Micro Essay: Gone Home and the Female Conception of Space

The Fullbright Company’s award-winning game Gone Home has received much praise for its engrossing story within emotional and poetic environments. The interactive-story nature of the game reaches to a broader audience, allowing vast exploration within intimate spaces, catering to both a male and female audience of all ages. The eeriness of the atmosphere is emphasized within the first minutes of the game. The player is greeted from a trip abroad by a dark and empty mansion, heightening the anxiety of the player, ultimately leaving them isolated within a large space. The stress of the situation leads to the player asking themselves: “What exactly happened here?” .

The use of secret space within Gone Home is what is most appealing about the game. Players are invited to discover and explore the secret spaces of the mansion, which in turn reveal secrets about Kaitlin’s sister, Samantha, as well as other members of her family. Players discover secret passages , which connect to new explorable areas of the home, while piecing together the narrative. In A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space, Fullerton, Morie and Pearce state that “[…] female-framed secrecy presents a very different set of play mechanics and design possibilities”, which is apparent in Gone Home‘s design. For instance, you cannot access a certain area of the mansion without X in order to discover Y. The base of this mechanic relies on the player’s innate desire to discover pieces of the narrative, which ultimately is the point of the game. This ties in to the atmospheric design of the game: a domestic labyrinth which, despite being a familiar environment to the protagonist, contains information unknown to her, which we, as a player, must discover. Unlike many other games, in which further exploration outside of the main missions are meekly rewarded (bonus EXP or goods), the player in Gone Home is greatly rewarded through the discovery of different plot points, which tie together loose ends within the narrative. The addition of secret passageways and the narrow attic lead the player to sympathize with Samantha, as these environments reflect her inability to express herself within the household.

Fullerton, Morie and Pearce explore the possibilities of the domestic space as being “a site of play and pleasure […] [yet] it can also connote stifling captivity for women”. The authors relate the captive domestic space with Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper “in which a woman is confined in a deteriorating room by a loving yet paternalistically controlling husband”. The element of a woman in captive space in The Yellow Wallpaper can be paralleled with Samantha’s character, in Gone Home. Her antagonizing parents dismiss her homosexuality as simply being a “phase”, and she cannot express her love for her secret-girlfriend Lonnie within the privacy of her home. She expresses her feelings for Lonnie outside of the domestic space (school, friends party). However, unlike in The Yellow Wallpaper, in which the narrator is “freed” yet remains trapped within her madness, the culmination of the suffocation within Sam’s home leads her to run away with Lonnie, as she is finally free. Asking only of her sister not to go through the trouble of looking for answers, but that she will be seeing her someday. Her message to Kaitlin reveals that she ultimately does not want to return to a life of secrecy, and that she has finally reached independence.

Furthermore, according to the article, “domestic space […] has been largely absent from gaming”, as compared to most literature and film. Not many games contain adventures within a domestic space, and most homes in games provide extra items or information about the quest, but do not go much further than that. In Gone Home, the quest is strictly within the grounds of the mansion, as your character is unable to step outside. Some gamers might find this mechanic constricting, but within the context, it works. There is no urgency to step outside, due to all the secrets being inside the home. There is no need for a DLC allowing you to search for your sister and Lonnie, as the purpose of the game is to explore the mansion and to discover information using the objects within the space as clues. Moreover, Fullerton, Morie and Pearce relate the domestic space to “ [a depiction] and [embodiment of] a transitional space between girlhood and womanhood”, which, in this case is Samantha’s sexual coming-of-age. The intimate setting allows the gamer to better understand the emotional undertones of each interactive object, whether it be a note or a picture frame, as they delve deeper into the lives of Kaitlin’s family. The player’s choice on how much extra information he/she is willing to discover about the family relies on the player’s willingness to interact with every piece of furniture, door, object or note.

As Polansky explains in The Poetry of Created Space, “[there] is emotional power in finding the scrawlings and journal entries and garbage of the people who used to be here, and the relationship they had with their environment”. The heavy reliance on atmosphere and environment interactivity within The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home allows for a game containing rich character development and exploration within the domestic space. The developers meticulously created environments containing narrative-driven objects, which, in other games, would have been merely reduced as fillers.

Jessica Turcotte

 

References

Fullerton, Tracy, Morie, Jacquelyn and Pearce, Celia. “A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space.” Proceedings of perthDAC 2007: The 7th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference: The Future of Digital Media Culture. 2007. http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-074-a-game-of-one%E2%80%99s-own-towards-a-new-gendered-poetics-of-digital-space/

Polansky, Lana. “The Poetry of Created Space.” Bit Creature. 5 October 2012. http://www.bitcreature.com/criticism/the-poetry-of-created-space/

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