The DigestVideo

Games Of August 2013: Gone Home

This empty nest is not what it seems.

By John Teti • September 17, 2013

Today on The Digest, Derrick Sanskrit is here to talk about Gone Home. It’s one of the least action-packed games we’ve talked about on the show, yet it’s also one of the most engrossing. I came to this game wondering why it was set in the ’90s, and by the time I finished, I got it—Gone Home’s tactile, document-based storytelling meshes perfectly with the pre-smartphone era, when people still passed notes in school and drew little maps to give people directions. Paper matters a lot to Gone Home.

Continuing with back-to-school week, today’s snack is Lunchables Uploaded—specifically, the make-your-own-taco kit. In addition to the main course that Derrick and I sort of eat on camera (cheese, chicken strips, and salsa-esque sauce—we skipped the tortilla), the box includes a bottle of water with a Kool-Aid packet to ensure that kids don’t eat unadulterated H2O. There’s also a small pack of Double Stuf Oreos, which I find sad/hilarious. If you’re going to insist on feeding kids Oreos, okay, but why do they have to be Double Stuf? Poor Michelle Obama. She’s fighting a losing battle.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

  • Citric

    I guess the Uploaded is a reference to euphemisms for pooping? Like, you might say “I’m going to go download some .log files” if you’re going to poop and are also a strange person. So uploaded is putting the food into you?

    • NakedSnake

      LOL. Presumably uploading food in that scenario would involve more of a food-based suppository system?

    • Unexpected Dave

      My first thought was that the food contains all sorts of nanotech computer chips that will get absorbed into your body, allowing Schneiders to read and control your thoughts. 

      • SamPlays

        On second thought, it’s probably more about reading and controlling your feces.

        • MathleticDepartment

          “Controlling your feces” sounds like a best-case scenario after eating one of these

    • SamPlays

      It’s all these crazy kids with their crazy techno jargon. I remember when food used to be called real things like “jawbreakers”, “juice box” and “sandwiches”.

      • HobbesMkii

        Or Gushers or Roll-Ups.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          If we’re naming food after what you do with it, it should all be called “Eat and Poop Out Laters”.

        • SamPlays

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus Then technically, they should be called Fruit Roll-Outs Don’t Eat The Wax Paper.

        • Effigy_Power

          Fun fact: Fruit Roll-Ups make surprisingly fun dental dams.

          Let that go through your head for a minute before you realize it’s a joke.

    • WELCOME_THRILLHO

      I’m suspicious that this product is not authentic Mexican cuisine.

  • Simon Jones

    I liked this quite a bit except for a few things.

    I thought the writing itself was a bit weak. It was serviceable but it was kind of in mediocre YA book territory.

    Samantha kinda irritated me.  Which might just be part of her being a teenage girl but still. A bit too…precious at times. I would rather have followed her fathers story. His depressing, depressing story. I want a game where I play an emotionally  distant middle aged man who drinks and contemplates his terrible family and his own personal failure. This will be the entire game.

    Finally, the reviews. I mean, yeah, it’s unusual as a video game genre but some of the reviews come across like people have never actually read a non-genre book or seen a non-genre TV show or film. White Suburban Angst is the Angry Bald Guy of everything except video games and 90′s Nostalgia is it’s compulsory stealth section.

     

    • lokimotive

      I understand that the story itself is hardly new territory
      within the canon of all creative works, but I really don’t understand people criticizing
      the game for that. Considering video games rarely venture far from the
      territory of pulp adventure stories, it’s commendable when a game is grounded
      in human drama. Granted, it’s not Balzac, but within the realm of video games
      it’s fairly unique.

      That being said, let’s not discount the fact that the game
      is firmly aware of the narrative space of video games. It constantly plays with
      players’ expectations within the clichés of gameplay.  Because of this, I found it incredibly well
      paced and exciting. There is some commendably subtle writing throughout, and it’s
      one of the few games that rewards scrutiny of its themes and structure. 

