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Sensory Experience

The sensory experience of Inchcolm Project was discussed in relation to the natural environments, the installations/designed environments and the sounds.

1. The natural environment

The natural environment of Inchcolm impacted greatly on the audience/players’ experience, particularly the aesthetic of the island and that of the ruin.

Some audience/players mentioned the aesthetic qualities of the island which contributed to the immersive feeling of the environment:

“By being on an island there’s that immediate feeling of immersion”

“The scenery was stunning, and it worked so perfectly with how the island and the game felt”

“The environment was absolutely beautiful, breath-taking”

audience/players Inchcolm Project


Others commented on the conflicting aesthetic between the Abbey and the military building:

“The island in general there were the old derelict buildings, even though they weren’t that tied into the story, just exploring the island was a really awesome experience”

“And that odd juxtaposition that Inchcolm’s got between the medieval Abbey and the WWII installations”

“I think it worked well using Inchcolm particularly, using the space that were there, using the broken remnants of the WW installations and putting visual images into them, and then working that into the ruined Abbey.”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

The isolation which arises from the island’s insularity contributed to a feeling of loneliness but also a feeling of being removed from the everyday:


“I was interested in the environment and the sensory elements. Yeah how removed from the everyday experience you felt just by being on the island”

“For me it’s the environment that’s the most compelling about it, being there that’s the novelty of it, it’s the environment complemented by the sensory element happening in the environment”


“it felt really isolated even if you were staying next to another person. On your own on an island, put in the place of that character. As a performance it did a very specific thing of making you feel quite small, a small part of something much larger”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

Some felt that the island was not remote enough and that the presence of others detracted them from having a truly immersive experience:

“One thing that slightly took away from my immersion was that the island didn’t feel remote enough”

“The island was so busy, I don’t know if it was better or worse, cause obviously in Dear Esther you’re one person exploring this really isolated island, it detracts from that sort of solitude that you get in the game, that sense of solitude and almost helplessness cause you’re there by yourself”

audience/players Inchcolm Project


whereas others enjoyed encountering other audience/players:

“when you pass someone who’s doing it, it heightens the experience having other people doing it at the same time I think it does heighten it”

audience/players Inchcolm Project


The desire to physically explore the island was repeatedly discussed, particularly in relationship to a type of physical bodily struggle which games cannot afford.   

“You’ve not got the real threat of your physicality. In a game you wouldn’t have thought about it twice”


“I actually felt like I was playing that, exploring physically, playing through the rules”


“I felt quite led by the physical environment and my desire to explore things physically”

“I thought it was very cool and interesting. I feel like the physical struggle is not something that you can experience in a game”

audience/players Inchcolm Project  

2. The installations

The installations were discussed in relation to meaning, sensory aesthetic, and their ability to focus attention on the environment and enhance its sensory potential.

“I really liked the sensory experience when we walked through the small path with the err dling…the wind thingies, it felt really special to go through there”


“I was quite taken with the wind chimes and the little environmental elements that helped to build atmosphere.”


“Seeing people dotted around the island, I really wanted to know what their story was, particularly the guy on the cliff edge.”


“Some of the installations were more interesting than the others, more abstract. The tunnel was really cool. And the musicians. That was awesome. So dark. Yeah very dark and creepy.”


“Everything aligned quite perfectly. The installations were immersive in their own way, especially the guy sitting at the table, that one in particular made me feel like we were reliving a memory of his or something, maybe because it was more distant.” 


“It was quite nice to happen upon the installations and the performances around the island whilst you were listening to the audio files because, it made it a bit more haunting cause you’re connecting the story to where you are so you felt more immersed.”

“My favourite bits were when you climbed up, around the back and had sense of exposure and you came around and there was an actor sat at the table exposed. Yeah it was really good cause it really went with the story. Everything that we heard up to that point was all about desolation, there was nothing in it about suddenly seeing somebody there”


“And the pile of life jackets were set up on top of the hill as well, with the barbed wire. It was great when you stumbled upon the musicians, and it wasn’t awkward”

“I loved the sensory tunnel, all of the sudden I came across the little bits that lit up. We got a blue light to shine, wee torch and I was looking to see the ground and I thought you can’t see the ground with this stupid torch, and then of course it caught the light and after that it was quite funky. I found it quite joyful and you found it quite disorienting. I don’t like dark tunnels but that made me smile”


“The environment was definitely the thing for me, I mean its locational project and it has to be in a certain place. I went as a child and I didn’t take it in so much but having this experience has heightened the memories of it”


“I loved the boats on the floor, it was such a sad thing I thought it was really quite touching”

“I found it more effective than just seeing the boats and the rubber dinghies, actually seeing a live person there made it more immersive, having a person there made you pay more attention. Almost like a ghost on an island”


“and then it was nice to find things on top of those places. After making those decisions, like rewards.”


