With the Midlife Gamer Community awards fast approaching, I urge you to play this absolute gem, a gem of not just gaming, but also of narrative storytelling, before you make your final judgements. Emotion is a word often tossed around by game developers with increasing abandon as we enter a cross generational phase. David Cage talks of how many polygons he is increasingly calling upon to empathise with his characters, and developers such as Dice talk about the emotion that can be displayed on a character’s face to increase the immersion in their latest blockbuster. Gone Home creates more emotion and empathetic attachment to it’s featured characters on a mid range PC and with no facial modelling outside of relatively primitive visual rendering of photographs than the scramble of ‘Triple-A’ developers chasing this most elusive of goals.
The game is best enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible, making this feature difficult to judge. Know this much: You play a young (read: late teen to early twenties) girl, who has returned home from a year traveling around Europe. In this time, your family, consisting of your Father, Mother and your younger sister, have since moved to a new home, and it is on the porch of this new abode that you find yourself at the beginning of the game.
Played from a first person perspective, you find the house empty, still in some state of transition, and littered with notes from your family. Arriving in the middle of a dark and stormy night, you as a player, and the character you play, are both faced with a situation where you are exploring a very unfamiliar place for the first time. This inspired design choice is further reinforced by the sense of place that is created, and the variety of objects that you can interact with. Despite being unfamiliar, the house feels like a home, and reminders of your family’s presence are encountered at every turn of your mouse. Calendars with appointments, posters of musicians, post-it’s on fridges, photographs on shelves, all contribute to create an environment that is eerily alien yet warmly familiar.
There is a creeping sense of dread, and some effectively discomforting moments of uncertainty created very early on, hinting at horror and a real sense of unease within the household. There is a sense of severe discomfort created, but this is not a horror game, just one that hints at it. As you progress more of the narrative unravels via the environmental objects you choose to interact with, pick up and inspect. There is much to manipulate and much to miss, creating a game that begs to be run through more than once.
Yes, Gone Home is short; two to three hours if you take your time. The time you spend with it however is glorious, and you will spend much more time with the game once with the credits close, as the effects of the narrative will cling to you days after you close it down. It is also very dense, creating an environment that contains a myriad of secrets and subtle hints that are easy to miss. There are several layers to the story that can be easily missed if you don’t look at certain objects, or open certain doors.
I don’t really want to say much more; the minimalist nature of the game deserves a minimal amount of reportage. It is a huge achievement in interactive narrative, a personal and affecting story that could only be told via the medium of videogames. It is easy to dismiss the clamour of indie aficionados, as games are selectively championed and promoted in the name of originality, but put any cynicism aside, because this game is sincerely legitimate – it is one of the most important games of the year, and you should experience it.