This Week I Read – Gone Home

In the weeks following Gone Home‘s release, I mentioned it had inspired so many worthwhile articles, they would properly warrant a dedicated TWIR. This post is fairly overdue so let’s pretend it’s intentionally been left this long to encourage longevity of discourse.

What follows is a list of the best write-ups, responses and critiques of Gone Home. I’ll endeavour to update the post with further articles of interest as I find them.

Please assume every article contains spoilers. I’ll also be spoiling bits and bobs in my editorializing.

On his blog, Radiator, Robert Yang talked about Gone Home‘s use of its mansion in terms of narrative and level design. Not sure about the identifier of “mansion games,” though, as it seems to abide by the principles of games fairly across the board – by these characteristics, BioShock 2 is a “mansion game”, and so is Portal, so is Dead Space, etc.

Merritt Kopas wrote about the positive experience of actually having a videogame about girls in love.

On Dead Pixel Co, Naomi Clark focussed on the near-invisible character of Katie and the rules she imposes on the player as a design choice.

Mattie Brice referenced on Alternate Endings her childhood as something distancing her from the era Gone Home attempts to project.

Over on Metroidpolitian, Maddie Myers shared her own experiences in contrast of the game’s mirage of nostalgia. Like Maddie, I suspect the fact that I was born in ’86 plays into my exclusion to Gone Home‘s nostalgia. It has kind of an odd placement in the gameworld in this context: it’s very artificial feeling, meaning both emanating solely from artefacts and feeling placed-upon. But like Maddie says, Sam’s politics are the exact same. They’re rhetorical, they’re stylism adopted by Sam on her entry into Lonnie’s scene. Perhaps things would be different if Lonnie were our narrator, but for Sam, there seems little need for any affection to riot grrrl or feminism other than to cosy her up to her love interest, because there never seemed to be any significant cause, any oppression, expressed through Sam’s experiences. So these semblances of her feminism seem to bear zero political interest – they manifest as zines and mixtapes representative of an era and a romance, but not the concepts they convey. I know Fullbright might (/probably) have political reasons for including these various elements but Gone Home‘s cosmology doesn’t quite express them.

In Brendan Keogh’s notes over on his blog, Critical Damage, he mentions, among other things, how his own present state of growth was excited by all the ’90s paraphernalia and sense of family between Sam and Katie.

On Chaotic Blue, Todd Harper talked about its form as a horror (making him one of the few to acknowledge its prominence (self-plug 1)) and the convenience with which Sam and Lonnie make their way through their romance. In my playthrough, I was oblivious to this latter aspect. The game’s primary story seemed far too drama-free to really be of any dramatic interest (boosting my suspicion that it relies on a horror narrative to enrapt the player and disguise its ultimate story). At the time I wrote it down to how very upper class everything was, since my own youth was obstacled by class and economy, not sexuality. Only afterwards did I realise how strongly Harper’s criticism resonated with my experience.

Anna Anthropy voiced similar alienation from Sam’s convenient coming out story.

On Los Angeles Review of Books, Ian Bogost described Gone Home as young adult fiction and wondered at how its mere existence affects critics in spite of its hollow, shallow thematic motions. Although Bogost frames Gone Home’s formal adolescence through it’s backdrop of second wave feminism, there’s a big adolescent signifier staring him right in the face: its application and adherence to horror tropes, which Bogost admits shame and naivety at having acceded to.

On Mammon Machine, Aevee Bee suggested that Gone Home‘s success is born from the space it allows people to project themselves into.

In the first and only post here dedicated to Gone Home‘s horror aspects, Ben Abraham praises the conjuring of horror as harmonious with the immediate narrative of Katie. It’s worth reading if only because I think Gone Home‘s form has largely been neglected by critics. Two points, however: I don’t share in Abraham’s experience of every games journalist/critic going into it expecting horror (as reflected in the scarcity of horror in articles linked here); I’m not sure you need to be versed in videogames to enjoy or comprehend this aspect of it. I don’t think you need to have played Amnesia (I haven’t) to get Gone Home (I did), just like you don’t need to have played anything other than Clock Tower to have found Clock Tower appropriately terrifying. Still, as a horror game, Gone Home is a wonderful example of ludonarrative harmony.

On Clockwork Worlds, Austin Walker laid out a theory on the story of abuse of Terry by Oscar.

On Groping The Elephant, Caitlin Moore posited an alternative theory on Oscar. I especially like this one for the thematic synergy with Sam and Lonnie’s story, as it helps tie every member of the family together into one consistent universe (centring on themes of homosexuality), making their segmentation all the more tragic.

Also on Groping The Elephant, Justin Keverne drew a line to System Shock 2 and Thief II in terms of environmental and spatial storytelling.

On Errant Signal, Chris Franklin tackled the same narrative form, focussing on the game’s use of interaction mechanics.

Over on her own site, Emily Short criticized Gone Home as a piece of interactive fiction on the point that it lacks the opportunity for structural agency of the player that investigative spaces should allow.

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