“And we lingered a while at the guy drinking his tea. That was fab. I like to think he was still there. I really liked the distance that we had with that one. Yeah, that was very cool. It did cross my mind that there was a way of getting there, but in the same time I didn’t want to break the distance, I wanted to preserve that, whatever he was there for I didn’t really want to know, I wanted to be left to fill in the blanks for myself”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

3. The sounds

Some audience/players discussed sound in relation to its location, how the two aspects complemented and echoed each other, combining to generate a mood, to create an atmospheric ‘feel’ of the island:

“It really helped you stop and appreciate things as well. A lot of the audio clips were benches or at really good places to look so it made you take a moment and take in your surroundings.”

“Together they gradually formed more of a whole the more you listen, the more you find. It was quite nice to happen upon the installations and the performances around the island whilst you were listening to the audio files because, it made it a bit more haunting cause you’re connecting the story to where you are so you felt more immersed.”

“The actual conditions on the island determine how you feel and how the audio lands.”

“I felt that was really immersive, it was very much, just mixed in with the audio and the environment you’re in just all started to come together really bizarrely, it was really powerful.”

“Near the steep staircase where you could see the old building. I went up there and there was a sound file with a bit of the story. And when you stayed there to keep the sound playing, just the view, and all started to sync together really nicely.”

“It’s definitely something quite powerful hearing audio about a place while you’re there seeing it.”

“I’ve had such a beautiful day and to hear about people drowning, it was quite juxtaposed. I guess that contrast made it stronger, definitely, it was really eerie and a bit surreal”

“when you were standing there looking into the distance listening to his words, everything made sense and everything was just great.”

“even just standing there and listening and looking out was beautiful, and a really nice experience”

“being in a site specific place made the recordings more visceral, so in certain moments in which the guy was talking about the ocean and you’re looking at the ocean, it added a really beautiful layer that you don’t get in a video game which is nice.”

“I enjoyed discovering the island when it was really grey and really windy and really moody, and you were looking out listening to that thing, it was really invoking all those feelings of misery and sadness.”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

The layering of music and sound, diegetic and non-diegetic was referenced as an important factor in the experience:

“when I came across those moments of music it was like you know when you go into a new area in a game, and there’s a music change, it wouldn’t have made sense within the rules of this world that she’d created, in this real world that’s not mediated to have a speaker, within the rules of the space it only made sense to have live music.”

“The music didn’t work for me, my taste of music. […] a barrier to immersion, musicians in general.”

“The environment, the sensory elements, hearing the flute player and then hearing the waves slapping on the shore so these kinda created sounds along with these natural sounds all flowed really well together.”

“I found that the live, the site specificness of it and the sound of the waves was really well integrated into the audio in the ears. And the live element of happening upon the violins or the flute because it was from the same place as the audio composition it made the live, the sound of the sea, the live musicians, the audio digital composed stuff all brought that into one and then that connected me to the audio in the game which I found really good.”

“we were around the corner and there was the girl with the violin and it gave me a fright and it was awesome. Just sort of like walking towards an area and all of the sudden you hear music. Especially when you are listening to an audio clip and have your headphones on you’re not quite sure where it’s coming from, and then you realise there’s a violin player standing just around the corner”

“It was really dark and atmospheric and because it was live it made it so much more in the moment. The last part, the venue and the sound. Some of it felt like it tied the knot to the whole experience.”

“The voice, an actor, this kind of people have a way of putting words in the way they say it. I think his performance was stronger than the actor who does the voiceover in the video game. Although I did love the discovering as you were going around the individual musicians I did love that I thought that was lovely. And the way they stayed in character.”

“But I didn’t feel completely immersed in the experience because you are wondering around discovering the island because you were doing two things, and then you were listening to the story and then you were walking and then you were listening. If there was music in between, in the quiet bits, although I love the sound of the sea and the wind but because I had the headphones on I wasn’t getting as much of that. I mean the gaps were strange, you were discovering the island so you lost the story a little bit and then you remembered.”

