Alberto D’Onofrio Micro Essay – “Gone Home”: Gender and Poetic Space


By: Alberto D’Onofrio (6328849)

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In my introduction to independent video games, one game that impressed me on a tactical, artistic and thematic level was Gone Home, a 2013 first-person interactive video game developed by Fullbright. The game is designed in a non-linear exploration approach that certainly differs from my usual video games of choice. Looking over my video game collection, these include Call of Duty: Black Ops, Grand Theft Auto V and the Batman: Arkham series. Gone Home differs from the precedent games because of the its poetic and gendered construction of digital space. Written work from video game theorists Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie, Celia Pearce and Lana Polansky will be used in support of Gone Home’s unique form – a video game that offers a poetic and female-gendered experience to the medium.

Professors and authors Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie and Celia Pearce define space as, “Its physical dimensions, or by its mathematical, material, or geographic properties. It may also be understood as a social practice or psychological phenomenon” (Fullerton, Morie, Pearce 2). Connecting this terminology to video games, present game industries’ focus is to produce realistic renditions of space, hence “game space”. However, a male-dominated approach has isolated the female demographic from as Fullerton, Morie and Pearce label it: Dangerous and Contested Spaces. Based on, feminist theorist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s observation of male versus female tendencies, the masculine aggressive impulses have led the spaces in a male-dominated medium to be “dangerous and always contested” (Fullerton, Morie, Pearce 3), such as spaces simulated in video games like Call of Duty, GTA V and the Batman: Arkham series.

Gone Home utilizes Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s observation of female tendencies “to gather, to put together, to construct” (Fullerton, Morie, Pearce 4) and sets the player in a female character’s first-person observational space. For example, one of the first objectives is to unlock the door to the mansion (the main setting of the video game) and the player needs to find the key which is stored inside a cabinet under a toy duck. It is not as one-directional as it sounds, because the player can interact with any object that’s available in the process. The game space is entirely different than Bioshock 2, for example, but it is important to note that video game designer Steve Gaynor developed both Bioshock 2 and Gone Home (Connolly 1).

While Bioshock and Gone Home seem like polar opposites, they share a common interest in poetic environments. As game critic and writer Lana Polansky explains, Bioshock invites the player to navigate in an environment with an “established past” that invokes themes and provokes feelings and atmosphere intended by the video game designers (Polansky 5). Gone Home accomplishes this. Loneliness is a theme felt in the game. The character is alone in a mansion and the atmosphere is dark and unnerving with a thunderstorm taking place. This provoked similar feelings in me as I was immersed in its environment (I even got startled by a few heavy thunder claps). A player can also interact with detailed objects within the environment that invokes an established past. For example, there is a segment where the player can read inside a diary. The interaction with the space and its objects is a unique form of poetic storytelling that the video game designer accomplished in relation to Polansky’s explanation of poetic video game spaces.

The previous descriptions justify the game’s poetic sensibilities that definitely differs from my selection of male-dominant video games. It also demonstrates a female orientation with a female lead character in a domestic and non-violent role. In Gone Home’s case, it is the male video gamers that are being invited into a female-dominant video game and not vice-versa as presented in Fullerton, Morie and Pearce’s article subsection: Girls in Boyland. This definitely proved for an engaging video game experience on a playable and theoretical level.

List of Works Cited

2K Marin. Bioshock 2. Take-Two Interactive. 2010.

Connolly, Matt. “Why Indie Games Studios Can Get Away with Innovation and Woman-centric Storylines.” Mother Jones. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

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.

Gaynor, Steve. Gone Home. Fullbright. 2013. Mac OS X

Polansky, Lana. “The Poetry of Created Space.” Bit Creature. 5 October 2012.

Rockstar Games. Grand Theft Auto V. Take-Two Interactive. 2013. PS3

Rocksteady Studios and Warner Bros. Games Montreal. Batman: Arkham series. Square Enix, Time Warner, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2009-2013. PS3

Treyarch. Call of Duty: Black Ops. Activision. 2010. PS3

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