Blaugust Day 19: Gone Home? Not Really…

Artsy fartsy title screen for an artsy fartsy game...

As part of my optimistic attempt to work on my Blaugust To-Do List and clear 0.1% of my Steam games list, I got around playing Gone Home tonight. Finished in 2 hours – 116 minutes, to be exact.

I have to say… I didn’t really like it.

I admit I was a little spoiled by glancing through reviews that basically said: “Nothing really happens.”

Therefore, I did not allow myself to be the least bit scared regarding the 1001 horror movie tropes that Gone Home attempts to inflict on you. Flickering lights, creaky noises, coincidentally well-timed lightning, the works.

I think that part of it was the major let-down, so to speak.

It feels like the game was purposefully trying to pull your strings, show you a horror movie trope, let you imagine for a breath or two something stereotypical and dramatic had befallen… and then way too quickly, it also shows you the “logical” mundane explanation for what’s going on.

It just makes me wonder… why bother then? A good story should have rising action leading to a climax…

Conversely, Gone Home is filled with vignettes that let you briefly think /something/ might be approaching rising action, and then just as quickly, it lets you down and you deflate again back to mundania.

Gone Home is not

Gone Home is not as crass as to -actually- let any dramatic violence occur, stereotypical appearances to the contrary…

The central plot is okay, very prosaic in the larger scheme of things, the clues all support it… even if they end up rather “coincidentally” arranged so that you wander from room to room in a channeled linear fashion, picking up one key after another that unlocks a room with the next revelation (and the next key.)

I guess that was my main problem with Gone Home.

I just couldn’t stop from thinking meta and design thoughts.

At no point, did I really immerse into the simulation.

I started out blind and amnesiac, not even knowing who “I” was, with regards to this Katie person, whom “I” apparently am, says my luggage tags on the doorstep of this house.

That made it supremely hard to feel fearful, or indeed, even know how “I” was supposed to feel. A little more background at the beginning might have helped, perhaps.

I know I personally felt a lot more spooked in Vampire: Bloodlines’ haunted house – I had made and named my own character and chosen her vampire clan, I “knew” who she was, her background and could roleplay/immerse how she would feel. Furthermore, in the supernatural Vampire setting, -ghosts- may very well be very real creatures that might do horrible things to my health bar…

In Gone Home, the game seems to go out of its way to imply both super-mundanity (real life setting, absolutely nothing paranormal is going to happen, even if some characters believe some occult stuff) and game immortality of your avatar (she’s not going to get hurt, unless stumbling into a specially scripted event, right? And there can be no specially scripted events if the game is so hell bent on being mundane…)

So yeah, no fear. Just methodical turning on the lights, one after the other, and casing every room in a left-to-right systematic fashion, trying not to get lost.

Ha. Ha. Too clever by half.

Ha. Ha. Too clever by half. Is that a meta commentary on how the player has been acting so far? I’m still not laughing.

Oh yeah, the other “meta” thought that I couldn’t shake? “This damn house is too fucking big. Awfully convenient of this fellow to die and will this monstrosity of a manor to the family. Where’s my ‘run’ key? Why don’t I have a ‘run’ key? Surely simulating panic ought to be important, if you want the player to pretend like they’re worried at any point? Also, convenience factor and all…”

gh-stars

Oh, here’s one thing I -did- like. Playing with glow-in-the-dark stars that do actually glow after you turn out all the lights you turned on.

Well, glad I got it finished, anyway. One more game off the “maybe should try” list.

Bottom line: I didn’t find it as spectacular as some other people might say.

Verisimilitude-wise, it is very very good. If you like an old house simulator where you can pick up and rotate various modeled items like soda cans, tissue boxes, potato chips and toilet rolls… none of which actually contribute to gameplay or story and merely a little to the atmosphere… Gone Home is good in that regard.

Story-wise, it makes sense. It doesn’t cheat you in that respect either. It’s just a very ordinary and mundane story, that unfortunately appears to be hiding under the cover of being some kind of ghost or horror story.

Problem is, you can go from mundane to supernatural themes, and overall tension and interest rises.

Take it the other way around, and it mostly ends up as a giant yawn.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 19.

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7 thoughts on “Blaugust Day 19: Gone Home? Not Really…

  1. Izlain says:

    I was pissed there wasn’t any payout in the game either. All the horror aspects just thrown away.

