I have finished The Vanishing of Ethan Carter multiple times now, and I’d like to share my thoughts and findings on the game’s story. The game itself is a relatively short one, with simple game mechanics, but it grabs you from from the very first second with the following warning: "The game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand." This message is the beginning and the end of the tutorial. Nobody forces the story to the player. It is entirely up to them how much of the story they want to take in. You can run through the game and get the basic understanding of what happened, or you can go slow and dive into the deepest and darkest corners of Ethan's story -- which is what I am going to do here.
The “no hand-holding” approach is quite a fresh one in the video game narrative world. In this post, I will try to let all of the clues I found form a bigger picture; I will try to solve this jigsaw puzzle of a story. Initially the plan was to make a tutorial material for narrative designers, but I think this analysis can also be interesting to any players who completed the game and wanted to know how much they missed, or simply wanted to relive the story again. My own warning, though: please do not read any further if you haven’t played the game yet. This place is full of spoilers, and they will ruin the joy of discovery that the game offers.
Disclaimer: All that is written below is my personal understanding of Ethan's story. I'm not the developer, and thus I might have made mistakes, had incorrect interpretations, missed something important or found meaning where there wasn’t any. I can also totally feel the incompleteness of this work. If you find an error, please tell me in the comments. I will update this article whenever any new information becomes available, so keep looking for updates. The history of updates can be found at the end of the article.