gone home

SPOILERS for gone home below! the game’s a few hours long, so maybe this is post-game reading material.

gone home is a coming out story. exclusively. i guess there are some hints of other plots lying around the mansion: your dad’s a hack writer, your mom’s into some dude. but the central story of the game is, undeniably, the story of a teenage queer girl falling in love, discovering her queerness, her first relationship, the fallout surrounding being a queer teen, and ultimately what becomes of that first relationship.

i find the game hard to relate to. i’m saying this of a game that’s NOT ABOUT SHOOTING PEOPLE and ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY FEATURES WOMEN CHARACTERS. most videogames are totally alienating to me. this game contains characters whose lives are ostensibly closer to mine than an easy 99% of digital games. and yet there’s this gap: this game’s main character (not the protagonist, note) is very different from me, and her story is very different than mine, and i think i’m more aware of that distance than i would be with joe bald shootman because i do compare my experience to hers, as a queer person who was once a teen.

look: when i was the age sam – the game’s main character – is, i didn’t even know i was a woman. i was confused and ugly, incapable of looking at myself in the mirror, and using the internet to have cybersex with boys. i was pretty sure i was gay because i knew i sure as hell wasn’t straight. the first trans kid i ever interacted with (it was on irc) ran away from home before her christian parents could send her to a boarding school for boys, trying to hitchhike across the country to visit me. she stopped calling halfway, and i don’t know if she was picked up by the cops or someone worse or what. i never heard from her again.

see? MESSY. and though the pretense of gone home is that you’re assembling a story out of journals and notes and scraps scattered around the house, sam’s story is surprisingly non-messy. she meets a girl. they go ghost-hunting. they get close. physical affection happens, and then love does. they kiss. she comes out to her parents. well, she’s a cis girl, that’s probably a big part of it. gender isn’t something sam ever has to figure out.

almost immediately after it’s established that sam is into this girl, you’re granted access to this secret panel in which are hidden a few sheets of looseleaf. it’s a story sam wrote: in it, she’s a pirate captain, and her first mate, the love of her life, is lowered into magic goop that changes him from a man into a woman.

and, like: yes, this is the sort of thing a kid going through confusion and transition would write. we all externalized this stuff in some way. but it’s the timing that makes it all too convenient: if i had found it any other time in the game, it would have been different. but, no, it was timed very carefully: it shows up right after sam narrates that she’s in love with a girl. it’s like an explanation. aha, that explains it. the puzzle is solved.

ultimately, i found sam’s story hard to connect with because it was too neat. there seems to be nothing else going on in sam’s life, nothing else going on in the game, other than her queerness, her first love, going to her girlfriend’s bands’ shows. “that’s true of any teenager,” my slut told me. “that’s how it feels.” but it didn’t feel like that to me.

anyway, gone home is still like a million times better than yet another game about dudes shooting other dudes in the face.

9 thoughts on “gone home”

  1. Having a sister who is gay and also a cousin I can say that not everyone has a hard time with their identity and this story fits that. Her parents aren’t happy she is gay, in fact I think they are in denial about it. I think the narrative was well paced and expertly delivered. Its not easy to make a game like this.

    Considering I’m a straight male and I WATCHED my girlfriend play this and I was still glued to the couch says a lot about what was delivered here. This game was as gar as you get from the type I normally buy and play but despite that I sucked right in and didn’t move till it was over.


    I have to be honest, I was expecting ghosts or something to show up at some point. The game strongly hints that it will happen and then… It doesn’t. Despite that and my hope for that its still well worth buying.

  2. i kind of like that the game never turns into some cheesy ghost story or some obvious tragedy. merritt wrote a little about how glad she was the game doesn’t frame the queer experience as being inherently tragic. the game sets you up to expect that outcome – i think. i had to play it super low-resolution so the game was slow and herky-jerky and everything looked like it was made out of cardboard: i don’t know how much that has to do with how i never really felt like the game would conclude in a violent way.

  3. Nice one. I was struggling to put my finger on that. Non-messy. I enjoyed it and the ending was fine. But I found myself being quite jealous of the characters. (1995 was messy, but in an entirely different, still vaguely relatable, way, for me.) I just wish, once the player realised everything was cool, she could have used Katie’s bed and slept until morning, instead of go to the attic. That’s how I wanted to end it. Good write up, glad I found it.

  4. Yeah that was an awesome game, but it did feel very neat and trimmed. Maybe it’s because the aesthetics – riot grrrl music, feminist themes and disorderly level design – didn’t quite fit with the very unambiguous narrative presented in an overall dictatorial structure. What I mean by “dictatorial structure” is the measure in which they used the key/locker puzzles in order to dictate in what order the narrative should be experienced.
    Nonetheless, I think this game deserves to be talked about. It’s an anomaly in the first person games and considering the context, it could be considered as transgressive.

  5. I think you put your finger on something about the nature of this game: it’s not messy like life, it’s neat like polished, attention-to-craft fiction. The pieces lock together in that way readers enjoy about stories that “make sense” and in doing so, give us a feeling that maybe life could make sense too. (Of course, it’s not, but it’s the fantasy of plot-resolution.)

    I think this becomes even more clear if you dig deeper into Gone Home’s plot and characters and find this stuff about the girls’ great-uncle:

    Spoilers ahoy, it’s also a story about abuse, and so as fiction it belongs to the “suburban family secrets w/ possible redemption” genre as well as the “teen coming out” genre; the whole thing would probably do well at an indie film fest, although I suppose a film might have to get a little more explicit about the historical subplot. But the “neatness” of the plot becomes super-clear when you realize that the (abused as a kid) father is obsessed with the year 1963, which is also the combination on the safe where you discover that his uncle abused him and then descended into remorse and morphine addiction. I’m sure someone’s going to figure out eventually that the reason the “Library” bell is missing from the rack in the servants’ room is because the father was abused in the library, which is also why he ends up finding his own redemption by moving his writing practice into the greenhouse.

    All little puzzle pieces that fit together nicely, and I suppose deliver some kind of message? I can’t help but feel like the great-uncle’s illicit sexual advances on his nephew are somehow set up in contrast to the illicit teen-sexing of Lonnie and Sam. In the bad old days, pedophiles and rape. Decades later, it’s finally starting to be OK to be gay. I don’t think this is even a parallel to be drawn, even as a contrast — between pedophilia and homosexuality — but it may be embedded structurally in this game’s story.

  6. not that it makes too much of a difference, but i happened across sam’s pirate story way before i found anything indicating she was in love with a girl. one of the game’s strengths, i thought, is the relatively open sequence in which you can find the clues.

  7. @Naomi

    I really don’t think the father was abused in the library. I’m still wondering why the Library servant bell is missing.
    If I had to guess where Terry was abused, it’d probably be in the room where the safe is… why else would he be measuring his height in such an obscure part of the house? The house seems to be divided in places that belong to certain characters in the house; the basement and the safe room belonged to Oscar.

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