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.