Game That Tune

Gone Home

You Go, Grrrl

Gone Home’s soundtrack is every teenager’s diary set to ’90s rock.

By Derrick Sanskrit • September 26, 2013

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

Even if I hadn’t lived through it myself, I’ve consumed more than enough movies, TV shows, and books to know that being a teenager is rough. You’re just beginning to figure out what kind of person you want to be, and odds are good you’re making lots of mistakes along the way. Feelings of inadequacy, confusion, and escapism are practically routine, serving as perfect fodder for the pop music kids devour in an attempt to discover their identities. The recent indie gem Gone Home played off of these sensations in a way that would make Judy Blume tingle, particularly with the inclusion of the “Riot Grrrl” music of the 1990s Pacific Northwest. Fitting the themes of Gone Home, Riot Grrrl bands frequently juxtaposed senses of inclusion and exclusion with free-wheeling rebellion and somber introspection.

Bratmobile’s “Cool Schmool” is the perfect starting point, taking pride in rejecting conventional expectations before those same conventions have a chance to do the rejecting. The idea that a young person no longer needs peers to approve of what they do, to embrace them as part of the cool crowd, is both harrowing and liberating. In the game, Katie finds this particular tape right around the same time she finds a note between her sister and a friend lampooning what “the cool kids” must be up to and deciding that—by doing their own thing and being happy about it—the note’s author’s are the “cool” ones. The song’s final message is about valuing a person for their feelings and values over their appearance and presentation—a valuable lesson for the new girl in town who is cursed with living in a “psycho house.”

On the other side of the coin is Heavens To Betsy’s “Complicated,” a slow and emotional grunge anthem. The message is similar—forgoing the meaningless expectations of others in an effort to be true to one’s own feelings and desires—but the defense mechanism of lighthearted goofiness has crumbled away, leaving raw nerves and the intense need to scream and rock oneself to sleep. While Bratmobile’s Allison Wolfe sang about cutting ties with the people who held her back, “Complicated” sees Corin Tucker dealing with the opposite situation—the threat of a person to whom she has become deeply connected leaving her behind. As much as teens crave independence and a sense of identity, abandonment can be even more frightening and crushing than conformity ever could. These are the big heavy concepts teenagers anguish over for years, an existential crisis that can seem both torturous and luxurious to people who have overcome or yet to approach such concerns. Every generation of artists works out these issues in the vocabulary of their time, and Riot Grrrl was distinctly a ’90s thing.

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29 Responses to “You Go, Grrrl”

  1. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    I remember trying to start a journal (i.e. a diary that I’d rather not call a diary) once as a teenager. I wrote exactly one entry, then I felt embarrassed; I know all this already, why am I writing it down? I also remembered that I’m not a very good writer.

    In comparison, neither rain nor personal tragedy nor flesh-eating virus can stop video game extras from documenting the minutiae of their lives. I admire their dedication, in a way.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I kept journals twice, during two separate (but equally) embarrassing phases of my life.  Once in high school, where almost every entry was about some girl I liked who I was sure would never be interested in me (but was too shy/afraid to ever find out for sure), with a few about how much I hated the Jehovah’s Witnesses and didn’t believe their shit any more thrown in for good measure.

      The second was when I became Mormon, and had a bunch of entries about how wonderful everything was and how happy I was and yay and…after about six months I quit those when I realized that I would always be a second-class citizen there because my family wasn’t Mormon and I couldn’t pay to send myself on a two-year mission.  Three years later I was out of there for good, and well on my way to becoming an atheist.

      • NakedSnake says:

        Oh man, that second journal would have been awesome if you had kept up with it. It would have been quite a journey.

        • SamPlays says:

          Big Love (Inspired by Aurora Boreanaz)

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          @baneofpigs:disqus  – Yeah, I actually started writing them by hand, but within two weeks switched to PC.  Which made it far easier to lose all of them later when my PC crashed/got demolished by viruses.  It would be fun to check it out again.

          I amazingly enough still have an electronic copy of my high school diary somewhere (thanks to my friend who stole a copy of it and ended up holding on to it far longer than me), but it’s password protected and I can’t remember what password I was using 20 years ago now.

      • SamPlays says:

        Aurora Boreanaz character arc:

        *Hates Jehovah’s Witnesses*
        *Becomes Mormon*
        *Becomes atheist*
        *Joins Gameological Society*

    • NakedSnake says:

      Resident Evil journals! In the RE universe, commitment to the written word must be one’s highest calling, since the characters never stop writing in them. A sampling:

      “Fever gone but itchy. Hungry and eat doggy food. Itchy Itchy Scott came. Ugly face so killed him. Tasty.”

      “How could I be so careless? I lost my favorite lighter–the one Jessica gave me for my birthday. Now it’s going to be that much harder to get out this dark place.”

      “I shot Ed in the back through the heart less than an hour ago. I watched him writhe in pain upon the floor in a pool of his own blood. The expression on his face was positively exquisite.”

      More can be found here.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        “Now it’s going to be that much harder to get out this dark place.”  But not TOO much harder, since you can apparently see well enough to WRITE IN A JOURNAL.

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

        Itchy! Tasty!

    • Jackbert says:

      I got a journal for one of my birthdays, wrote an entry, thought it sounded stupid, ripped it out, and used it to categorize baseball cards instead.

      I’ve also had to keep one for three English classes, including my current one, but I never write anything personal in those.

  2. SamPlays says:

    Riot Grrrl bands also frequently juxtaposed the difference between male and female audiences in the punk/underground scene, which I imagine was disheartening. But being called a “cunt” at your show illustrates precisely why feminism and politics play such a strong role in this music.  

  3. NakedSnake says:

    I like how the header gif is notably muted this week, matching the tone of this poignant, low key exploration game.

  4. boardgameguy says:

    What a lovely gif. Mr. Sanskrit, you have outdone yourself.

  5. signsofrain says:

    I kept a journal in high school, an electronic one on a website, which I still have a backup of. Recently I went back and read some of what 15 year old me had to say. It wasn’t as cringe-worthy as I thought it might be. Sure I had loftier ideals and bigger dreams, the weight of the world having not yet bent my shoulders, but I was more honest about who I was too. I cared less if I pissed people off, I was more principled. Also I was more creative and more productive creatively. I miss that young brain’s plasticity, though I certainly don’t miss teenage relationship drama and I’m glad that I now listen to more music than video game tunes taped off the console onto cassette and Weird Al bootlegs. My ego’s taken a few shots over the years too and that too has been largely a good thing (though painful at the time I was taking those shots). All in all… I’d rather be in my early 30s than 15 again, so I guess it’s kind of ironic how much time I spend recapturing stuff 15-year-old me was doing, like playing video games and watching weird movies on VHS.

  6. Chalkdust says:

    Three consecutive weeks of licensed music?  I need an OST palate cleanse!

    I haven’t played Gone Girl Home yet, but I do like the careful curation of licensed music to give a game a sense of time and place… GTA and sandbox games set the standard for how it should be done but I am interested in seeing what other genres do with it, like Bioshock and Fallout 3/NV.  Bioshock Infinite’s anachronistic warping of contemporary music is a great example, with the barbershop quartet version of “God Only Knows” creating a pretty unsettling effect early on.

    • I’m aware of the trend, it’s just how timing worked out this month. Don’t worry, we’ve got some chiptunes coming up. I’m glad to know someone else is paying attention, though!