      • Simon Jones

        I’m thinking more along these lines:

        As we expand the types of narrative videogames operate in, and lets pretend for a moment that we aren’t going to end up with the gaming equivalent of early 90′s comics, with AAA’s Image comics to one side and Indie gamings Sad Man Masturbating Autobio, comics, with occasional forays into Sad Guy Named Murderclaws Masturbating by AAA on the other, are we going to approach each set of new narrative conventions, no matter how over served, with the same degree of forbearence?

        At what point do we allow ourselves to go ‘Well, you’re just dumping the same old narrative conventions from elsewhere into games  and it perhaps isn’t a revelation?’

        Will we reserve it for stuff that none of the various gaming ‘scenes’ demographics cover or stuff that carries less of an artistic weight than White Suburban angst and is that really fair?

        Say ‘Supermarket or Paranormal Romances’ or ‘Quirky Profiler and his attractive assistant hunt a succession of serial killers’ both of which are massively popular genres and both of which are kinda ignored by gaming and which no one in gaming is probably going to pick up.

        Are we willing to afford them the same courtesy?
         
        (Actually, the Romance thing kinda bugs me. Given that there is not an insubstantial number of older ladies who play those hidden object games, the fact that the closest thing we’ve got as a medium in terms of quality  to say Debbie Macomber is by 4-Chan and involves having sex with disabled girls.)

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          I suddenly feel the urge to contrast and compare Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood and Joe Matt’s Peep Show.

    • Fluka

      I have to disagree rather strongly with a few of the points you make here.  I found the writing actually quite strong, at least from a verisimilitude standpoint.  The notes between Sam and Lonnie, the childhood stories and their evolution, Katie’s postcards – they all felt quite true to life to me.  At the very least, like John says in the video, they are extremely successful at making you feel like you know these people.  There have been complaints elsewhere about the story arc itself (that Sam’s coming out is far too easy compared to real life, etc.), and I can fully accept that as a valid criticism.  But the characterizations are super-sharp.  It can feel like YA writing because the game is actually about a YA person.  This is what teenage girls sound like.

      I think reviews have been so strong for a few reasons.  Foremost of which is that people are starved for games like this.  It’s not just that it’s about women, or that it’s focus is on everyday human stories and themes (although those things are also sadly unusual).  It’s also that it manages to tell its story using the mechanics of games in a way which feels natural and effective.  It couldn’t be a book or a movie – it’s a story which is told fundamentally through game mechanics.  I’m not sure that another game has really done this before, at least so well.  It’s novel, and it’s extremely successful in what it sets out to do.   

      Also, isn’t the drunken, middle-aged guy contemplating his personal failures like pretty much every single big release this year?  (BioShock, The Last of Us, the new GTA).  Also, where is this glut of empathetic portraits of queer teenage girls in other media?  Did Riot Grrrl become totally mainstream when I wasn’t looking?

      • GaryX

        “Also, isn’t the drunken, middle-aged guy contemplating his personal failures like pretty much every single big release this year?” 

        The video game industry has just gotten really, really meta.

      • Effigy_Power

        From the snippets of the game I’ve seen to a few videos and Wiki-entries, it seems like they caught the essence of being a teenage girl in the 90s rather well. At no point does this seem like this is the product of a bunch of dudes watching Clueless 3 times and then writing shit out. In the scenes I saw I definitely recognized a lot of my own experience during that time, which is pretty neat.
        Only difference: That magazine would have been under my bed, because my dad is a huge square and I was a perv pretty early on.

        • Ferraro

          Actually the magazine shown IS found in the girl’s room. The reaction mentioned was not to that but to a “respark your sex life” book found in the ensuite bathroom.

        • lokimotive

          @disqus_LucYrIaVNG:disqus SPOILER? You can also find the magazine in one of your dad’s collections of stuff.

        • Fluka

          @lokimotive:disqus MORE SPOILER Between those two and mom’s romance novel, I found eeeeeeveryone’s smut in this game!

