There’s tons of critics reviewing this game very very highly, and a lot of people on both sides of the fence saying they’re either right or they’re wrong. This isn’t a review so much as a personal experience with the game, so I’ll be brief on my opinions of the game as they’ll be pretty clear anyway. I absolutely loved Gone Home. I thought it was well worth it’s price tag despite it’s brevity. So then, onto the main brunt of the post, and it’ll go without saying that it will contain SPOILERS and discuss issues brought up by the game. Seriously, if you haven’t played the game and intend to, I’d suggest going and doing so before scrolling downwards. You have been warned!
Gone Home caught me by surprise multiple times throughout my meager 80 playthrough. The first of which is when I discovered that it wasn’t in fact a horror game at all as it first appears, but a shockingly real story of an extremely believable family. You go through the first few rooms expecting something to jump out at you, ominous notes on the front door and stories of a psychotic uncle only reinforce said expectation. But over time you realise it’s an exploration of this family’s emotions and reactions to events. People have written about the disturbing details of the father (Terrence) and the realisations of his childhood abuse, and there are some very interesting articles on the matter, but I aim to focus on the ‘main character’ of Gone Home’s story, and that’s Samantha, the playable character’s (Katie) younger sister and the narrator for the various pieces of journal spread across the mansion.
Samantha’s story really struck me, as it held a certain personal level for me, having not gone through exactly what she did, but with many of the same feelings as she had with coming out and feeling a first time love for a member of the same sex. As anyone who’s gone through such an experience will know, it’s scary and very confusing. The level of which Gone Home put this forward was incredible and evoking enough to have me reliving experiences like it. I know exactly what its like to have someone you like, only to not only be fearful that they don’t like you back, but that they think there’s something wrong with you for thinking it in the first place. I know exactly what it’s like to be a teenager and feel liberated by simply being around the person you love. This game captures the reality of this and all of it’s other issues extremely delicately and with decorum, at no point did I feel “Oh, it’s just another coming out story” or that they were shoving a message down my throat. It was simple, it was beautiful.
Emotions were also brought out by some of the objects found in the Greenbriar house (some of the what must be some few hundred, if not thousand intricately detailed objects you can interact with that Gone Home prides itself on) I loved the little pillow fort that I found in the living room, having made them myself many times, I loved the basement and the home-made zines that showed off girl rebellion and the music of the time. I got a little snigger inside when I discovered Samantha loved Street Fighter II. But Sam’s room in particular caught me off-guard, looking in Sam’s locker is when the proverbial pin dropped and you discover the mens magazine at the bottom of her locker.
The photos on the door of the locker (pictured above) seem like a regular teenage girls locker, but even that takes on a new meaning as soon as you open the door. The stories that Sam had been writing about Captain Allegra and her First Mate were, at first. endearing stories that give a bit of a backdrop to her youngest years, but over time, when you find she and her lover are taking on the roles themselves as metaphors for the adventures they want to have together, well, they certainly had an effect on me. The discovery that Lonnie, her best friend/lover would be moving away genuinely left a lump in my throat that stayed and only got bigger for the rest of my time with the game.
Near to the end of the game, when you get the key to the initially very scary looking attic, it becomes apparant that it is adorned with red lights literally to ward Sams’ parents off so that she and Lonnie have a place that belongs only to them. Sam also speaks of not being able to live without Lonnie. That journal entry made me extremely nervous, as I’m sure it did many people. I was extraordinarily nervous to open the attic hatch for fear of discovering a dead body. Call me morbid, but the way it’s described in the game, and the eerie nature of the way its presented, along with my own experiences (I never wanted to commit suicide, but it became painfully easy to see why someone would) caused such a thought process. To discover that she’s run away with the woman she loves gave me the greatest sense of relief I think I’ve ever experienced in a game, and I’ve played through Super Meat Boy! I was welling up, the lump in my throat was extending to my stomach, I was gone!
I’d never felt so strongly for a character in a game in my life. I’d never identified with a character in a game so much in my life. I’ll probably not pick Gone Home up again, at least for a long time, but that’s because I just don’t need to, that story hit me and it hit me hard.