Gender and Secret Spaces in Gone Home

Space is a common link between games, which weaves the world that makes play possible. “A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space” by Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Morie, and Celia Pearce describes the use of space in games. “‘The defining element in computer games is spatiality,’” claims Espen Aarseth (Fullerton, Morie, Pearce, 2007), as it provides organizational structure in which games can operate. The Fullbright Company’s “story exploration video game” Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013), space can be interpreted through its atmospheric setting, which is characterized by gender, as well as through secret spaces.

One way that space can be interpreted and explored is in relation to gender differences. Early feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman states that, whereas men tend to upheave or destroy a space, “the basic feminine impulse is to gather, to put together, to construct” (Fullerton, Morie, Pearce, 2007). Though game spatiality has become more gender neutral today, elements of these gender differences can be seen in Gone Home. In this game, Katie returns home after a European trip to see her parent’s house in an abandoned state. Her sister, Sam, is nowhere to be found. In her absence, Sam has left the house in disarray. Letters and pizza boxes are strewn in various rooms and scrap papers litter the halls. Left to gather clues, Katie must figure out where her sister has gone. In this sense, Katie corresponds to Gilman’s notion of feminine impulse, to ‘gather, put together, and construct,’ while Sam’s behaviour leans more towards the masculine side, depicted through the unruly mansion.

Additionally, the spatiality in Gone Home is characterized by gender through its dual narrative – the voiceover from Sam narrating the game, and the pictorial evidence left behind by their great uncle Oscar. As Katie weaves her way through the halls, she discovers more clues to Sam’s whereabouts, but also stumbles upon Oscar’s obituary and will. Sam explains how the place is referred to as the “psycho house” since Oscar has been there, and this intertwines the two narratives together. The house is centred on these two narratives, both of which are essential in telling the tale.

Beyond this, Gone Home makes full use of secret space, which is space hidden away from intruders and prying eyes. Architecture professor Frances Downing explains that secret space can include “attics, root cellars, or under the stairs” (Fullerton, Morie, Pearce, 2007) – all of which are identifiable in Gone Home. Katie explores the mansion, finding a hidden passage to the basement, a trap door under the stairs, and a key to open the attic door. Each secret space marks a pivotal point in the game, where Katie gets one step closer to finding where Sam has gone.

Furthermore, secret spaces “often are places of power and control that cannot be known or invaded by ‘outside’ forces” (Fullerton, Morie, Pearce, 2007). This is observable in Gone Home as Katie roams the house. Sam’s journal entries narrate the way, and each reveals a little bit more about Sam, and what events culminated to make her leave. Her journal acts as a secret space, in this sense. It is a place “created for retreat, intimacy, enclosure, screening, and protection,” as Downing puts it. Sam had privately written about her budding relationship with her classmate, Lonnie, which is what ultimately prompted her to flee the house. She left to be with Lonnie, knowing that her parents would not approve of their same-sex relationship. Sam entrusts Katie with this information, but begs her to “please, please don’t go digging around trying to find out where I am” (The Fullbright Company, 2013). Her journal and its contents are meant to remain private.

This use of secret space in Gone Home is how Sam’s story is revealed, while the gender duality is meant to characterize the atmosphere in the mansion. This use of spatiality allows Katie to find out what has happened to her sister, and it is, indeed, what defines this exploration game.

– Natasha Truttmann

Works Cited

“About Gone Home.” The Fullbright Company. The Fullbright Company, 2013. Web.

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 Age and Culture Conference: The Future of Digital Media Culture. 2007.

Gone Home. The Fullbright Company, 2013. Steam.

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