Gone Home

Forethought:

Everything I've heard about this game makes me think it's going to be super boring.  I feel awful for saying that, but I just don't know if I'll be interested in the type of game that is completely based on walking around and looking at stuff.  I love game stories, but part of me thinks that this is one I won't.  However, given all of the incredibly positive buzz, I am checking it out, excited to be surprised.

Gone Home

I just finished Gone Home, and there's a tear stain on my cheek.  If you are even slightly on the fence about this game, or don't think it's the right kind of game for you, you should go play it right now.  You should have no reservations.  This is a game that needs to be played.

A feat of the medium.

It's going to be very difficult to write about Gone Home by The Fullbright Company without spoiling anything.  I will say that if you plan on playing it, just go do that first and then read this.  But I'm going to try to be as spoiler-free as possible for the remainder of this write-up.

In Gone Home, your name is Katie, and you have just returned home after a trip through Europe.  You've been gone for a whole year, and in that time your family has moved to a new house following the death of your father's uncle.  The very first thing you see when you arrive home is a note on the door from your sister, Sam.  It says she's gone, and won't be returning... and not to worry.

Obvious this is cause to worry, and it is this worry that propels you through the rest of the game.  Your early actions - reading a letter taped to the front door, and finding the key to that door - are indicative of what you do in Gone Home.  And that is all you do.  You walk around, you gather the story from objects you find in your new home, and your sister Sam occasionally speaks to you through voice-over.

Gone Home is billed and presented as a horror game, and presents itself appropriately.  The house (let's just say mansion) is dark and creepy, with secret passages that convince you something is going to pop out.  The game takes place during a terrible, horrifyingly loud thunderstorm that occasionally claps overhead, making you jump in your seat.

Mansions.  Why is it always mansions.

The game also takes place in 1995, and the 90's nostalgia is strong with this one.  Items you find include VHS copies of X-files episodes and a piece of paper with a Street Fighter's character's moves on it.  And these are two objects among hundreds scattered around the house - the most fully realized home in a video game without question.

But Gone Home is so much more than a horror game, and so much more than I could have possibly expected it to be.  I can't tell you what the story is about, and I can't tell you why it made me cry.  I can't even really tell you who it's about or how it relates to the home.  But the story is told so well, for so many reasons.  For one thing, the progression in Gone Home feels absolutely natural, and I was never once confused about where to go. 

The story is extremely well-written.  Like incredibly.  It is written so frankly and so honestly that, although I have not researched this at all, there is no doubt as to whether or not the subject matter had meaning to at least someone on the development team.  And the voice acting is unbelievable.  Sarah Robertson is a Portland-based voice actress and give life to the main speaking role in the game, and she is absolutely incredible.  She is so earnest, honest, and believable in her performance that she gives the game something that can't be programmed or bought by any large company - feeling.

The protagonist doesn't speak, with the exception of a message left on her parents' answering machine at the beginning of the game.  However, the well-written script extends to her as well - if an item that you're looking at affects her in some way, the tooltip to pick it up (rather than just saying "book") will read as her response to that item.  When you come across a relationship and sex help guide on your parents' dresser, for example, the text on the book simply says "ugh."

This is a perfect example of how much care went into the game.  You're in an completely abandoned house, and yet feels alive.  Or, lived-in.  I believed every bit of it.  The game made me feel like I was in a very, very real place.  At one point in the game, I stood in a bathroom, that was attached to a bedroom, that was attached to a hallway.  I could have closed any of these doors, but I didn't, and I was looking from one end of the bathroom all the way to the end of the hallway.  And as I'm standing there, taking a moment to think about what's happening, a light at the far end of the hallway flickers and dies.

Everything is where it should, and would, be.

I can't talk much more about Gone Home without spoiling it completely.  You need to play it.  If you know people who haven't picked up a video game in twenty years, or who haven't played one in their lives, they need to play it too.  Gone Home does things that no other video game to date has managed to do, and it is an incredibly powerful step forward in storytelling in this medium.  As someone who is beginning a journey into that world professionally, nothing could make me more proud of what I've chosen than what this game is able to accomplish.  That the creative heads of The Fullbright Company worked on Minerva's Den, the DLC and only emotionally meaningful part of Bioshock 2, is no surprise.  So, even though I have

Completed

Gone Home, I can't imagine that I will want to stay away for long.  I suspect that this will be a game I use to evangelize this medium to others, in much the same way as I did with Journey. 

This game was emotionally exhausting, so I'd like to look at what may be the most opposite game I can think of.  So, this Monday I'm going to take a look at the remastered game

DuckTales!