Gone Home: A Game that is Art

Gone_HomeThere will be no spoilers in this review.

I wish that Roger Ebert were still alive so that he could play Gone Home and finally experience a video game that can be clearly and unequivocably called “art.”

I wrote a thing once that attempted to tackle his statement that “video games can never be art.” Basically I said that the definition of the word “art” is what we have disagreement on and that a lot of what gamers think of as “art” isn’t so we should all just get over ourselves.

(Only I used a lot of swear words and I made a lot of references to pornography.)

Gone Home is art. I cannot think of a better word for it as it matches both the definitions I hold and the way Roger described what art is. Gone Home is an experience, but it is one that changes based on how the game is played but most importantly around who the player is. It is a series of layers, each one altering your understanding of the situation.

In Gone Home, you take the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a young woman who, on June 7th, 1995, has returned after spending a year abroad to the house where her parents and younger sister, Sam, live, near Portland, Oregon. She takes a shuttle from the airport to the house only to find it deserted – her family missing – and with no explanation for the events.

Determining what happened is the goal of the game. Throughout the game, you search the house. You find clues – papers, photos, tapes, etc. – all of which help you to piece together a puzzle. Not all clues are essential to “finishing” the game but missing one will alter your understanding of what exactly happened. In fact, there are clues that can be missed that will radically alter your understanding of the picture, to the point where it becomes a Romeo and Juliet level tragedy.

And that, right there, is the essential part of the game’s mechanic and why it meets Roger’s definition. With most “story” games like Grand Theft Auto IV or Red Dead Redemption, it is true that player choice largely does not affect the outcome. In many cases you might as well be watching an exceptionally long movie: the story is meted out in fashion, we are shown all of it, and we are told what the story means.

However, in Gone Home, the story and its meaning are absolutely dependant on your actions. It can be a story of happiness or tragedy or one of any point in the continuum of emotion. Best, its position changes as your understanding changes, and it is this mutability that gives the game its magic.

Further, the experience is one that will change you as a player. You may identify with everything that is happening (echoes of nostalgia) or you may find yourself understanding foreign experiences with empathy.

No game has ever left me in tears at the end. This one has, and I am glad for it.

Play this immediately. It takes about 2 to 4 hours. Do it in one sitting.

Comments (2)

  1. TripleU September 29, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    I’ve already played Gone Home, and I do not disagree on any point.

    Also, in:
    “Not all clues are essential to “finishing” the game but missing the will alter your understanding of what exactly happened.”
    It seems you missed the M in them.

  2. Elitre December 2, 2013 at 5:04 am

    I bought it after reading your reviews, and finished it yesterday. Thanks.
    Have you played “Dear Esther”? Similar “gameplay”, but IMHO more haunting (also because of its instrumental soundtrack). I think you might appreciate it as well (and certainly more than I did, because it is linguistically non trivial): it’s 50% off at Steam right now, I think.

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