»Do you see it now? Do you see it like I do?«
Unreliability and the Unstable Narrating Mind in Dear Esther (2012) and Layers of Fear (2016)
After drawing connections between theories of unreliable narration and depictions of mental instability, this article explores ways in which subjectivity can become manifest in video games. In the subsequent analysis of Dear Esther (The Chinese Room 2012) and Layers of Fear (Bloober Team 2016), the mechanisms of verbal and visual unreliable narration will be examined, as well as the interplay between these elements and interactivity, and, especially, how these aspects are connected to the mental instability of narrators and focalizers. Dear Esther's narrator strives to inscribe an island's »always half-imagined« surface with his life and memories, while the player is compelled to question the narrator's reliability to the point where she begins to question the island's physical existence. Layers of Fear puts the player in the place of a painter who, while trying to complete his magnum opus, loses all grasp of reality – and his sanity. The game exclusively ascribes the painter, the sole focalizer of the game, the ability to »see« and simultaneously establishes that his eyes are not to be trusted.