        • Kevin Baker

          There are two magazines; Dad’s hidden in the library, and Sam’s in the locker in her room.

  • rvb1023

    Is this $15 worth it or should I wait for a sale?

    • NakedSnake

      Dunno, but I’m kind of tempted to pay the $15 just to support this kind of unusual game getting made.

      • ItsTheShadsy

        Exactly my thoughts. I don’t want to go cheap on an original and creative developer, but I’ve never quite felt like buying it right away.

      • Simon Jones

        That was kind of my thought process on it. I bought because I want to encourage more diverse games to be made. I’m just not sure this is the one I wanted made, if you get what I mean. 

        • Effigy_Power

          That’s generally my internal struggle whenever I look at an indie game that interests me.

          “Do I want to reward people for potentially making great stuff or am I handing money to a bunch of shills who managed to take me in with the trailer?”

          Since a game like Gone Home wouldn’t work too well with a demo, I find the safest way to find out is to torrent the game, play as much as you feel you need to make an opinion and then buy it or stop playing. Gaming has us put a lot of faith into products and promises. We’re supposed to judge investments from $5 to $60 sight unseen. No other industry I can think of right now does that other than prostitution.
          “Try it before you buy it” is a concept that needs a wider acceptance in gaming. Until then I supply my own demos.
          And on a note concerning morals: I’ve basically tripled my monthly expenditure for entertainment since I started torrenting. I feel pretty at peace about it.

    • Punchdrunk

       It’s only about four hours, and I think I was pretty slow and meticulous. I would weigh the short gameplay against the depth and thoughtfulness of the experience.
      I don’t regret paying full price, FWIW.

      • SamPlays

        $15, YOLO.

        • DrFlimFlam

          Call me a cynic, but when people say “YOLO!”, I always take the other side. “Right, I only live once, so I should live in a way that shows i cherish this unique and singular opportunity, instead of wasting everything.”

        • SamPlays

          @drflimflam:disqus In this case, wasting $15. I think the YOLO catchphrase is corny but I tend to agree with its central conceit: human life cycles are relatively short and regrets actually do play a prominent role for people on their deathbed. I have a strong opinion against the idea that everyone should aspire to greatness (that is just not statistically, socially and economically possible – the condition of relative deprivation does more harm than good). But I do think it’s important to make decisions that you won’t regret now or later in life. It could be big decisions related to career and family but also small, day-to-day stuff like how you treat other people. I know it’s a personal, subjective thing but I try to balance the trials and tribulations of everyday with the perspective that life is fundamentally absurd (Albert Camus, woot woot). In the grand scheme of things, I probably won’t have any regrets over spending money on video games.
          [flash forward 57 years]
          *lying on deathbed, taking final breath*

          i should have waited for the humble bundle…uhhhhh…

          *dies with regret*

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      *Gameological videos don’t appear on any of my updated browsers.  I want to see them eat junk food!*

      http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?p=76844079#post76844079 is what I thought.

      It’s not worth 15 dollars, but I’d say it’s worth charity toward the developer.  I’m not a fan of this subgenre of adventure games, but I’d still only upgrade my assessment of “not good” to “mediocre” accounting for that, and it’s poor value with no hidden depths thematically or gameplay-wise to justify replay.  That said, it’s tough to make a new game with not much capital, and I trust the developers to do better next time.  (I’m not fans of them, so it’s not bias.  They’re just very smart and pretty experienced.)

      A game that does 2 things should do them well, and atmosphere is only so potent.  Buying both Luigi’s Mansion games and a Judy Blume book of your choice or waiting for a sale may be the safer bets.

    • huge_jacked_man

      Absolutely not. Buy when the game hits a Humble Bundle or is otherwise under $5.

      • DrFlimFlam

        To be fair, this applies to all games.

        • huge_jacked_man

          Well technically every game is a waste of money. But in terms of replayability, production values and length this falls short at RRP.

