You probably could figure that Gone Home was worth going deeper. I expect this one to get a bit miserable, and a bit spoilery. If you haven’t played the game, and intend to, it’s probably best to not read on, okay? What follows is a slab of text that, with some editing, I cut from the initial review.
Gone Home is a game that wants to resonate an emotion within you. For some, I think it’s curiosity; for others, voyeuristic joy; for others, sisterly affection; and for me, it made me sad. It made me sad in three different ways, for three different reasons.
Firstly, the surface layer is that the game is not, in fact, a very happy story. If you piece together things in the story, there are hints of very sad things in this normal life. There is a marriage strained. There’s hints of a twofold family tragedy. There’s the embarassing tension between Sam and Daniel – and the eventual conclusion, the happy ending, does have some slightly sad elements to it.
Secondly, what this game says about the industry. Gone Home has potential to be an indie darling in the same vein as Braid because the story about its creation is so very appealing to a journalist. The people who developed Gone Home are people who worked on Bioshock. They made the transition from AAA to indie and they made a game that is, sorry to say it, about love and sadness, and if you’ve never done a journalism course, trust me when I tell you this is copy that damn near writes itself. This game is an easy game to praise. In a time of the thrashing throes of sexist macho culture in AAA violence-driven videogames, Gone Home is a puzzley gentle story about love. There’s not a journalist alive who wouldn’t want essentially free work like that.
I like that it’s touching on a narrative style that isn’t just horror, because horror is the seeming go-to-venue for cheap games. I like that it strives to make a game where the writing, the narrative, takes front and centre. There’s a lot to like there – and that gives me hope.
I don’t like that it’s groundbreaking, or talked about as if it’s groundbreaking. While this is a small game made with a lot of love, it shouldn’t be treated like it’s from space. It’s not a new type of game – it’s a type of game that’s existed for ages, just presented with different art assets. It’s not ‘not a game’ either – that whole argument is stupid. That people even have these arguments, or that serious reviewers introduce it that way (“Not really a game, in the conventional sense”) makes me sad.
Thirdly, what this game says about me. This is a game that is about intimacy. It’s about finding your way in an apparently non-linear path, into the center of a very intimate place in a person’s life. This game wants you to feel close, it wants you to empathise. It is just a story about love and loss – it’s a story about the way people impress themselves on locations. You find signs of people’s presence throughout the house. You find bits and pieces, you find errant tapes, you find signs of things that people love in the house.
It’s awkward. It made me think about my own childhood, my life in the 1990s. It made me wonder about the things I loved that much, about my own nostalgic wellspring. The people of this house love their work, love one another, and love their lives. They leave signs, fingerprints, scattered throughout the house. Gone Home is about people who don’t, actually, exist, and they feel more real, more full of love, than my own time in those same years. I recognise the iconography, I recognise the symbols, the names, the emblems of my own youth. It’s still very, very strange to look around at the time of my youth, and realise how hollow my own experience feels, in hindsight.