Earlier in class we had to play a game called “Gone Home.” And it’s a bit of an interesting beast I would like to reflect more upon. Once again, this is an independent game (I know, I have a bit of an obsession with them, but they always seem to turn out so amazing). It’s developed by the Fullbright Company. I would suggest that you play it before you read this blog post. Seriously, it’s a beautiful, amazing game that deserves praise, and its developers deserve the money for creating this work of art.
SPOILERS BEGIN NOW
The game is a love story. Simple as that. It presents itself as a horror story at the beginning. A hastily scrawled note on the door warning you not to search for your sister, a stormy night, and hints that the house might be haunted by a crazy and/or vengeful ghost. Lights flicker, televisions are mysteriously turned on, and an intense loneliness permeates every single fiber of your being. Yet, following your gaming instincts, you examine the first note you can interact with, and a soothing voice-over, that of your little sister, begins to calm you. You continue to explore the house, following the plot-hook of what happened to your sister, in the hopes that perhaps this story will have a happy ending despite all of your senses yelling at you that “No, this does not have a happy ending!” And how could it? You find hints that your family has fallen apart. Your mom appears to be cheating on your father, their marriage seems to be falling apart, your sister is left alone and struggling with her burgeoning attraction to a girl in an age where that was even less accepted than it is today. You are forced to assume that the worst possible action has occurred in that attic with the “keep out” sign and ominous red lights. And yet it hasn’t. Your mom never actually cheated, your parents went on a couple’s retreat to try and repair the divide between them, and your sister ran away with her girlfriend, hopefully finding some form of happy ending.
So what makes this game so great? I know in my earlier blog post, I argued that gameplay and narrative should intertwine, yet how does it in this game? This game is literally walking around a house and looking at notes. Most people would argue that this doesn’t even constitute a game, let alone a great one. And yet, it manages what most games never can. It manages to make the player feel like they are living the story. It allows the player to fully immerse themselves in the protagonist’s life. You worry about the family as if they were your own, you root for them to overcome their demons, you explore the house hoping to find clues, you feel joy and apprehension when you discover the sister has run away to chase her happiness. It uses the medium of video games to accomplish something that no other medium can. No other medium can create the form of immersion that this particular story needs, and that is why video games need to be classified as an art form- because of games like this; games that use their powers and limitations to do things that no other medium – literature, painting, film- cannot; games that make you feel and think and cry and reflect and hope.