“With the accordionist, I was kinda chasing him but not really wanting to get to where he was. It was something that you said about how the instruments seemed to be talking to each other. Yeah because they were playing fragments of the soundtrack so it gave them a similar voice, they all came together at the end in the final performance but it was nice to have the fragments of it as you were going around”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

The sound stimulated exploration and pushed the limits of the audience/players’ physical prowess:


“We were trying to find a sound file, and we got to a part that felt like we weren’t supposed to be in but that was where the phone was telling us to go and that was the part where I felt like it was really fun. And we got near the edge of the cliff when the recording finally started, it was nice in a weird, dangerous kind of way”


“I wanted to listen to the story, so I found myself standing in one place and looking with way more focus at details and things in the scenery, if I wouldn’t have had the audio experience I would have probably just slowly walk by it, but the audio actually forced me to stand in one place as well.”


“I definitely felt immersed in the experience. Especially when I couldn’t quite reach an audio clip, so I had to climb down onto the beach, just hearing the waves go back and forth, and seeing the beautiful sun reflect on the water, it was just really something else you know”


“We were saying this is the ultimate walking simulator, cause you don’t get all the information fed to you, you try to find it and some of it is a bit out of reach, and you sneak around an area, walk up to the edge. And these little blobs of audio that you’re trying to get to can get people into really weird locations, like standing right on the edge of something. Yeah places that you would not normally think to go to”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

Some audience/players discussed the audio as a motivator for exploration, a game-like objective, and how the sensory and the narrative sometimes lead to conflicting situations - to stay and listen and watch, or to move faster and ‘collect’ the whole story:


“We didn’t bag all 20 of the audio recordings but I think we did pretty well actually. It’s nice to know that you can go back though and listen to them, and I think I probably would go back and listen to them and spend a bit more time with them.”


“I rushed to try and get them all”


“I got most of the audio.”


“I thought it was interesting the mixture between first of all the gaming aspect, trying to get all the dots, trying to get all the audio clips, and then also standing in each place and I wanted to listen to the entire audio clip”

audience/players Inchcolm Project


Some of the discussions around narrative were focused on the designed narrative, the written text and how it was conceptually linked to the environment. I am calling these engendered narratives because there was a pronounced dramaturgical intention behind them, they were engendered by the author:


“And the weather, I realised, that the story sort of would have been so great even if it would have been a really good weather, or even if it would been a really bad weather, because if it would been a really bad weather it would just feed it, the atmosphere, but now because it was so good, it became such a contrast, to the story and sort of the darkness of the children getting the fake floating devices, and stuff like that, that was just heart wrenching, and the boats and life jackets, yeah the floaters, the baby floaters. A lot of thought was put into hiding little bits here and there.”


“The gases the bodies and the bodies floating to surface, and the description of how that happens, that was quite, I think of where we were standing looking right over the water, really grey and the water was going it was windy you were just looking over the water imagining. It was really dark.”

“The one that hit for me it was the parents who bought the life jackets for their kids and give them on to the kids and they just had, had this rubber tubes, and these rubber tubes actually worked while the life jackets were fake, they didn’t.“

“I had a moment when I was looking out on the Firth and it was explaining what happens to your body when you drown and it was really really intense and I found myself looking out and imagining all of that. We stood there for about 10 minutes.”


“I loved what they were wearing, I started projecting some kind of story, cause they were looking almost like refugees. I thought the costume was good I thought it really matched the feel of what she was trying to achieve. For me it looked like when you see images of WWII and people in their best winter coat.”


“There was one section where you’re walking along the grassy path at the edge of the cliffs and he’s talking about the seagulls, how they’re born and how they grow and how some of them die and are discarded, and you stood right there in the area that he was talking about, that was quite powerful actually”


“In a lived game you have choice over what order you experience the text, you unfold the narrative of the game. I was naturally putting the story that I was reading onto the place, a game wouldn’t have the same sense of history”


“The story was very interesting too. And haunting. Yeah, very dark. I like the way that it was like letters. It’s quite interesting going around and looking around cause so many things were not right in front of you, right on the path so you had to get off the path a bit and look into the distance.”


“why when you have this beautiful island and this beautiful experience does it have to be so sad and miserable and horrifying, instead of a joyous, happy experience?”


“I really enjoyed the story aspect of things but I think the environment where we were was really cool, just exploring the island, the story really added to it. The story was beautifully done which made exploring more fun and more interesting.”

audience/players Inchcolm Project


On the other hand, emergent narratives are the stories that the audience/players developed based on the text, the environment, the sound, and their own personal interpretation abilities:

“Everything has the potential to have narrative power as you walk around. Instead of having that typical attention that we have about what we’re doing, or in a walking sim you can follow a path, instead of doing that we kept stopping and looking at things, more so than we normally would.”


“It’s not a collect them all, the bits that you get help you piece together an experience for yourself, it’s not handed to you on a platter.”


