Today’s gamescape is fueled mostly by rage and snark, both of which have been ingrained in the culture forever, but the result is that every game discussed will have its fair share of lovers and haters. The emerging indie scene is flooded with new ideas that are trying to nail that balance between being unique and still being a game. Gone Home is one of those games. Unlike other titles that it gets compared to, many liken it to Papers, Please or Cart Life, which are ill comparisons. Additionally many like to slam it for not being a game but rather an interactive story, which on the surface can be true, but there’s more going on in Gone Home than you may think. It’s not “buried” or “hidden” or for “higher thinking gamers”, it’s just that we struggle identifying these things because we are so used to taking events in a game for face value. Oh yeah, and it has a socio-political message that many people in this country disagree with. It is impossible to discuss the controversy and value of Gone Home without spoiling the game, so I urge you to play it before reading this; however the reality is that many of you either don’t want to drop the lofty price tag, don’t game on PCs, or a slew of other reasons so feel free to read on.
Warning: Spoilers (I like redundancy when spoiling games)
Lets get the big 800 pound gorilla out of the way first. Gone Home revolves around and eventually ends with the success of a love between two women. That’s right, LESBIANS. This little fact has gotten a bunch of gamers to both praise and criticize the game on this concept alone. It’s bullshit, there’s nothing new or interesting about a lesbian couple in and of that sole fact. This is why I said that Gone Home doesn’t offer a new story concept – same sex couples are so widespread and in popular culture that this game would have been just as effective if it had been told with a straight couple. Now before you go attacking me for sexual bias, I don’t mind that the couple is gay, I frankly have no care who the partners are because the way it all comes together and the story of teenage love works with any two individuals on the planet, regardless of any identifiers like gender or sexuality. It’s even more effective that you don’t actually experience the love story because the two partners aren’t present in the game at all, their story is told through journal entries. Despite this fact, I feel that many people are promoting this game purely because of the same sex love story it tells or hating on it for the same reason. This crap has seeped into books, movies, and now video games and it needs to stop.
Gone Home does excel as a video game independently of its same sex controversy for many reasons. The way it tells the story having you as an outsider to the plot but still connected because it revolves around your family is brilliant. Thanks to locked doors and secret passages, a norm for video games, this mechanic is utilized as a way to withhold information and reveal plot points in a guided experience that has been an obstacle in video game storytelling from day one. Furthermore the suggested Mature rating and focus on teenage years made for a situation that ideally all players had experienced firsthand and could be oddly nostalgic. Couple that with the mid 90s setting for the game and anyone in their 30s probably literally lived this scenario aside from minor details. Gone Home also plays on your expectations as a gamer and throws them back in your face. At one point a light blinks on and off as a storm rages outside so you’re thinking “haunted house,” right? Nope, a home inspection in the game reveals faulty wiring that caused that to happen sometimes. In the bathroom of your sister you discover a note and a long red dried streak on the tub, which given the clear teenage angst and depression your sister has revealed in journal entries makes you think possibly suicide. Then you can laugh it off as you read the note and reveal that she simply died her hair red. Our draw as gamers for some glorified, tragic, or unrealistic twist was placated every step of the way down to the completely predictable happy ending. For all these reasons I find Gone Home to have much more in common with The Stanley Parable than with either Cart Life or Papers, Please.
Gone Home was a well-developed experience that wrangled me back into those confusing teenage years with a new perspective. Every detail down to the topics of the magazines, look and feel of furniture, and even the way the developer nailed the angry indie rock girl band from the time was spot on. Not only that but for once we don’t get a Romeo & Juliet tale and it turns out the misunderstood lesbian couple might actually be up to the “challenge” of succeeding in today’s world. It’s a shame that people’s beliefs get in the way of truly embracing this title because it’s irrelevant to the main theme (although some of the added complications in this game are only felt by same sex couples). I hate to think that a critical darling such as this would be plagued with the agenda of the conservatives and liberals, but the sad fact is that I believe that is just what has happened.