"Going Back and Going Home"

I finished Gone Home early this afternoon after playing it into the wee hours last night. I gushed on Twitter about it but I feel that the experience was much more profound than 140 characters will allow me to express how much this game hit me in the gut. I’ll attempt to put feelings into long blog format here, but again, remember I’m no Tom Bissell or Leigh Alexander. I blog from the heart in straightforward conversational style.

(And if you’re going to read this blog through the lens of “dudebro game creator guy who made brown games about buff guys” kindly close this window and go back to whatever cave you crawled out of, thank you. I may love entertainment that is often seen as “dudebro” but I also love musicals and I cried while playing not only Lunar but also during Phantasy Star 2. People can be dynamic and not simply one dimensional.)

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…some spoilers below, beware.

This game moved me in a way that I’ve never been moved by a game before. (Bioshock Infinite moved me, but I’m also in the camp that can get “the feels” from the ending of a game where you shoot 4000 people in the face, so it was a different kind of feeling.) In order to understand where I’m coming from, let’s get a bit personal.

I was born in 1975 and raised in the suburbs of Boston. Comfortable middle class; my dad worked for Polaroid. You know those holograms on your license? He was part of the team that helped prototype those. I remember seeing boards of them in the back of our wood paneled station wagon as he’d drive to the General Store to pick up his Malboros.

I’ve always been a big dreamer, and nearly every other night I dream of my childhood home. Some nights it’s a lot like the atmosphere of Gone Home, empty, dark, creepy, and dream-like. Other nights I’m on the rooftop fighting off wave after wave of cybernetic ninjas while my mother is in the kitchen cooking up potato pancakes. Regardless, I can picture every nook, cranny, wallpaper, piece of furniture from that place. At the end of the day your home is just some wood, concrete, and materials, but it’s what occurs in that space that makes it truly home. Family, and the family dynamic.

The house OOZES 90’s. I could identify with so much of the setting that I found myself outright laughing in parts. The I Want To Believe poster. The Magic Eye posters. When games are at their best they can act like a time machine of sorts, or a transportation device, and while the graphics weren’t exactly taxing my PC they were certainly good enough to give me that “My god I’m in someone’s house snooping around in the rain in 1995” feeling.

Impossible love is always a theme that I’ve found incredibly compelling. (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?) Halfway through the game when you realize what Sam is feeling and her obvious parent’s disapproval I immediately thought of Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” which was confirmed to me via Twitter by one of the developers as a movie he’s a fan of. If you look at what’s happening in this world in 2013 and the gay rights movement it’s really astonishing that a game like this might cause a stir for all the wrong reasons had it come out in 2002. Not only did this game manage to make you care about a love story, it made you care about a love story between two young lesbian girls. 

In a video game.

(I had chills and my eyes were watery when I was listening to the last bits of audio narrative.)

After playing this experience one of my favorite songs came to mind. For those of you who don’t know who Butch Walker is, look him up. As an artist he’s one of the most underrated rockers out there who has actually had more commercial success producing pop acts like Pink and Avril. His music has always spoken to me on many levels, but one track in particular has always resonated - Going Back, Going Home. Long story short Butch’s house burnt down a few years back and crafting this song was a sort of therapy for him. (look it up) I had this song in my head because the theme of going home has always resonated with me since I moved out of North Andover at 15.

Going back home for my high school reunion I swung by and saw my old childhood home for the first time in years. And as fondly as I’ll always think of that home (and remember/dream of it) I’ve accepted that it’s no longer truly home. Where I live with my wife in Raleigh is now my home, and I plan on keeping it that way. Yet somehow while playing Gone Home I had that feeling of going home, wrapped up in a tasty mystery of player driven narrative. It stuck with me, and I think it’s going to resonate for some time. (Not to mention the discussions Lauren and I will be having about what I found and what she found.)

I love that this game was crafted by former AAA traditional developers (look them up) who said “screw it, let’s make a game that no traditional publisher would ever want, make it personal, and put it out there.” Bravo to that.

I love the fact that you could burn through this experience in an hour, or spend three hours in it.

I love that through platforms like Steam a $20 experience like this could even be released and flourish due to word of mouth.

I love the lack of cutscenes, the “Sleep No More” game mechanics (look it up) and the fact that the “What Happened Here?” genre from games like Myst are coming back.

I love that the protagonist doesn’t have a lot of personality. Katie is mostly a blank slate for a reason. In first person games, especially, there’s a reason why the lead is often silent, or barely there. It makes it easier for you, the player, to slip into that person’s skin and inhabit their world. If your hero suddenly starts crying and you’re not feeling very emotional an immediate disconnect hits and you think “Uh why is my character feeling this when I’m not?!”

I enjoyed this game/experience more than many console games I’ve played in the last year.

Chew on that for a minute.

I wasn’t thinking about if the experience was padded, I wasn’t bombarded with a slick marketing campaign, I wasn’t sold microtransactions. I just…went with it.

Even though I’m running Windows 8 and the game was darned near entirely black due to a bug the entire time - it was still that compelling for me…So much for a graphics dominated world.

On a final note in this scatterbrained blog, I wanted to point out that a game like this is ideal for the Oculus Rift. Not Team Fortress 2, not Doom 3, but this. A game that you drive at your own pacing that is just as much about atmosphere as it is about exploration.

I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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    Done right, this is what games can do. I’ll be the first to admit, games like Quaking Gears of Resisting The Call Of...
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