“you were going through your own experience and your own interpretations and understanding of what you were hearing and seeing within the space you were in”


“I think that it was like a breadcrumb trail… It didn’t give you a tour or a direct story, little parts, they were disjointed and then you have to connect the dots at the end”


“The story… I’m… still in my head sometime after I still try to piece the little bits together.”


“I think the story it’s all there to, it’s just a hint of a narrative that you build extra on, so if you do see something you kinda build a narrative around it and you tie it together yourself, so it grows and grows without necessarily having to do anything.”


“We felt that we were going round to try and piece together the story, in the tour around the island. I’d seen the game, played it not very well, but I much preferred going round the island to try to piece together the clues and make up the story with the audio in my ears than I did being guided through a virtual space”.


“And then there was the strange note that we found because of our exploration, attached to the bush, which was cool, it was not part of the experience, but it was a nice little extra touch that was unintentional but really. It threw a curve ball to the story, almost, then it almost tied in, it was like we build our own story around it.”


“Yeah it was quite modular it was just you picked up the key story beats and then you formed it by talking through it.”


“but I got the story link, it wasn’t immediately apparent. I didn’t know if we were doing it the right way around, if the story was dependent on that or if you could just go anywhere. I was wondering about that as well, I think maybe you could get an idea, I don’t know if the whole motivation was just to discover it yourself.”


“Was the story linear or nonlinear, was there a preferred route to take? I think it could be experienced in any order, we went a weird way and if you find anything interesting it all forms an image in the end. More than Dear Esther which is quite linear I think that was good that you could experience it in any order”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

Interaction and Agency

The discussions about agency can be thematically grouped in two categories, a high degree of agency which was experienced during the performance, and a low degree of agency which was experienced during the projection.

The high degree of agency was associated with Dear Rachel where the audience/players felt that they made choices in terms of routes, rhythms, how and where to listen:

“We chose where to go and stand and which way to make our way around the island. The choice was to go and make the most of the experience. And try to absorb yourself and try to interact with other people. Add to it you were constantly making your own choices about where to go on the island, how long to stay in a space, if you walked out of the space and lose the audio do you chose to go back into it or chose to move on and go somewhere else. But yeah, I think you were constantly making choices a lot of the time without even realising it.”

“In terms of making choices I decided that the best thing for us to do would be to try to get away from the group.”

“I felt quite led by the physical environment and my desire to explore things physically, so a lot of the choices where physically to go”

“What I really enjoyed about the experience was having the agency and that being quite a solo experience”

“Agency. Oh yeah cause you could chose the way you wanted to go around the island.”

“a lived game you have choice over what order you experience the text, you unfold the narrative of the game. I was naturally putting the story that I was reading onto the place, a game wouldn’t have the same sense of history.”

“there are choices in there even in the way you follow. It could have been set up like a set route and then you wouldn’t have any, it would have been interesting to see how the experience would have been like, and how different that would have been. At a base level your agency is how long do you linger in places, do you listen to the whole excerpt or some of it, yeah, which direction you go, or if you just enjoy the scenery and don’t really pay that much attention to the sound excerpts.”

“You operating the mechanics of the game, with the first section I felt, that was the only section fully understood or that I would have a direct relation to gaming mechanism in performance, exploring, I actually felt like I was playing that, exploring physically. Playing through the rules, the first as a gaming, me manipulating technology. In terms of gaming.”

“We didn’t actual have the app, which I think was great, I don’t think that not having the app detracted from it. No, to be honest if I hadn’t known there was meant to be a technological aspect to it I wouldn’t have felt I was missing anything. I thought it set a nice tone, IT DID, as you’re walking around the island without knowing what the sound element was it was nice to have the performers there. I loved the atmosphere of it. I liked just randomly discovering them without following the map that we were given. It’s something that I quite like, especially because you’re on an island, so you’ve got such clearly defined parameters, you can’t wonder off, you can only go so far, and it was just about enough time to go around the island, so I don’t think there was anything we missed in terms of the live aspect, or it didn’t feel like it was.”

“Choosing the route I suppose initially. Where to go on the island first. The choice to put the map away, just exploring and seeing where we could go. It was all the little choices within it about where you went next and where you chose to be. And how long to linger.”

“The impression of agency that you get in gaming, we do actually have, although you had the windmill and the path was demarcated, you do have choices that are based on us as people to make. So yeah agency and choice it’s an important part of it.”

“In a way though for me the windmills gave me permission, they limit your exploration a lot like a real game.”

