The Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway indicated that the only way to write about a place was to leave it. Confirming this, fellow author David Guterson said: “There's a certain nostalgia and romance in a place you left.” In The Fullbright Company’s GONE HOME, these reflections of nostalgia, romance - in every sense - and longing shadow your every movement.
GONE HOME is one of those works of creativity it feels insulting to classify, as if pinning it down would injure what it achieves. Regardless, this is marketed as a first-person, exploration puzzle-solver. You play Kaitlin Greenbriar, who has come back from a wild European adventure that, according to every film, only young, attractive Americans are capable of experiencing without encountering serious woes (unless you’re Liam Neeson’s daughter).
Kaitlin, aside from one message in the beginning, is a silent vessel: a literal Freeman of the Gordon variety, existing as eyes and carrier of magic pockets. Items are transferred, things are interacted with using the Freeman psychic ability. But this is necessity rather than hindrance. She’s meant to be a canvas, stretched wider than any Bella, on which you paint yourself.
This is about remembering your family, your past; it’s about dealing with the types of people who would willingly purchase a game from an Indie developer, with no guns or explosions or scantily-clad women; it’s these sorts of people who probably liked The X-Files, bad horror films, liked to imagine some houses were haunted, listened to bad, angry rock and enjoyed rebelling in minor ways against the ‘rental units. This cold reading of GONE HOME’s players is merely the conclusion of the self-selection process: Those who want action or ecstatic magic would look elsewhere.
This is a game where tracing the lines that make up someone is the adventure.
It plays on the tropes of thousands of haunted house, mystery-solving games then quickly does away with them. It’s not about ghosts or evil, despite the hints of it throughout the game (the house was owned by a madman, you’re a new family in a new small town, etc.)
How to use people
What makes you the person you are? The discarded papers and bills, the hastily scrawled notes you sent to your high-school crush, ticket-stubs and hidden cigarette packs, doodles and diaries: From these, we can create a paper mache construction of who you are. It won’t quite stick: the glue of subjectivity and reality is lacking. But we’ll get a strong idea of you.
Playing with the 90’s allows Fullbright to use badly written notes, casette players and answering machines. If it was today, Kaitlin could’ve easily just texted or WhatsApped or Facebooked her family and vice versa. Instead, you must trace calendar dates, discover diary entries and reach a conclusion about why - on a night everyone should’ve known about - no one is home.
That phrase always strikes a chord: No one is home. The point being that homes should always have someone there. What is a home without a family, without life? It becomes merely a house, a space. But life resonates throughout your exploration as you figure out the mystery of your younger sister, Samantha, tracing her life as a teenager, till she uncovers her first love.
And thus we become witness to a love story that doesn’t rank alongside ebola as one of the things humanity should cast out.
(SPOILER TILL END OF PARAGRAPH) Instead, we witness Samantha uncover her feelings for an older girl, as she deals with her parents’ realistic (though unjustified) reactions - not hatred or confusion, as many think parents’ actions are, but denial. Your lesbianism is just a phase; every girl does it and then moves on. I find gay, lesbian, bisexual on - at least an individual level - a rather useless framework from which to focus: We should be able to love whichever fellow adult we want, however we want. Being male or female shouldn’t be a factor in claiming dismissal from romantic concerns (no one is saying you must have sex with anyone, ever; but, when falling for someone, to deny him or her because you “should be” straight or gay seems dishonest and harmful). In GONE HOME, the term lesbian isn’t even used, as far as I remember, and that’s how it should be. GONE HOME doesn’t blush or apologise or exploit that it’s using a homosexual love story because it’s just a story about two people. It doesn’t matter that they’re both women (or girls).
Reflecting on GONE HOME in its short two hours is more like reflecting on a personal memory.
I felt it was my home, my exploration of someone I cared for. There’s a fragility in its framework that makes it touching, human. It’s a game about being a person. Not a hero, an action-star, a sexy babe, a gritty hero standing holding a gun on a boring game cover. Just an ordinary person; the type who would play this kind of game. It’s not a mirror, though. It’s more an exit door that allows you to look down at this one home and consider how we are all of us a story of some kind. With tears and sorrow and happiness and joy, all mixing and mashing into a stupid, flailing thing we call an adult, shoved on the world’s stage and expected to know lines we were only just given.
So few games make me proud to have played them; so few games make me enjoy happiness. But this did. To call this a game is a disservice. Instead, I put down GONE HOME as a beautiful memory that I hope you will share.
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