Storytelling in Gone Home

Gone Home is a game that, to be honest, I don’t think I can really review. The main appeal of it is bound to be discovering the story for yourself, and there’s very little gameplay as such wrapped around that story. However, that in itself is interesting enough that I think it’s worth looking into.

Screenshot from 2016-02-20 22:17:00

I’ve heard Gone Home described as interactive fiction, but really I don’t think it’s even that. To me, interactive fiction offers players (or readers: I’m not sure anyone’s ever sorted out the terminology for this) an opportunity to influence the story for themselves. In Gone Home, the story is set in stone–it’s already happened–and you’re just piecing it together. Put like that this all sounds kind of negative, but in practice the game is really quite effective. Linear stories, free from having to take into account every possible sequence of actions the player might perform, tend to be the strongest, and Gone Home‘s story is a strong one indeed. The actual process of unravelling it is also hugely satisfying. You’re free to pick up and examine virtually any object–which in itself is a rare feature of a game–and even the ones that don’t contribute directly to the story can shine an interesting light on the characters.

Screenshot from 2016-02-19 21:51:13

The characters are really the highlight of the whole thing, which is peculiar because they’re not around for you to meet. This is actually the whole point of the story: you–Katie–have returned late at night from a long trip around Europe to discover that your entire family is missing. There’s no obvious sign that any harm has come to them, but thanks to a few key details–a distressing answerphone message, a note on the door, a TV playing the same severe weather warning over and over again–the atmosphere in the house is decidedly unsettling.

Screenshot from 2016-02-20 21:24:13

Decidedly unsettling.

Screenshot from 2016-02-20 21:08:45

And the deeper you dig, the more sinister it gets.

However, though the creepy elements of the game make it hugely atmospheric, they’re very much secondary to the more mundane story of the family–your family–that lives in the house. Your folks have moved since you last saw them, so the place is as unfamiliar to your character as it is to you the player. You really have to ransack the place to find clues as to what’s happened…

Screenshot from 2016-02-20 20:18:39

…which is more than a little uncomfortable, as that’s not all you’ll find in the process.

The house in Gone Home really feels lived-in, with the clutter building up a picture of the people who live there. Because some objects provide context or backstory for others, the game really rewards time spent not just poking around, but piecing things together. The name plate beneath the family portrait, for example, was one of Sam (your sister)’s school projects, for which she apparently didn’t get a very good mark. Sam, you quickly discover, isn’t exactly in the top of her class and struggles to fit in: not least because she’s the new kid who just moved into the “psycho house.” Her story is probably the most riveting you’ll discover, but it’s by no means the only one that caught my attention. Gone Home, despite the supernatural undertones and total lack of crystal meth, actually reminded me most of Breaking Bad: all the characters in there have their own story going on, and the way they play out–through items in this one house–is easily as finely constructed as a well-plotted TV series (albeit much, much shorter).

If you want to get hold of Gone Home for yourself, your best bet is through the official website. It’s on Steam and whatnot, but there are enough formats available (including PS4 and Xbox One editions) that I wouldn’t like to link to just one.


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