Consider this a spoiler warning for those of you who’ve not played Gone Home yet and want to keep it fresh. Plot points will be discussed etc.
Earlier today I tweeted some thoughts about recent wander ‘em up, Gone Home.
Been thinking a lot about Gone Home lately. I really liked it but I’m confused as to why it’s being celebrated for its love story.
It’s fairly typical romance stuff. I didn’t feel that invested in it. Possibly because there was no visual representation of the characters changed. The game hints at how your sister has changed in the time you’ve been gone but could have shown it explicitly with photos.
The biggest emotion I felt from it was the sense of dread as I approached the attic! But that was just a red herring.
That sense of dread was far greater than any straight horror game I’ve played in a while as well. But it was all for nothing really.
I liked Gone Home, but I think it’s being celebrated for all the wrong reasons.
Now, I really should clarify what that last tweet means. One of the reasons why Gone Home has been praised is its depiction of a same sex relationship. It is indeed a sad fact of life that this should be the case. Typically within games, lesbianism is the Katy Perry fantasy kind designed to inspire erections for FHM readers.
Gone Home is really just a collection of stories that you discover as you play through. Each of your family members has their own crisis of conscience to muddle through. Dad Terry, the failing writer. Mom, the weary housewife possibly planning an affair. And Sam, the young woman falling for her classmate Lonnie.
All of their tales are solidly told reaching their natural conclusion. A new publisher shows interest in Terry’s work. The parents start to work through their marriage issues. Sam and Lonnie ride off into the sunset. Oh and there’s a sidestory about a murderer who used to live in the house but don’t worry about that.
But for me the story of Sam and Lonnie as well written as it is, doesn’t really go beyond the surface. We get no real sense of Sams development from a gifted art student to a riot grrl. Except through her letters and tape collection. Gone Home also commits the heinous crime of portentous, exposition filled voiceover. To remind us of the emotional experience we’re having.
By far the most powerful emotion I felt throughout was dread, as I made my approach to the attic. There were strong hints that something BIG was locked away. The most obvious being Sam informing us she’d no longer need her room. I’d spent several hours getting to know this person and now there was a very real chance I’d find her corpse. But this was for nothing when I found the final note revealing Sam had run off with Lonnie.
Gone Home demands that we’re invested in this blossoming relationship. But these characters only seem to exist for the purpose of falling in love with each other. Further compounded by the fairy tale ending which stopped just short of playing ‘Love lift us up where we belong’.
And here’s what rubs me up the wrong way. Gone Home is really just a solid story competently told but in the gaming world it’s seen as a masterpiece. This quote from a review by GamesTM offers a glimpse why - Gone Home is the kind of work that will impress people who write off the medium because of the prevalence of guns in commercial titles. Here lies the snobbery and compartmentalization at the heart of it all.
Because y’see dear reader, us gamers crave validation from those who write off games. We want our hobby recognised by the ‘norms’ as a legitimate cultural force. LOOK AT THIS GAME ABOUT A YOUNG GIRLS SEXUALITY! WE’RE GROWN UPS NOW! FOR GODS SAKE HIDE THE MARIO PLUSHIES! Well I say, bother that nonsense! Why do we need their approval anyway?
There’s not a lot here that demands that this story could only be told through a game. Player agency is extremely limited, you’ll go through this house the way you’re told and like it. No branching story lines or multiple endings that could have changed the entire meaning of the game. There’s no subtext here, it is what it is.
And hey, that’s fine. As an experience on its own, it’s entertaining enough. Teasing you with glimpses of a horror game that could be. With its constant background noise of rain, there’s a sense of isolation and menace walking around an unfamiliar house on your own.
But there’s part of me that wishes there was more to it. It’s a point in its favour that I wished there was more of it but I feel like I’ve been promised a roast dinner and given a packet of crisps.