Monday, August 19, 2013

Gone Home: The best non game videogame I've ever barely played

Gone Home is the first game from The Fullbright Company, an independent company founded by former Bioshock developers. It's unsurprising to me that they would come from that background, as Gone Home is the kind of game I imagine Bioshock could be in a world where such a budget didn't demand the broad appeal gunplay brings.

(Don't worry, there's no spoilers.)

The premise of Gone Home is simple. You play as a young woman returning home from a year in Europe. Upon reaching her family's house, she finds it empty. From there it is up to you to find out why.

It's really the kind of video game I always wished to play. Unburdened from the expectation of any real gameplay mechanics, the game does away with "enemies", "bosses", "health", and other video gamey things in favor of telling its story. Although, it doesn't so much tell it to you as it is simply there for you to find. Naturally scattered throughout the house are notes and memos and trinkets belonging to the members of this family. We learn about them through their belongings. Without being told, narratives and timelines are drawn through birthday cards and coffee mugs. There is a "main" story being told, and while it's a tad heavy handed, it's told in such a way that feels sincere and rewarding. Beyond that are other story threads, less obvious but perhaps more gratifying if you're thorough.

Other than the members of the family, Street Fighter is the biggest character in the game.

It is at times a spooky game, in the irrational way being alone in a big, dark, unfamiliar house is in any case. Walls and doors creak, and of course it takes place during a thunderstorm. Music is sparse but effective, used at the right time and never letting the silence and loneliness of the house be forgotten. Except when you play shitty grrl punk songs you find on cassette  tapes around the house.

Man. So bad.

It is, at its heart, a memo reading simulator. The entire story could easily be written entirely as a novella. But the loss of player agency in that situation would be an absolute tragedy. Gone Home is as effective as it is because it's driven entirely by your need (or lack thereof) for understanding.

Kaitlin noticed a note hidden behind a book. It read 'Hey'.

Isn't nearly the same as examining a bookshelf because you were curious what kind of books these people read, and finding the note behind the book because you saw it peeking out from behind that back cover of Dealing With Depression. It is the opinion of many that games like Gone Home and Dear Esther aren't games at all. Perhaps they're right, or perhaps the term or the definition don't apply anymore. They dismiss these experiments in the medium as unfun, and therefore worthless. What they are witnessing is the maturation of a new form of art.

When researchers discovered decades ago that they could manipulate images on a screen, what else was there to do but shoot each other with spaceships? Certainly the idea of replicating the world with any real accuracy, or developing relationships with characters through thoughts and emotions never existed. From Spacewar! to Call of Duty, the idea is largely the same. Kill this, kill that. Even in a game far removed from those, like Tetris, its gameplay mechanics are emphasized above all and fun is the ultimate goal. Gone Home is neither fun, nor complicated. Walking, looking and occasionally crouching is literally all you do. And yet it's one of the best games I've played this year. Bioshock Infinite, for all its splendor and polish, was burdened with gameplay (to be said with disgust) that was merely tolerated to enjoy the world of Columbia, and the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth. And through all the voice acting and conversations, I never felt as close to them as I did the Greenbriar family that I never met. Terry Greenbriar's office told me more about the man than Booker's flashbacks and retrospectives did about him.

Find some way to play this game. It is not the future of all video games, but it's a notable stepping stone to a medium with no limits.

And someone find a way for me to play this game. It sounds badass.


  1. Gorilla Subtracting Quarter Inch For Both Expansion and ContractionAugust 20, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    "hey man this game looks great"

    No reply. •sees article about it on robot blog days later•

    Anyway, great read, you had me at "memo reading simulator".

  2. I can't wait to barely play this non-video game.

  3. Had this on my wishlist since I saw it on steam. It looks epic, your review is awesome.

    And fuck what people who say this and Dear Esther aren't real games. Who cares what they think?