Games finally grow up and rebel against their parents
Video games have largely won the battle over whether the count as art, yet genuine, emotional experiences are few and far between. Most entries in the medium are the rough equivalent of popcorn flicks. The goal is largely to entertain and any message they impart is secondary to whatever thrill is most associated with the genre. Gone Home is not that kind of game. It feels more like an indie film as a powerful work that eschews genre convention to avoid entertainment in favor of a message. Gone Home isn’t for everyone, but for those looking for more narratively meaningful experiences, video games have few better things to offer.
You play as Katie, a college student who returns home to find an empty house and a message from her sister saying she has gone. As you wander, you investigate clues in the form of everyday objects left strewn about. Letters, notes, books, and trash are your window into the world that continued on while Katie bounced around Europe. These objects tell an intimate tale of a family embroiled in the everyday struggles of life with stories expertly written and voice acting that brings these characters to life. Though there are postcards and old items of Katie’s, she feels like an intruder. Katie’s return is less of the focus than the people she left behind and the lives they led. By the end, Gone Home has created a number of fleshed out characters without ever showing their face. It’s quite an achievement.
Gone Home is most charitably described as a game about exploration. You wander through the house guided by locked doors and limited corridors with only an “interact” button to engage with the world. The game’s very limited puzzle solving feels more like an extension of its exploration element than an attempt to interject actual gameplay. Still, the story is so interesting and the game is so short (under 2 hours) that you’ll easily finish it in one sitting. This is a game meant to be experienced in one shot anyway. Anything more and you risk undermining the feeling that developer Fulbright Studios worked so hard to create.
Gone Home isn’t perfect. Gameplay is lacking, the young love story can get nauseating (in the developer’s defense, young love is always nauseating), and it flirts with horror themes before jumping into the meat of the experience. Still, this is as close to art house cinema as gaming has gotten. It imparts meaning in a way that few games can and introduces characters all the more real for not being there. If you’re looking for the potential of video games, consider this one.