my mental illness, and Dear Esther does so in quite a few ways. I can identify with the character as he explores alone, mourning his wife. It’s nice to see a character flawed in a non-typical way. He’s mourning a loss but not in the usual style of exacting revenge, ala Max Payne. Dear Esther is a very calming game and when I’m having a difficult mental health day, it’s nice to be able to put my head in the isolated, beautiful world, without having to worry about doing it right, dying because I took a wrong turn or reloading a save because I made the wrong choice. I can just be there and look at the serene island, something that’s often difficult to do living in Chicago.

In terms of deaf-friendly gameplay, Dear Esther nails it. You don’t technically have to do anything, so there’s no need for visual cues to help you find things that sound normally would. The design is absolutely incredible and makes you want to see more of it. There’s no conversational dialogue so there is no issue with lagging captions and the letter fragments that play as you enter a new section of the island are displayed in very easy-to-read text on the screen. There truly isn’t anything I come away having wished had been included in the game with Dear Esther.