I wasn’t going to play Gone Home. I read some articles and watched some YouTube videos about it, but it didn’t seem like my kind of game; it didn’t sound like a game at all. After reading Gone Home was being nominated, even winning, Game of the Year from gaming outlets, I figured I’d better check it out. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. I gathered it was about a daughter who comes “home” after an extended period of time being away. I figured it’d be you just wandering around the house, and really no game play. For the most part, it is; however, it is one of the few games that can pull it off.
Gone Home is a narrative driven exploration game. The story is told from the first person perspective of Katie, a daughter who has been away from her home for a year. However, she didn’t grow up in this house. Mom, Dad, and sister moved to a new house while she was away. You arrive, late at night, fresh from the airport. A thunderstorm is howling outside. You approach the front door, and notice a mysterious note from your younger sister, Sam. It appears no one is home. The front door is locked, but you find the spare key easily enough. This is how the game starts, and it sets up the atmosphere of the game perfectly.
You wander around the house, interacting with various objects. You learn a few things about Mom and Dad, such as why they moved. You find out what the family has been doing since you left. The main story of the game is actually the story of Sam, and how her life has changed since you’ve been gone. When you interact with certain objects audio diaries from Sam will begin to play. Apparently, you were lucky, because Sam had to go to a new high school. She left all of her old friends behind. I don’t want to spoil too much more, but it is more interesting than it sounds. I’ll get to why in a bit.
Most of the rooms have their doors closed, and the lights off. You go into the room, and flip on the lights. You can interact with almost everything in the room. These items give you a glimpse into the lives of the people you haven’t seen in a year. As you progress through the house, you need to find keys and combinations to open locked doors and storage areas. While you are doing this, the thunderstorm is still clattering outside, and the low, bass-filled music quietly tickles your eardrums. The world is crafted to give you this experience, which is why I think it is important to tell you the emotions I felt.
There isn’t much for gameplay, but the emotions the game imparts is what makes the game special. I feel only a video game could tell a story such as this. The sound of the thunderstorm was organic. It didn’t feel like a short set of sound effects on a loop. The storm got loud and you would be very aware of it; other times it was quiet and hardly noticeable. The house made house noises! Air expanding in pipes, floors creaking for no reason, clicks and pops! It truly felt you were in the house all by yourself. I played the game while I was home alone, with the lights off, and with headphones on. This was an excellent choice, and I recommend you play the game this way as well.
I experienced feelings of curiosity, creepiness, comfort, relief, worry, and hope all throughout this game. I was curious to know what my family has been doing. Walking down hallways, having just read about the previous owner of the house, gave me the creeps. I was comforted to see my parents kept my postcards I sent from Europe. I was constantly switching between worried and relief when I read and heard the adventures of my little sister. I hoped the next journal entry from my sister left her in a better place than the previous entry. In the end, the game made me feel like Katie. These people that I used to know had changed, and there was so much I wanted to learn about them.
Should you play this game? This game, that has very few of the normal gameplay tropes. Yes, you most definitely should play this game. Games that don’t have the normal gameplay tropes are usually not games in my opinion, but Gone Home is able to capture emotions in a way only a video game can. If a movie, or a book tried to tell this story, it would not be able to get anywhere close to being as good as Gone Home. You owe yourself this experience. I’m not going to say that it’s for everyone; there are few absolutes. But I would recommend this to every one of my friends, gamer or non gamer. If that doesn’t convince you, then I’d say that the small studio, who made this game, is made of people who worked on the Bioshock franchise. So, they know how to do this narrative and atmosphere thing. I sincerely hope you check this game out.