    • Fluka

      As long as you don’t go in expecting something huge or infinitely replayable, I’d say it’s very much worth it.  It’s a pretty one of a kind game.  It succeeds quite remarkably in what it sets out to do, rewarding careful exploration, and it’s both wonderfully accessible and plays with gaming convention.  I also just like the idea of rewarding the developers for trying something new.

      • rvb1023

         I usually do buy experimental games on a whim but I went a bit indie crazy this month and feel the need to tone it down a bit.

        • Fluka

          Yeah, I’m in the same place right now.  Impulse-bought a ton of great-sounding indie games this summer.  Managed to finish half of them (and happy that Gone Home was one of the ones I did buy!), but still need to throttle my consumption for the rest of the year.  I’m really sorry Papers, Please – I’m sure you’re lovely! :(

  • PaganPoet

    “This is something that could in fact happen to you in 1995.”

    INCORRECT! Where are my PJ Harvey, Bjork and Garbage CDs!?

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Where are my Weird Al, Weird Al, and Weird Al cassettes?

      Yep, I was an even more hopeless dork in 1995…

      • SamPlays

        *hides DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince cassettes under bed pillows*

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        I have seen Weird Al in concert twice in the past year.  Both performances were awesome.

        So yeah, big dork as well. But I’m married now and have a kid, so I guess I win or something!

    • SamPlays

      On their way from Columbia House.

    • The_Misanthrope

       To Bring You My Love, Post, and Garbage.

      Also:  Tricky’s Maxinquaye, Elastica’s eponymous debut, Radiohead’s The Bends, Babes in Toyland’s last album Nemesisters, Sleater-Kinney’s eponymous debut album,  The Geraldine Fibbers’ Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, and Ben Folds Five’s eponymous debut album. 

      Not a bad year for music.

      • Simon Jones

         I am the worlds worst person because I prefer the Tricky cover of Black Steel to the original.

        The absolute worst.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      When I finished my first playthrough, I was overcome with disbelief over the lack of America Online discs, even floppies. No, the family doesn’t have a computer anywhere in the house, but I don’t think my parents did in ’95 either and we were still inundated with AOL floppies in the mail.

      • PaganPoet

        We used them as frisbees.

      • NakedSnake

        Hahahaa, yea, those would totally be everywhere, in every house. @PaganPoet:disqus likewise.

      • lokimotive

        They’re using them to tile the roof.

    • Fluka

      Star Trek and Simpsons VHS tapes for me!

      I don’t think I actually listened to music in my spare time until I was like 18.

      • PaganPoet

        So…the first album you bought was Sticky Fingers? *No tea, no shade*

    • Effigy_Power

      No Sepultura shirts, no Biohazard CDs, no Bad Religion poster. This game may have caught the vibe of being a girl in the 90s, but not a cool girl.

      • PaganPoet

        Aww, Effigy, projecting your ideal 90s self on someone? I know you were rocking a Power Rangers lunch box and Johnathan Taylor Thomas posters in your room.

        • Effigy_Power

          You will take that knowledge to your grave, I mean that’s totally not true.
          -stressed laughter-
          Actually I was 16 in 1995, so that doesn’t really line up.

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        Maybe not, but there is a festival poster in Sam’s room that includes Black Francis, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Social Distortion, the Dandy Warhols, the Offspring and others.

        • PaganPoet

          OHMYGOD1995ISTHEYEARCLUELESSCAMEOUT!!!! She better have a Clueless poster!

          I just had a 90s-gasm. I’m going to watch Clueless, Romy and Michelle and The Craft tonight.

      • lokimotive

        I had a Sepultura t-shirt freshman year of high school (so 1995, actually), that had a large circle of bilingual curse words on the back, which I didn’t realize until well after I purchased it. Mysteriously, this did not return from the wash at some point.

        • Effigy_Power

          My mother tried to confis-wash some of my shirts too, but never got away with it. That was until I bought a Offspring Shirt that said “Stupid Dumbshit Goddamn Motherfucker” on the back. I guess that’s when her internal record skipped.

          Good thing she never saw that Cradle of Filth shirt with the nun I never washed.

  • PaganPoet

    This game sounds really cool. I love these types of games, where you’re just thrown into a world, little to no exposition, back story, etc. It’s up to you to explore the world of the game and fill in the gaps with your own imagination. Games like Limbo and Journey did sort of the same thing. I think the reason people assume this is a horror game is because the mechanic of looking through crumpled up notes and desk drawers and notebooks is so tied to the survival horror genre. People don’t really know how to classify a game like this when that mechanic is disconnected from a horror setting.

    • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

      Survival Rummaging Game.

    • WormYourHonour

      Oh, I think it runs deeper than that, and there are a few obvious “bait and switch” moments where the developers clearly invite the comparison.  It’s an important element of the game and really captures the dissonance of being a child in a dark, unfamiliar house; it’s safe, of course, but it’s still scary and thrilling.  That feeling, at least to me, was just as nostalgic as the SNES cartridges and the zines. 

    • huge_jacked_man

      It doesn’t actually leave you to your own devices at all, you are restricted to areas of the house that are unlocked in order and the story is fed to you through audiologs in the order intended by the developer. 

  • http://gameological.com/author/jasonreich/ Jason Reich

    Still laughing at “When snack food makers apply adjectives to food, that don’t apply to food, I get nervous.”

    • Effigy_Power

      I am still hung up on what “Uncrustables” actually are.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    I loved Gone Home, however, I will say that the 1995 setting is a huge part of what makes it interesting for me, without it but with the exact same story I would have been a lot less impressed 

    make no mistake, the story is interesting (and unique for video games), but the idea of being able to virtually revisit the 90′s is fascinating and was very nostalgic for me, in fact I’d like to see more games that are just simulations of houses from different eras, I mean wouldn’t that be kind of cool? that kind of thing is the closet we’ll ever get to time travel 

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Agreed, I think that would be very cool. And I think you hit on the voyeuristic pleasures of the game, too. It’s fun just to be able to poke around in this authentic-feeling house where authentic-feeling people live. The fact that it feels true to a certain time definitely adds that layer of time-travel excitement to it, as well.

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

        what’s cool is they really did manage to capture something ephemeral about the mid 90′s beyond the obvious details like old tvs, cassette tapes etc

        it’s a coincidence, but in 1995 my aunt, uncle and cousins lived in an old farmhouse (that they, no shit, claimed was haunted) and wandering around the house in Gone Home reminded me of that old house and what it would be like to explore that house at night during a storm as an adult 

        another thing that impressed me was the parent’s bedroom, there was something about the look and “feel” of it that felt very true to the era, from the wallpaper to the bedsheets, even the poster on the wall

        in other words, it’s a game that’s got attention to detail out the wazoo 

    • SamPlays

      Even the JFK references, for me, are rooted in the 90s. It was a topic that captured my imagination; I recall reading several books and even wrote a school report about it. Plus there was the film from ’91/’92, which I still consider a masterpiece of editing and sound design (the conspiracy theory, not so much).

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

        I believe JFK was one of the movies the family had taped on the shelves in the “TV room”

    • The_Misanthrope

       Just on a broader scale, this is exactly the kind of thing interactive entertainment (some might halt at calling it a “video game”) needs to do more of.  The medium is ideal for this sort of exploration of virtual spaces in a way that other mediums fall short. 

       Sure, plenty of games have large, open worlds to explore, but all too often, they fall victim to re-used elements and a shallow level of detail; By the time you’ve come near the end of the game, you grow tired of encountering the same temples, caves, building, whatever copy-pasted over the terrain.  In these games, the world is just a place to run across doing missions. 