“The difference between, because you say the demarcation line, when you play a game that does the same thing where you can go is quite heavily marked, you don’t have a lot of freedom even though it implies freedom, this was extremely vague about where you could go, cause you could try to climb, so this was extremely opposite in that sense, I found that really interesting, I thought that was really cool.”

audience/players Inchcolm Project


Most audience/players felt an abrupt transition from actively exploring the island to passively watching a projected image that they have no control over:

“It took me longer to settle in.”

“Watching a recording of someone else playing a game was more observatory than participatory.“

“I didn’t feel like there was a tremendous amount of the actual gaming experience, it was like watching somebody else playing the video game, even though it was clear that it was a narrative thus telling us a story but it didn’t feel terribly much like a game.”

“I thought it would have been better restricted to the walk along the coastline of the island, the caverns, I know the Abbey it’s kind of cavernous and tunnel like and there are tunnels on the island, but it’s not the same kind of thing. While the walk along the coast would have felt like an extension of what we’ve just done, which was a walk along the coast of this little island.”

“The gaming: I didn’t follow, I disconnected from it quite often. Yeah, I was the same. Yeah, it was a bit harder to follow but maybe it was because you are not playing it, you are watching somebody else playing it.”

“It felt slightly jarring, going from your direct experience to passively watching somebody else do something in a virtual world, and I don’t know if it was necessary. I think it complemented although it was a different kind of experience.”

 “also in terms of transition, it took me a while of watching the game to understand some of those aesthetic links that you were talking about because I think for a lot of the beginning of what we experienced was a subterranean thing that you didn’t have in the live experience. So I think there was bits of watching that felt easier to connect with the experience that I just had physically.”

“[agency] It’s removed and then it’s given back at the end, with the boats.”

“I like the sense of feeling like I am creating meaning or contributing in some way. And in the second and third parts it was given to me and I was a witness rather than having a sense of play.”

“Yes. I mean it’s much more evocative of course when you have to do the work and make the connections yourself rather than passively watching something.”

audience/players Inchcolm Project


Some audience/players discussed the aesthetic of the projected image despite not having agency:


“The image was so strong that I was so engaged all the time. The image was really engaging, I was in, I was following the story. It was visually amazing creating the illusion of 3D, using the energy of the walls.”

“I loved the gaming bit, but I took that as a separate thing altogether. It didn’t join with the other things that were going on. It would be different if you did that yourself, if you’re immersed in that game yourself.”

 “Yeah absolutely immersed and absorbed. Probably I felt more so in part one, than part two projection. Which isn’t to say that part two wasn’t you know wasn’t really interesting as well it was just very different than part one.”

“I wasn’t entirely sure what the purpose of the projection was, it was really beautiful.”

“Even though it was really pleasant I didn’t feel like I was playing a game.”

audience/players Inchcolm Project

Dramaturgy of Assemblage

The process of meaning-making was aided by the continuity of the narrative themes, by the inclusion of the ‘initial’ text, the evocative environment (the island), and the recurring environmental and auditory motifs.

Most of the audience/players made the connections between the performance, the game, and the musical performance. The three elements, despite being perceived as distinct components of the experience due to their different experiential aesthetics, shed light on each other contributing to the overall process of meaning-making. This was made possible by the presence of the recurring thematic motifs in the narrative, environment and sound:

“It was something that happened while we were watching the video from the game that it’s based on when I realised that I was looking at the video but the feeling that I got during the day sort of came back to me, and I realised that it was so intertwined, what was happening, and the story, and the voice telling, and the music that you’ve been prompted with through the musicians during the whole day, it was just so, it was just so perfectly balanced, it was just so nice to get that. The experiences felt connected. Especially you walking around the paths all convoluted kinda going upwards it mirrored what you saw in the video game, the passages up, it was really nice. You can do things in the digital world that you’re not allowed to or not able to do in the real world so when you prime us the whole day with some feelings and some movements and the same kind of location you kind of looked at the rocks and looked at the island in the game and they look so similar, but you can never sort of fake somebody jumping off a giant mast or tower but you can do that in the digital world, so they like, they feed off each other. And obviously having the voice, the voice sort of melded everything into one world. And there were moments of glimmer as well, although it was dark there was light.”

