Gaming

Go Home if You Don’t Like ‘Gone Home’

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Spoilers for Gone Home’s story ahead.

Readers, do you know that I have a list of posts I plan to write for Princess vs Peril? And that this list has been some of the same things on it since the site started because I get distracted by something new and shiny?

Today that shiny thing is Gone Home, which I had originally been hesitant to pick up because I’m a big wuss and it looked scary. Then I found out it’s a love story and that the scariest things are the weird house noises and that there is no creepy Amnesia-esque monster out to get me. Then it turned out my mid-2007 iMac was too old to play it without being severly choppy. But it is the Christmas season, and I have a new iMac that can keep up with modern indie games.

Any comments about PC vs Mac vs Consoles will be marked as spam and deleted, by the way.

Wow, where was I? Gone HomeGone Home is another visual novel esque game that relies on you to fully explore your surroundings to understand the events that have taken place. Set in the mid-1990s, older gamers are going to find themselves almost perfectly at home in the Greenbriar’s house. You are Katie, a young woman who has returned home from a year abroad to find the new home your family moved into while you were away is deserted. Your parents and your younger sister are nowhere to be found, the house hasn’t been fully unpacked or renovated, and there are notes and memos littered everywhere. Like The Path, this is a game that wants you to take your time exploring, for there is much to learn about what has happened in the lives of your family while you were gone.

There is something wonderful about Gone Home, from the sound of the rain outside to the casual clutter of a lived-in home. The Riot Grrl zines and pins, the mixtapes, and the handwritten notes are all pieces of a puzzle. Katie’s parents are trying to get their marriage back the way they want it (much to Katie’s displeasure of finding the proof of such things), and Sam is finding it hard to fit in at a new school when she lives in what is known locally as “the Psycho House.” Their dad is a writer and having trouble finding a publisher, let alone ideas to write, and their mom has been hard at work with a handsome co-worker she’s written to a college friend about. The developers of this game have worked hard to create the details that add dimension to these characters, and their love shows.

Sam's room.

Sam’s room.

As you explore the house you find letters from Sam to Katie, leading up from moving in to the new house to Sam’s midnight flight. You learn about her, about her vulnerabilities and her frustrations, and she tells you about Lonnie. Lonnie dyes her hair red, drives a motorcycle, participates in ROTC, and plays Street Fighter at the 7-11 because this is the 90s and you used to be able to play arcade games in 7-11s. Together they go to music shows and hunt for ghosts in Sam’s creepy house. They start a zine to smash the patriarchy, and Lonnie joins a band as their singer. She makes bootlegs tapes for Sam. They fall in love.

There comes a point where Sam talks about her parents and their reaction to her and Lonnie. She expected anger and disappointment, but instead received denial. That what she was feeling was just a phase, even though the dirty magazines and explicit notes you find hidden in the house are very to the contrary.

nope.jpg

nope.jpg

Readers, Gone Home is one of the rare pieces of media that may get right what it’s like to be a queer teen in a family who loves you but does not understand you. Who do not hate you, or resent you, but have not reconciled you as more than just an extension of them. Coming out is difficult, even when it is on your own terms. Sam did not have the luxury of the situation being on her terms, and instead it was in response to a series of events leading up to the school calling her parents. Being a teen and queer, especially when your parents know, leads to a totally different experience. Where before you may not have been allowed to have the opposite gender over alone in your room, now the same limitations are placed upon you with those of the same gender. Despite their denial and their disrespect of your identity, the rules change, and it is hard not to resent this dismissal. Hell, it may not even be any easier as an adult to come out. (A good look at coming out can be found here via Lifehacker’s Adam Dachis.)

And, of course, because this is a visual novel, a casual game, the negative responses to this game have managed to force their way in. What would have been great room for criticism is instead eye rolling and all-out dismissal of the LGBTQ community, all because this game does not have “gameplay,” that it is not a “real game” but “a glorified movie.” Because this game chooses to give you a mystery to uncover rather than set up rows for you to shoot, because this game has no achievements to unlock, it is said to have no story. Forgive me, readers, while I descend into a frothing madness about the current generation of gamers and the complete lack of ability to think critically in response to what is put in front of them.

Just because this is not a game for you does not mean it isn’t a game for someone else. There are many positive responses to Gone Home to counter the negative, and if the market says they want something, then there is room for it. It does not have to cater to everyone. It doesn’t even have to cater to you. There is value in casual games as much as their is value in top-selling mainstream titles, and there is certainly value in exploring new ways to tell stories in video games.

Gone Home could have ended up on a negative note, but it didn’t. It genuinely surprised me by letting Sam and Lonnie have a happy ending, an ending that lets them run away together to be themselves and damn the rest of the world if it stands in their way. It is hopeful. It is tender. It is foolish. There were times while playing I was afraid of what I would find up those attic stairs once I finally found the key, and I’m glad my fears were unfounded. So thank you, Fullbright Company, for making a game that gives those kids their fairytale ending, because there are plenty of people who will happily wait for them come home when they’re ready.

Purple-haired Pepper Potts.

1 Comment

  1. Kelly

    January 5, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Gone Home is really so lovely and I loved that the ending made me feel better about life rather than worse. I’m so glad this game was made.

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