There’s something quietly ominous about a house that, instead of projecting life and light, remains empty. Not abandoned, just “empty.” This is the situation players find themselves in when playing Gone Home, stuck in an empty house full of lost memories, trying to figure out why your family just up and left the house while you were abroad. The story proves an interesting conundrum, and, aided by the design and environmental set-dressing of the house as a whole, it really leaves an impact.
For those unfamiliar, Gone Home was released on August 15th, 2013 to a wide variety of awards and accolades, such as the VGX Award for Best Independent Game, the BAFTA Games Award for Debut Game, and the title of One of the Best Games of 2013 by Polygon, Paste, and IGN. As a story/exploration-style game, players are pretty quickly released into a space to explore and discover the story as they may, seeking out items and clues scattered around the house that hint at what could be going on and unlocking audio entries from your younger sister Sam, who explains some of what’s been going on while you’ve been away. And boy howdy, have you missed a lot.
Outside of the more-explicit story chunks found in Sam’s letters and audio, an interesting story is told purely through the items found around the house, which give us an idea of the other members of the family and what brought them to half-move into this strange house. Environmental storytelling is rampant, with boxes of books from your father’s… less-than-famous book series, to your mother’s forestry paperwork speculating about the new, hot ranger named ‘Rick.’ Through it all, their relationship with Sam is ever-present. Papers litter the library and bedrooms, from an advice book about connecting with your estranged teenage child to a brochure for a couples therapy retreat with dates circled at the bottom. And so. Many. Cassettes.
Each item can be picked up and rotated, sometimes revealing more layers of story through scraps of paper either tucked into corners or crumpled into trash-can balls. Letters, postcards, detention slips, and report cards all build up a set of characters that we never actually get to see over the course of the game. Still, we see how Sam had trouble adjusting to a new town, a new highschool, and making new friends before she meets Lonnie. Sam’s known as the ‘Psycho House Girl,’ and she’s not doing great in class (with the exception of Creative Writing.) Their dad struggles to get published, bored of writing product reviews, and their mom is feeling stifled in her marriage. Are these essential to understanding the overall plot of Gone Home?
Well, not really, but it does a lot to help us understand these characters.
If you haven’t given it a try, Gone Home is more than worth your time. It’s a touching, heartwarming story with some interesting environmental storytelling available for the astute player. With about a 2-hour-long playthrough and a whole host of developer commentary available, perhaps it’s time to take a trip home ourselves… when it’s safe, of course.