Sunday, 26 January 2014

Indie Gaming: Gone Home

Going home. A short phrase that can mean a few different things, depending on the context. Perhaps it's the return after a holiday, perhaps it means moving back to your country of birth after living abroad for many years. Sometimes it's as simple as heading back to your parent's house for Christmas or some other family celebration, sometimes it's heading home after a night at the pub. Other times it is not so joyous, nor welcome, but the journey must be made all the same.

An adventure game of sorts, set in June 1995

Gone Home is not a game about going home, the home is where the game begins. It is also not your characters home, so there is less a sense of return and more of arrival. Your parents have moved into the large rural house of a deceased family member while you have been away. On this dark and stormy night (is there ever any other sort of night for these kinds of tales?), your arrival is met without fanfare, without any greeting whatsoever.

Your family

You begin in the enclosed porch away from the rain. Beside you lie your bags, your belongings from your time travelling around Europe. In front of you a double door stands locked, and while there are lights within, no-one comes to answer it.

Lots of mess, but nobody home?

Your first task, for this is an adventure game of sorts, is to gain entrance to the house. Only then can you begin to figure out why you are left alone in this strange house, so new to you but also old and full of secrets.

Your Father's writing desk, with electronic typewriter

As you wander it's halls, opening drawers and exploring rooms, you come across notes, books, diaries and clues to just what your family has been doing while you were away. The common thread is your younger sister, and as you wander you hear her describe how she coped with moving to a new house, new school, new friends.

Your Mother's art

At first it all felt set up for a haunted house story, I played during the evening and could feel the emptiness and loneliness of the house, moving around sometimes in silence and low lighting. I found myself turning on the lights wherever possible, occasionally checking behind me, opening doors cautiously.
Mysteries to be found
The game plays with you though, if you let it. The story of your sister is stronger because of the contrast with the lifeless house. It brings context to what you're witnessing, and leads you along from room to room. As you discover every note, postcard and little snippet of life it just draws you further into the world and your quest to uncover the mysteries within the house.

The mid-90s experience is heightened with various tapes to be found and played

I hesitate to say any more, as the whole point of the game is the exploration and discovery. Each family member has a story, revealed by the objects and notes scattered throughout the place. It's not some action-packed thrill ride, and all the better for it. It's a slow narrative journey, and I thought it was rather brilliant.

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