By: Alexandre Cote-Benoit
Gone Home is an incredible game. It has become of one of my favourite games. It might due to the open narrative structure used throughout game which is radically different from the standard fare AAA game. It tells its story through objects found in the world and its environment. The fact that is it set against a 90s backdrop, where written messages and music were still very much physical things, also helps it tremendously. It also has a wildly different story than that of paint by the numbers AAA games.
From the outset, the protagonist is standing out on the porch of this massive house that the protagonist’s parents have just moved into, it’s raining outside and it’s also 1995. She’s come home from a year of traveling Europe. Her bags are on the floor next to her. A note from her sister is stuck to the door: she is apologizing for not being able to be there. The player is free to poke around, pick up things, flip them around, find the key under the “Ol’ Duck” and gain access to the house. They are left to figure out where everyone went. Certain objects when picked up trigger the main character’s sister’s voice, who reads entries from her diary about life in the new home. How do these pieces fit together? Why aren’t your parents there? Where’s your sister? More importantly why can’t she be there to greet you? The game won’t tell, save where the has sister gone, what has happened. It is up to the player to answer these questions, the answer will not spelled out. Much like parallels the Ozymandias poem and Fallout 3 that Lana Polansky explains in “The Poetry Of Created Space”, this game paints a picture through use of space but does not colour it. It is up to the player to do so.
Gone Home’s 90s setting helps the narrative along, if you’ve grown up in that era, it also tinges the whole experience in nostalgia. The player finds plenty of carefully placed handwritten notes, drawings and letters typical of what you’d find in a house in that era. Which may not be have been around if the game was set in 2015. The environment continues to help set the scene, notes on a corkboard outside your sister’s room reveal arguments with their parents, a calendar in the kitchen with all the dates stricken and blocked out show what the family was up to while you were gone. Not only does Gone Home make use of the visual space, it makes use to the aural space to set the tone too. There are several bootleg tapes strewn about the house. They are tapes of Riot Grrrl bands (Heavens To Betsy comes to mind) that help set the the mood and current emotional state of Sam. It is akin to an interactive picture book who has fleeting narrator and accompanying soundtrack.
The game’s masterful use of space, aural or otherwise is a perfect example of what Polanski was getting at in her article. Only here, the house itself is the “lone and level sands who stretch away” and what’s left of your sister’s ruined kingdom that she’s since left behind.
Fullbright Company, “Gone Home” Steam, 15th August 2013.
Polansky, Lana. “The Poetry of Created Space.” Bit Creature. 5th October 2012. (http://www.bitcreature.com/criticism/the-poetry-of-created-space/)