“I was thinking oh we’ve already been all over the island and there were clues and things and stories and I was thinking of should I have been piecing more of this together than I have. It felt like it was a prequel, an introduction to what we have just done before. See, I felt the opposite, I felt like we were, I felt like the game was way in the past, and that we were witnessing the next iteration of the guilty and that was connected to the guilt of not being able to deal with the deaths of the refugees because there were some very specific explicit explanations about the life jackets. I felt las if I was retired to the island to live out the guilt of someone who couldn’t live with the guilt of the refugees in the same way that he couldn’t live with the guilt of Esther. I felt in a kinda deep sense there the idea of exploring guilt it connected. He jumped off the lighthouse and we’re flying around the island and the girl started singing, and I wasn’t too sure where it was coming. Yeah, it was really seamless.”

“Parallel narratives that shed light on each other. There are similar themes but the things that I took from each weren’t the same. And the theme for me it’s regret and looking back at things that you wish you have done. So then the picking up a boat and writing something that you feel guilty about, to me kinda says that’s you thinking about your own regrets and its your contribution to the story.”

“I felt as if I was retired to the island to live out the guilt of someone who couldn’t live with the guilt of the refugees in the same way that he couldn’t live with the guilt of Esther. I felt in a kind of deep sense there, the idea of exploring guilt connected them.”

“Tonally the two things were very beautifully matched. And it was very well designed in that sense. And it was great choice of site, yeah absolutely, it was fantastic. It didn’t feel as much as I work in progress as I expected it to.”

“I was really enjoying the story but I don’t think I heard enough of it, I don’t think I found enough of it. I didn’t feel like I found enough of the story although I knew it was something to do with the refugees and something to do with Rachel. I couldn’t quite understand, I understood that Rachel had died and that the children have drowned, and I had pieced this idea together, but I couldn’t make any round sense of it. It wasn’t until the virtual had happened that I then was able to go ah this is about people being on this island, the island is a metaphor for guilt, or piecing together stories about about things that you can’t control.”

 “To be honest playing Dear Esther doesn’t feel like playing a game. The game is kinda like that. It’s not mission based or quest based. It’s really difficult to explain what it is… It’s in fragments so it’s left to you to tease out what’s happened to this character and what the island represents. It’s left to you to decide. And I liked that that was the same in the installation pieces and with the performers performing fragments of the soundtrack to Dear Esther (and there was no particular order to it) and the visual cues like the life boats and the life jackets it is left to you to tease out what happened, but the tone is very much of the game, and very sombre so you’re drawn to certain sorts of conclusions. I think if you were to play the game you’d be surprised how much like our walk around Inchcolm it felt.”

“Especially when it seemed to play directly off the game which again is about ruins and the under-island caves, so I thought it set the tone very well using those spaces that were very well chosen, and I could see why they were chosen to go with that game, and why that game was chosen to within them.”

 “But then in the game the island is a beautiful place but it’s also not a very welcoming place as well, it’s dark, abandoned, there was no life but it’s still beautiful. It’s a memorial for him isn’t it. He made it into a memorial.”

“It was something real, I thought I missed it, I had this choice that I could have made and missed it so then I didn’t want to miss it. It added because it was nice to have that boat in your hand and then put it in the water, it mirrored what physically happened on the island as well as in the game.”

“For me it definitely linked to the video game part because there was a scene in the video game where it’s all dark and it’s cold for me that resonated with what I did I was actually quite scared because I couldn’t see a thing (and then there are things that lit up as well).”

“I struggled with that bit, understanding the connections, because the Dear Rachel stories I found it harder to bring that into watching the projection onto the wall. It did feel segmented but I didn’t mind that. It felt segmented because the live experience you had your headphones, you were going through your own experience and your own interpretations and understanding of what you were hearing and seeing within the space you were in, but with the video projection it was more of a group experience because we were all together.”

“When I got to the game part on the island it really did jolt. The live experience coming first it led you into that game, I really did feel as if that island was part of the one that I just experienced, I didn’t connect it back to when I played the game. In the virtual island I felt like I was connected with the actual island.”


“Really nice to be immersed in an environment. There’s something about seeing things live, that’s different from if you were playing in a game and you heard the same thing, it’s not quite the same, it doesn’t have the same feel to it.”

“Being in the environment was really great but listening to the story in the environment was what I was really interested in.”

“The semiotics always trying to make meaning of images and of what you see, I was constantly making meaning of the space and listening to what this person was saying, and then realising that we are in a dungeon, he was talking about a dungeon, you know hearing the thing and also being in the thing, it was really powerful actually.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project


The music and sound design acted as an additional thematic link between the embodied experience of the island and the virtual world of Dear Esther, creating additional recurring motifs:

“I think the music adds a lot, it gives you a theme. A motif that kept appearing throughout and then hearing it all together in a complete piece.”

