Gone Home has a very clear goal in mind, and its focus is unwavering, constantly reinforcing its ideas with the precision of a sharp knife.
You are Kaitlin Greenbriar, coming home from a year long excursion across europe. Bags dropped and ready to reunite with your family, you are greeted to a letter from your sister, Sam, saying she has run away and that she doesn’t want to be found. As you enter the house, you find it’s empty with no one around to answer your questions. The rest of the game involves just you in the house trying to find those answers.
We spend so much time shooting monsters in spaceships that a setup like this is almost refreshing, as if we’re hungry for something new, something low-key, something average. Gone Home takes a swift left turn and presents us a world that is both challenging and intriguing in places once believed simple and boring. The Fullbright Company explores the beauty of the mundane in their debut project with exceedingly successful results.
Gone Home looks at all of the expectations one might have of a videogame and decides that none of them are actually important -- what’s important is the full realization of the game’s world and it doesn’t matter what needs to be done to achieve this.It’s hard to call it a video game by modern terms, not because it is one of those “non-games” per se, but because approaching it with the jargon we regularly use is sort of a disservice to what it is -- and ultimately what all games could be. If you were to call it a puzzle game, you’d be wrong. Puzzle games have a certain connotation behind them, and it barely scratches the surface of what they do. And you can’t necessarily call it an Adventure Game either because its mechanics only share bits and pieces of what define that genre as well. Really, the only mechanic present here is walking and exploring. But that’s what’s makes this game so effective; it doesn't feel any responsibility to meet expectations. Never once does it tell you to shoot something, or jump a platform, or even solve a puzzle -- instead, the focus of is on discovering the world built for you.
And it is absolutely relentless in its attempts to convey said world to you.The house on Arbor hill is filled with things that were left behind by the Greenbriar family, each one injecting new life into the surroundings. From cassette tapes, to porno magazines -- every item has a deliberate objective and, once found, will shine a light on the Greenbriar’s story, eventually transforming the empty abode filled with a thick sense of dread into a warm household that’s full of life and love. The Greenbriar house felt increasingly more populated as I continued to explore it. And that is a calculated thing too, because of the generally familiar locale, I was able to imagine the interactions of these characters vividly as I observed the mundane objects in the environment. Ostensibly, there isn’t much going on but found within those items are bountiful amounts of story and character depth that can easily be lost if ignored.
That’s the most interesting thing, though. If you sweep passed most of the game’s surroundings, the story points here can easily fall flat. Like real life, if you choose to ignore certain details you will ultimately be left out in the grand scheme of things. It's the player’s responsibility to take the initiative to see the whole story. That’s not to say the game doesn't try to encourage you with its atmosphere, though: It gives you little to nothing in terms of context at first, intriguing you to do the detective work. The “horror” you feel is a slightly deceitful tool enticing you to investigate further. But ultimately it’s still up to you whether you soak in the full beauty of the Greenbriar’s dwellings -- and the people within it -- or not, to which the game says “So be it.” It’s brave in a sense that it refuses to hold your hand, as it would be a detriment to the overall narrative.
After completion, it's hard to not find yourself growing very fond of the Greenbriars. You feel like you're apart of the family, and by the end you’ll find yourself wishing it wasn’t over. The writing is so endearing and so touching that it’s hard to let go of your new second home. The story it tells is a relatable one -- a real one -- and you have to actively invest in it, which makes the payoff so much more powerful. By the end it didn’t feel like I played a game, it felt more like I walked into my old home and learned a lot of new things about my family. Gone Home is simple, and that’s where the beauty is. The Fullbright Company did something amazing by making a game that wasn’t plagued by the feature-focussed mindset that we commonly see in game design. It works because no one came into it thinking they had to adhere to a certain criteria. Gone Home had a story to tell and it just so happened to be told in an interactive way.