The hauntology of walking simulators: designing liminal space. From Dear Esther to Inchcolm Project

Mona Bozdog, Melissa Kagen, Kris Darby

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Designing liminal space. From Dear Esther to Inchcolm Project Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012) is a poetic meditation on guilt, loss and redemption which unfolds as the player explores a desolate island. The game’s island is haunting and beautiful, sensorially rich, evocative and symbolically charged, uninhabited except for gulls, ghosts and legends. To focus the player’s attention on the environment and the narrative, the designers have stripped down the game’s mechanics to a bare minimum: the only permitted in-game actions are walking, (limited) swimming, zooming-in, and looking around. The impossibility to interact with the objects or manipulate them supports an interpretation of the island as a liminal space, a ‘Purgatory’ of sorts where the character must confront and accept his own past in order to achieve absolution and redemption. You cannot change the island in any way because perhaps the island is not real, the character is not real or both. Furthermore, it is the player’s virtual body which walks its paths whilst their physical body guides it from a keyboard and watches it on a screen. The player is one of the island’s spectral presences. In October 2016, 50 audience members arrived on Inchcolm, a Scottish island in the Firth of Forth, to participate in Inchcolm Project, a hybrid experience which combined elements of performance, video games, and live music. Inchcolm Project was structured as a three-part experience: a promenade performance (an adaptation of Dear Esther), a gameplay projection (Dear Esther was played live and projected onto the Inchcolm Abbey wall), and a musical performance (Mantra Collective Orchestra performing Dear Esther’s soundtrack live in the 12th Century Inchcolm Abbey). As the audience explored the liminal space of the island, its boundaries and legends, they encountered the many ghosts of Inchcolm Island: characters stuck in limbo performing their actions in a loop (staring in the distance, drinking tea, playing musical instruments), a disembodied voice and ethereal sound memories rendered audible through a geo-tagging app, Syrian refugee crisis imagery nested in ruined environments and sites of ritual. I propose a reflection on how liminal space was designed in Inchcolm Project through the process of re-mediating game mechanics, narratives, environments and sound. I argue that Inchcolm Project invited the audience to engage with Inchcolm island as a liminal space, a threshold between water and land, virtual and physical, historical and fictional, video game and performance. Bio: Mona Bozdog is a designer and Lecturer in Immersive Experience Design at Abertay University. She is in the process of completing her PhD at Abertay University in partnership with The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and The National Theatre of Scotland. Her research is practice-based and focuses on the convergence of contemporary performance practices and video games, particularly designing hybrid forms of storytelling, performative games, mixed-reality and immersive experiences and games for public spaces and heritage sites. Mona is a part of Abertay GameLab and has designed games, performances and experiences exhibited/performed at The Arches, Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe, The Scottish Parliament, Perth Museum, Games are for Everyone, Future Play, Arcadia, Inchcolm Island, Camperdown Park and the V&A launch.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2019
EventElectronic Literature Organization Conference & Media Arts Festival - University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Duration: 15 Jul 201917 Jul 2019


ConferenceElectronic Literature Organization Conference & Media Arts Festival
Abbreviated titleELO2019
Internet address


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