I’ve defended for a very long time that video games should be considered as a serious art-form. With the benefits of advancing technology, the video game industry has seen an unbelievable increase in sophistication quality from the days of ‘Super Mario Bros.’ and ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’. What used to be short paragraph storylines only featured in ten page manuals have now evolved into deep cinematic and emotional experiences which are treated just as big as blockbuster cinema releases.
There are a couple of examples I usually give to people in order to dispute the idea that all games are simple shoot-em-ups designed for frat boys and children who really aren’t old enough to digest what’s happening on-screen, ‘Gone Home’ is one of these examples.
Now, ‘Gone Home’ is a special title, I could go on and on about the disturbing abstract symbolism of ‘Silent Hill 2’ and the exhausting emotional blows of ‘The Last of Us’, however, ‘Gone Home’ is a game best experienced when you know as little about the story as possible going into it. I’ll give the basics, just enough to let you know what you’re getting into.
The year is 1995 and you play as Katie Greenbriar, having travelled and studied around Europe for the last year, she is finally ready to return back to her family and tell them all about the time she’s been away. Since she’s been away, Katie’s family have moved into a new mansion in Arbor Hill, Oregon, the mansion is locally known and not for good reasons. Katie arrives home during a stormy night and finds that there’s no one in sight, the lights are off and the only sound present is the hard rain hitting against the windows. The aim of the game is to explore the mansion and find out what’s happened to Katie’s family.
The player can relate to Katie with one very important aspect, she’s never been in this mansion before so there is zero familiarity with the structure and surroundings, creating a very tense and foreboding atmosphere, that’s what this game does best, atmosphere.
You play the game in first-person view, you have complete freedom of camera and this is an intentional design that many contemporary games have taken in order to immerse you as much as possible because at the end of the day, there is no other creative medium that can immerse you as much as video games. You interact by picking up and examining common household objects which help to give an idea into the lives of the Greenbriar family. There are specific objects that are key to the storyline and will help you to unlock more areas of the house to explore. You’ll also unlock audio diary entries (much like in ‘Bioshock’) read by Katie’s sister Sam who becomes the narrator of the tale. When you enter a specific room or examine a specific object, these audio files will be automatically activated, some cannot be avoided but you can easily miss some important character development if you don’t manage to catch one, so exploration is absolutely necessary, leave no stone unturned. The best thing about this choice to focus on exploration which has had positive comments from most to all critics, is that it truly gives the atmosphere and mansion some character, even just old VHS tapes laying around of X-Files episodes and 1990’s magazines are little details that most games don’t put effort into.
While there is a main storyline present within ‘Gone Home’, by exploring the objects and secrets of the other members of Katie’s family, you’ll begin to uncover sub-plots that aren’t explicity thrown in your face, you can effectively beat the game without diving too deep into these sub-plots but the experience will be weakened by it. They assist in giving you a better understanding of character development when you uncover the audio files which will focus on a specific encounter or comment made by a family member. The true beauty of this game is when you begin to realise how realistic these characters are written and you can apply their failures, loves, conversations and motivations to your own life and the people around you.
This is really all I can say about ‘Gone Home’ without heavily going into spoiler territory and that would honestly ruin the experience for you. The game is quite short however, lasting only about 2-3 hours on your first run through and with a £15.99 currently on the PlayStation Network for PlayStation 4 (it’s also on available on the PC gaming application ‘Steam’ so you might get a chance to catch it on one of their many sales), take that into consideration before purchasing. You can always watch a playthrough on YouTube but the best immersion experience is to play it first-hand.
‘Gone Home’ is an exploration into the human psyche, creating a fantastically dark atmosphere while delving into adolecent loves, laughs, tears and tragedies. People have argued that you can’t really classify this as a game and although I disagree because it technically can be classified as a game, I would agree that it’s much more of an experience into humanity than anything else.
By Jozef Hamilton
Follow me on: