Review: “Gone Home” is the beautiful, queer-centric video game of your dreams

Video games have always held a special place in my heart.  I’m a member of the Mario generation, raised on Nintendo and arcade games. In high school, you could often find me at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum playing Mortal Combat and drinking Cherry Coke, the only girl in a sea of teenage boys. My love of games has followed me through adulthood. We read books, watch television and go to the movies to escape reality for a brief moment in time. Video games aren’t just an escape from reality. In a really good game, you get to experience another reality.

Female characters, let alone queer characters, are still woefully underrepresented in gaming culture. While I love playing games that let me be the heroine, like Mass Effect and Dragon’s Age, it’s still the same exact narrative as their male character counterparts. A kind of  “fill in the blanks” philosophy.  What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, so to speak.  The story plays a secondary role to the action. Guns and swords trump narrative on the regular. What about those of us gamers who want something different? Something so beautifully story driven, it makes your heart ache?  Indie game developer The Fullbright Company delivers just that with its haunting and gorgeous new release, Gone Home. I saw a clip of this game nearly a year ago, and I knew it was going to be something special. Special is an understatement.

Gone Home is a first person interactive game, set in an Oregonian mansion. The year is 1995, the time of Sassy magazine and flannel shirts. You play as Kaitlin “Katie” Greenbriar, a college aged young woman who has just returned from a year abroad. In her absence, the family has moved and you share Katie’s disorientation as she tries to make her way through their new home.

still from the video game "gone home"

The house is empty, and Katie’s parents and sister Sam are nowhere to be found. You must find clues around the house, and try to piece together their story.  And what a story it is. You may be playing the character of Katie, but it’s younger sister Sam who is the heart of Gone Home. She leaves an alarming note for Katie, and the game tries to piece together this past year of Sam’s life through narrated journal entries that Sam has addressed to her sister.

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Sam’s voice is the only dialogue in the game, and you can’t help but grow attached to the kid. Riot grrrl music from bands Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile provide a perfectly retro soundtrack to the experience, helping to ground you in the mid-nineties setting.

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So much of Gone Home is about secrets. The secrets we keep from each other out of fear, secret love notes, secret passageways.  Families aren’t always what they seem, and everyone’s heart beats and breaks just a little bit differently. Without giving  too much away, the game tells the story of a very queer, yet inherently universal experience.

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Players who grew up in the that time period (like this writer) in particular will find that Sam’s story hits very close to home. At the same time, there is a feeling of unease that stays with you the whole time. A tense, uncomfortable feeling of being lost and alone. Near the very end of my gameplay, tears were running down my cheeks as my Katie ran furiously through the house, following her sister’s last clue.

It’s hard to do Gone Home justice without ruining the crux of the story, and I believe that is what makes it such a compelling piece of gaming artistry.  Never has a story been told in such a way through the medium of video game. The Fullbright Company has a masterpiece on their hands.  Depending on how thorough you are, the game can take anywhere from around ninety minutes to four hours. Priced at $19.99,  it may seem a little expensive for a game of its length, but it is well worth the splurge. If you are not a gamer, but just love a good story, Gone Home is the perfect for you. The gameplay is very approachable, so gaming novices need not worry. Take a few hours and escape into something wonderfully unique.

Gone Home is available for PC, Mac and Linux.

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