So, I am going to preface this with the following statement: There will be spoilers in this post about the game “Gone Home”. So, if you don’t want spoilers, I suggest that you stop reading now.
I purchased Gone Home on 6/25/2014 – A little over a year ago. I played it for two hours, completed it, and uninstalled it. If that were most games for me, I would have forgotten about them and they would have been left to rot in some long-forgotten corner of my memory, wasting away like such cyberspace dust.
But Gone Home was different. There were no bad guys to beat. There were no enemies at all. In fact, the game had no combat simulation at all, or even any attempts at horror or scare tactics, like you might expect from a game set in a deserted house in the middle of a stormy night.
There were parts of the game that were pretty unbelievable. Like the fact that you suddenly discovered secret hidden rooms and panels in a house your family lived in for years. Or that there was an entire hidden section of the house that you’d never even thought might exist. It just rang hollow, but that was alright. I’m able to overlook some flaws for something that’s engaging.
The world was set in the 90’s, and the feel was perfect. There were VHS tapes everywhere, cassette tapes, crazy buttons and the like. It really felt like you were back in the 90’s, which played to my sense of nostalgia a lot. But what I remember most about the game was the story, and how conflicted I was about the ending, and the twists I expected, but was afraid they wouldn’t be brave enough to pull out. (Or tacky enough, perhaps, because it might have felt pushy or preachy had they included one of the twists.)
See, you follow a series of notes/journal entries about your younger sister, and it ends up that she’s Gay. Which was an expected twist, which I thought was relatively obvious within like, the first five minutes of playing, if I remember correctly. I expected, and felt a sense of palpable dread, that she would kill herself by the end of the game, and you’d find her body in the attic toward the end of the game. That was a twist I had hoped for, but didn’t expect. They went with the semi-typical happy ending, though, where the younger sister gets the girl and run away together to make a life.
It may have been a bit too “shock value” feeling to have the sister dead in the attic, but I feel the payoff would have been worth that label. Of course, some people claim the writing for this game was lazy, but I’m not sure I agree. It wasn’t stellar, that’s true, but I think it had me engaged enough that I felt good about the sister getting her happy ending, even if I was wanting something else to happen.
I wonder how I would feel about the game if I did get the payout that I expected. If the sister’s dead body had been found upstairs, with a suicide note clasped tightly in her clenched fist. The fact that all of the notes headed toward that ending, and I’ll always wonder if there might have been a developer or writer who really wanted that to be the payoff.
I think a game like this had a lot of potential to tell different stories. There could have been several endings, based on your decisions throughout the game, and I think that would have been particularly rewarding for players. But that would have also required a lot of work on the part of the writers and the developers as well, although maybe not as much for the developers. And maybe that’s where the criticism for lazy writing comes from.
There’s another game similar to this one, (insofar that it reaches outside the normal realm of Gameplay in an attempt to change the narrative around how we play games) that worried me when I backed it on Kickstarter. It was called Elegy for a Dead World, and it is an exercise in creative writing. I feel they were particularly lazy with the “gameplay” aspect of this game, and as a result it hasn’t been a stellar success, (although it was a success for the game maker, it seems.) Bur I feel that it has set back, by not being a “stellar” option, but receiving a lot of notice in the per-release stage, games that might have followed in its footsteps.
Gone Home has done the same. Perhaps another game with a similar story model and design can do better, helping to change the narrative of the types of stories we play. But I think they’ll be compared to Gone Home to an extent, and while I loved the game and it resonated with me, I don’t think it was quite as good as it should have been for the attention it received.
But that’s just me.