Gone Home – an exploration of the beautifully mundane

Gare – Saturday, October 26, 2013 10:44 PM
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Writing about Gone Home isn't the easiest of tasks, as it puts me in the position where I'd like to both acknowledge its definite achievements in terms of storytelling and lament its inability to deliver something a bit more... memorable, for lack of a better expression. However, maybe that was the entire point: to present something mundane in a way that makes a statement about games being a form of art. In that sense, I can only applaud The Fullbright Company's refreshing take on both character development and semi-interactive narrative techniques. Simply put: I enjoyed Gone Home, but left the premises of its spooky mansion with the vague feeling that the setting could've held more potential.

Exploring the mansion

For the uninitiated, Gone Home is a self-proclaimed “Story Exploration Video Game” where you play the role of college girl Katie, having recently returned from her 1-year trip to Europe. As she steps onto the porch of her family's home, however, she is greeted by eerie silence and a note from her sister, Sam, claiming she's gone for good and that Katie shouldn't try to find her. And so, Katie enters the empty mansion, determined to find out what exactly happened to her family during the one year she was gone.

The gameplay of Gone Home mainly consists of players freely exploring the mansion in whichever order they prefer, and finding a large array of items -letters, postcards, audio tapes, posters, books- that all make up one tiny part of the house's history. As such, the game does not actually tell a story: it is the players themselves putting the pieces together in their minds based on all the clues they find in the environment. As such, the tale's chronology is also heavily dependent on how the player approaches the game: for instance, seemingly unimportant letters will gain major significance in possession of certain other information you find in the house, resulting in a couple of very rewarding “a-ha” moments here and there. A staggering amount of work went into the creation of Gone Home's eerie mansion: from crumpled letters to cereal boxes, almost everything in the environment can be inspected and interacted with, all lending a surprising amount of authenticity to the title.

Simple story

The house itself oozes atmosphere – the problem, for a number of players, I believe, will come in the form of the actual story. It is well-crafted and the main female characters are very carefully fleshed-out to the point it becomes increasingly easy to be transported back to a time of uncertainty and turbulence that is one's teenage years. The letters and additional nuggets of information are all well-written and do an excellent job in creating a vivid image of a person who does not, actually, make a single appearance in the entire game. On the other hand, the story itself is on the predictable side, with a couple of red herrings and an ending that might leave many disappointed. I enjoyed the extra twist left in there for the more eagle-eyed observer, but this might not apply to everyone. For some, the main story will be too straightforward, too predictable, going against the expectations that unavoidably come with a title revolving around a creepy, abandoned mansion.

In conclusion, despite its clever tricks and unique storytelling, I can only come forward with an uncertain recommendation when it comes to Gone Home. I'm certain that the title has its own target audience, who will undoubtedly enjoy it for its atmosphere and delivery –the story it tells is both touching and disturbing, albeit the latter adjective only being applicable if the player picks up on certain hidden clues. On the other hand, there might be players who will feel there should've been more to the mansion, more to the tale it eventually tells, with potential that, unfortunately, wasn't fully mined.

Gone Home was released on PC, Mac and Linux on August 15, 2013, with a making-of commentary mode being implemented on October 22.


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