“It was something that you said about how the instruments seemed to be talking to each other. Yeah because they were playing fragments of the soundtrack so it gave them a similar voice, they all came together at the end in the final performance but it was nice to have the fragments of it as you were going around. “

“The live aspect made me experience that atonement, finding myself making peace. Without that I would have been in a very dark… there would have not been a full stop to the experience, I would have left … the experience would have been left with a comma, I would have been left in a state of confusion. It gave a nice conclusion to the experience, and carried on the feeling, gave a nice feeling of peace.”


“you happen upon sound files and they were letters to Rachel, it’s sort of parallel to the game experience, they were quite cryptic clues I would say.”

“They were connected because the voice recordings seem slightly connected with the second part but not entirely connected.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project


Some audience/players used interaction to frame the process of meaning-making, drawing parallels between the experience of playing Dear Esther and the experience of exploring Inchcolm:

“I think I enjoyed the interaction, I played the game and found the interaction is really meaningless, a bit boring. In the game there’s stuff there and you can look at it and I was like is that it. But on the island I was like: oh crow’s feathers, they look like they could spell help. I felt like that was great, I was so much more engaged than I was in the game.”

“You didn’t get told where to go, it was nice that no one told you where to go. There were markers on the path but that was mostly for safety. And you could if you wanted to just go to the beach and stay there and don’t do anything. I think this made the experience. I think so too. I think that was one of the elements that made you feel like you’re not in a video game, so many times you’re in a game and you realise oh I should have started in the other side. It doesn’t make sense now. As a player you feel like you’ve done something wrong, you never have that experience here.”

“The custom of things to listen to, the custom of things to find. I played a lot of these kind of games and I felt like I was quite good at them but then doing it live and moving around a space it’s completely different.”

“I found it slightly confusing at times because I was perhaps trying to find connections where there weren’t any.”

 “I never played the game before but seeing that I could really relate it to what we just did, it felt like you watched it doing it.”

“I’ve never played it but when I was watching the projected part I was like oh, I wish I had known more about the game so that I could have appreciated the singing and the music a bit more cause it sorta tied in, tied the game together really nicely.”

“and yeah I think it’s because of playing the game previously and making connections in my head to the game and comparing them as I was going around which I enjoyed”

“I think it’s because of playing the game previously and making connections in my head to the game and comparing them as I was going around which I enjoyed.“

audience/players, Inchcolm Project


The audience/players were frustrated by the limited time for exploration which led to a fear of missing out. Most of them felt that a longer time dedicated to exploration would improve the experience and facilitate the meaning-making process:

“I felt that I would need more time. And that was maybe the thing that stopped me from being more immersed. It’s the fear of missing out, it’s distracting.”

“Limited time, a bit more time would have been nice. We missed out things that were very poignant and powerful in the narrative because we rushed through.”

“I did feel as if I missed things because we didn’t make it to the other side, I wanted to be able to do that, wander a bit more, rather than having to retire to the Abbey, the Abbey was great I would have liked more time to wander again, and maybe do it again. That’s a really good point I would have liked to go back out. I would have liked to have more time.”

“You need to be able to take it at your own pace. I would definitely do it again. More time for a better experience. It sounds like it could be quite a good niche for a thing to boost further.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project


Another aspect that was discussed was including more guidance to improve clarity and facilitate the meaning-making process:


 “I think I would have liked a bit more guidance, what to look out for and how to understand it.”

“If I had a bit more information understanding it, to understand the background as to the whole concept, it I had that I feel like it was probably me that I wasn’t connecting the two as well as I could have if I had a bit more information.”

“With the story I would have liked some reminders of what I’ve heard because I’ve forgot a lot there was just so much to absorb and take on and interpret that I felt a little bit overwhelmed and the stories were very very beautiful and the descriptions but because we didn’t hear all of the different parts of the story, I was aware that we missed parts.”

“Overall there were a lot of very interesting elements to this. The joining instructions could have been a little bit clearer.”

“Maybe a bit more background information on the boat about the project. Because it was such a special day such a special occasion and a lot of thought and effort was put into it.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project

Some audience/players suggested ways of making the transitions smoother through structural modifications:

“I think that possibly the theatrics of it could have started perhaps even when we were waiting to get on the boat, so maybe there was a bit more of a sense of anticipation as we went across that maybe some things were happening already, over the boat’s pa system.”