    I don’t understand why it was critically acclaimed. As a game it’s garbage. As a political device, it was golden, and it did things other games were afraid to do. It managed to start conversations that would lead to beneficial things. It opened the door for other indie developers to create games that aren’t what you’d expect from the market.

    That said, I still gave it a 2/5.

  2. Gryph says:

    I can definitely understand why not everyone liked it. It’s still interesting, since when I played the game, I approached it expecting an interactive story, basically, where I could also pick things up and move them around, so I was perfectly pleased with what I got. I wasn’t expecting any horror aspect at all, funny enough, so the bit that was there was a bonus to me if anything. I also very much liked the way the story is told in bits and pieces, even if it’s convenient that’s something you can’t do in other mediums. I have a huge love of story told in that fashion, it’s probably one of the reasons I like The Secret World so much. ^^

    This is NOT to say it’s wrong to dislike the game. People like different things. Maybe that helps explain why at least one person did enjoy it, though!

    • Gryph says:

      Sidenote, it probably also helped that while the story didn’t mirror my life, it was similar enough to be interesting to me in that way. Not a type of story I often see told, especially in games. Still doesn’t mean it has to appeal to everyone, but I suspect I fall in with the target audience. So that always helps!

    • Jeromai says:

      Mostly, I feel like I have seen stories told in a more nuanced, interactive fashion, more befitting the game medium.

      Gone Home ended up parceling out the main story very linearly, via picked up paper notes and audio passages. Something -Doom 3- could do, years ago. As such, it didn’t feel spectacularly innovative.

      Contrast it with something like Her Story, where we get extremely- powerful bits-and-pieces storytelling, very well cut and edited, to the point where the creator was confident enough to let you sift through all the pieces in any order you decided to come up with a keyword, and still yield an intriguing tension-filled story.

      The Stanley Parable (at least the free version I tried) allows for branching and player choice to affect certain key moments, even if most of the meta is about the rules and boundaries and confines of the game space forbidding unpredicted action.

      Most adventure games manage the same fragmented to linear storytelling, and still manage to throw in puzzle or gameplay sequences somewhere in the mix, and/or interesting characters. See things like Love: A Digital Story, Hate: An Analogue Story from Christine Love, or the Blackwell series from Dave Gilbert.

      Gone Home’s characters, in contrast, felt as cardboard as State of Decay’s… a little too mundane for my personal tastes.

      I was mostly expecting more from Gone Home and felt rather let down when I realized there wasn’t. Especially since most of what they were hinting just felt like they were enjoying playing a giant April Fool’s trick on the viewer instead – “What, did you think something horrible was going to happen? Ha, fooled you!” A bit bait-and-switchy, even if it wasn’t authorial intent. It just felt that way.

      As for the specific story and subject matter, I would recommend something like Khaos Komix (http://www.discordcomics.com/), which covers similar themes with less stereotypical assumptions (e.g. not every parent necessarily freaks out) and plays to its medium’s strengths (as a webcomic), as opposed to something like Gone Home, which seemed to mostly misunderstand its medium (game = allows for player choice/agency, possible non-linearity, etc.)

      That said, it’s not wrong to like it either. Just felt like I had been expecting more after such buzz from the critics, and was trying to put a finger on what exactly felt “off” about it as a game.

      • Gryph says:

        Thank you for taking the time to reply so thoroughly. 🙂 Some of those I’ve played, but a few will have to go on my list!

        The gist I’ve gotten from others is that I was likely lucky to have played it just before it gained much attention. It had been recommended to me as a neat game, something a little different, but not much more than that. At this point, I’m almost certain that was a big part of my reaction, since I wasn’t expecting something Earth shattering,I just me the game where it was and it happened to appeal.

        Sorry to be so short after you’ve pointed out such awesome stuff, but I wanted to reply before I had to go do other things; you brought up excellent points.

  3. Pam says:

    Despite the kind of spooky setting in the beginning, I thought it was very clear this was not remotely a horror game by about the 2 minute mark. So I was never really let down by the ending not going in that direction. I thought it was a good story and well paced.

    I think this a game that really appeals to a certain subset/age of the population as this game is set in a very specific point in time. If you don’t get a thrill from thing like the X-Files episodes on VHS and the Lisa Frank stickers on binders, I can see how the game would be less engaging.

    • Jeromai says:

      Might be a cultural thing, that one. I didn’t really assign any significance to those things at all. I watched a few episodes or twenty of X-Files on TV, is about it.

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