A big thank you to the Midlife Gamer community for the appearance of Gone Home in this year’s awards list! Back in October, I urged you all to play this absolute gem of a game, and here it appears, thanks in no small part to the vote of sufficient members of the community, myself included, who deemed the game fit enough to be part of our game of the year discussion. The fact that it appears in Joint 10th is a measure of it’s ability to leave such a lasting and powerful impression.
Created by The Fullbright Company, a three strong team of ex-irrational employees, unsurprisingly the strength of the game lies in it’s sense of world building and environmental storytelling, and in a similar fashion to games such a System Shock and Bioshock, the game is best enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible. It is there the similarities stop, as in Gone Home, there are no guns, no crazed enemies, no chiming objectives.
Know this much: you play a young woman, who has returned to her family home after a year travelling around Europe. In this time, your family, consisting of your Father, Mother and your younger sister, have since moved to a new house, 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.
To further illustrate the attention to detail that seeps through every aspect of the setting and the objects within it, here’s our very own Elsa Bartley, otherwise known as marmaladegirl, to offer an interesting insight into the methods used by Fullbright to create a real, believable place:
“I saw one of the team talk about it at Gamecity and he talked about generational handwriting. How different older people’s handwriting is, due to being taught penmanship. So he had his mother in law I think it was write the notes from Sam’s mum. This attention to detail and the other artifacts in the game all build into the experience. Be it a Christmas duck or creepy babies on loo roll.”
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 can’t say much more; the minimalist nature of the game deserves a minimal amount of foreknowledge. Gone Home is a defining 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 praise the game received upon it’s release as another example of an intellectual and quirky work being fervently championed by the gaming press. 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 if you have yet to do so, for whilst its duration is brief, it’s impact is not.