“Being led from one place to another, when you first arrive you were completely free to wonder and look around, and then these two things happen, as a group and it felt a bit disconnected. Perhaps if there have been, say somewhere where you encounter the game being played, and we can encounter that and leave it and then come back to it, just as we could revisit bits of the island. The disconnection is not in itself a problem, disconnection is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“I think it does heighten it but you need everyone to naturally congregate in the same point at the same time for that to work. That would have been perfect. I think it would be possible though to run an event like that where there isn’t a demarcation, people who do health and safety in a performance mode, for example having the ushers thematically dressed so that they’re already separated from us the audience, and they can have speaking parts, so that they can direct and support but do it thematically. In a performative way. Or have them in life jackets. Oh that would have been beautiful.”

“I wondered what it would have been like if the video game was at the beginning and then you explored the island. Only because towards the end of the video game journey the narrator is saying that he has written about it all over the island I was thinking oh we’ve already been all over the island and there were clues and things and stories and I was thinking of should I have been piecing more of this together than I have.”

“Another way of alerting us, another way in which we would have been summoned, other than the beginning.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project

For some audience/players the technical issues with app detracted from the experience:

 “A little bit of problem with the app. The app was a bit wonky. […] The technical things made you come out of the immersion, and that’s always a bummer because you really want to experience, because as you said when everything worked, when you were standing there looking into the distance listening to his words, everything made sense and everything was just great.”

“Some circles were in the sea, yeah some of them were in the sea.”

“The app was the weakest thing.”

“Yeah, I felt quite annoyed that I head the headphones on at times, I was trying to catch up with it, oh no I can’t go back to it, what have I missed, I was already feeling like I couldn’t understand the story very well. You come away from these things thinking about what you’ve missed.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project

Others found that not having the app did not interfere with the overall experience.


“Despite not having the app I felt pretty immersed.”

“We didn’t actual have the app, which I think was great, I don’t think that not having the app detracted from it. No, to be honest if I hadn’t known there was meant to be a technological aspect to it I wouldn’t have felt I was missing anything.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project


Whereas others found that the app, which took away the functionality of their phone, actually forced them to pay more attention to their lived experience:

“That’s what I was saying, because you were using the app all the time you couldn’t be taking photos when you were there, you had to properly get yourself into, you are surrounded by this stunning environment and you can’t take a photo of it…it actually made you appreciate the environment that you’re in.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project

Some audience/players found the map hard to decode:

“The addition of the map was interesting but it would have been nice to have the sensory zones marked on the map so you can put your phone in your pocket so you don’t have to fiddle with that. If you’re exploring with an actual physical paper map then it feels a bit more natural. Especially because it was hand drawn. The landmarks in which the audio plays in Dear Esther are not marked either. It would be interesting if you had no idea where you would experience the story, you could guide with the wind things, but having a surprise might be quite cool. The pinwheels the closer you are to a zone the less spaced out they would be, and then it would be a patch of pinwheels marking the zone.”

“I really enjoyed it but the map was confusing. It’s more relevant now that we know our way around it. It would have been nice if there was something in it that encouraged you to look at the map and mark things on it, to have a bit more interaction.”

“The boats are the spots for the sounds, that only occurred to me after when I was on the boat back.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project


Whereas others observed that the map was not a compulsory element and was only there for additional guidance:

“Yeah because we have the map as well it was intuitive in the sense that you completely made up where you wanted to go but you could use the map for reference.”

“I think maybe you could get an idea, I don’t know if the whole motivation was just to discover it yourself. Or if it was, because you had the map. We didn’t look at the map.”

“I liked just randomly discovering them without following the map that we were given.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project

Some audience/players commented on the opportunity to discuss with one another, and suggested how that could be pushed further:

“It’s kinda nice just to talk about it, and then you’re discussing what’s going on.”

 “It could be pushed more in terms of choice, in terms of the journey that different people can go on, what if they hear different things, how can you push the individuality of it. What if people were hearing different things, how you can push the individuality of it. Having a different experience than the person that’s walking next to you.”

“When we started talking about it, and we heard the same thing it was nice but it also feels like you’re checking a box. More intriguing if there are slightly different things, and when you start talking to the other people who heard something else at that position you start to piece together the narrative through collective conversation.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project

 Some audience/players even suggested further future uses for the project:

“I thought that part one where we walked around and listened to the sounds I think it would be really excellent to develop that as something for the general public to get engaged with, so hopefully that can get developed more so that people can download these apps and go on to the island, maybe not just on Inchcolm island, but on other spaces as well where this can get rolled out where people can visit a really special place and get a deeper experience, something more just to get you more creative, more cultural, or just to get you to think in a different way while you’re there, I definitely think that’s an idea that could be further developed.”

“And with a tailored game that’s written for this purpose that would be fantastic. That would be so exciting.”

audience/players, Inchcolm Project

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