    • M North

      Yeah I think a lot of the appeal of the game is cathartic. Some podcaster recently brought up a good point about whether the game would seem half as interesting if you couldn’t draw nostalgia from it. It probably wouldn’t to be honest. It has an interesting story, a fantastic world to immerse yourself in BUT I don’t think it has much universality. It’s a niche game, which happened to be praised by people who (like me) could understand the game’s world. I think what was needed was more perspective about that.

    • duwease

      You know, I often find myself thinking that environment exploration and discovery are one enjoyable artistic aspect of video games that is unique to the medium.  I consider the world itself my favorite “character” in many games.  Some of my favorite memories are wandering a particularly lovingly rendered world and picking up information through subtle details that really make the reality of it pop.  It’s a different feeling from normal gameplay, which is generally goal-oriented.  I like that Gone Home focused on that aspect.

      Has that been an Inventory yet?  Game worlds that were given enough attention to have a life of their own?  I want to say no, but my memory is famously bad.

      • Fluka

        I still think that Dishonored had the best environmental writing of any game last year.  The main plot and characters were deathly dull, but Dunwall itself was meticulously crafted and utterly fascinating.  Both in terms of details of the environment, and the notes left behind by people.

        • duwease

          You’re probably right that Dishonored is the best recent one.

          This generation altogether, I think the first Mass Effect was the one that really hit me the hardest.  There was so much backstory to flesh out, and with so much of it converging on the Citadel, that environment really felt alive.  Once you started getting perspective on what the Citadel was, and who was in it, and the factions, and the little touches like the bugs operating machinery that everyone accepted as normal.. you could wander from place to place and just look around, and it felt real and lived-in.

          That’s something the sequels lost, as the action moved to more-or-less throwaway locations that served as background to the universe-spanning plot.  I suppose it was necessary as the plot and characters took the forefront, but I did miss that feeling of being in such a history-filled and dynamic environment.

        • GaryX

          @duwease:disqus The best example of what you’re talking about, I’d even argue, was a non-physical one. After making your decision about the Rachni, you could venture to certain fringe worlds, and if you stopped and listened carefully, just on the edges of an alien wind would be the faint songs of the Rachni. That little detail even in the otherwise barren (and often reused) “world” maps just spoke to the scope of the universe Bioware was crafting in a way I thought each of the sequels increasingly lost as it struggled to push the action, chosen-one narrative to the center.

        • Fluka

          @GaryX:disqus Wait, really?  Damn, I’ve never heard about that Rachni thing.  That’s super-cool!

        • GaryX

          Yup. Here’s one on Luna: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRmR0258vQ0

          Stuff like that is why I loved the first game so much.

        • Fluka

          @GaryX:disqus Whoa!  From admittedly hype-y PR speech, it sounds like BioWare has hoping to go back to lots more exploration both in the new Dragon Age and eventually in the next Mass Effect.  While I’m still dubious on the Mako, it’d still be awesome to see more stuff like that!

        • Effigy_Power

          All of that makes the fact that the Rachni were a mere footnote in ME3 extra-enraging.

    • GaryX

      I just wrote an essay that, in part, is about how we need to do more of what you’re calling for. Video games ability to create navigable, lived-in spaces that can carry their own narrative is probably their most unique quality as a medium–beyond, even, just being able to create homes from different time periods. Give me worlds that couldn’t exist anywhere else and turn me lose: not just Cartesian grids with a typical orientation but turn designers lose and let them make worlds of toruses turning in on themselves, spaces rapidly reshuffling as I navigate them, or Proun-like planes and objects that build upon identifiable languages but defy them. These kind of experiments are happening, and I think that’s incredibly exciting. 

      • needlehacksaw

        In that context, I always like to point out Henry Jenkins classic text* “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”: http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/firstperson/lazzi-fair

        He pointed out similar points in 2004 already, and I think of all the academical texts about video games from that era, it might be the one which turned out to stay the most relevant.

        Also: Dark Souls. A game of deep lore which can (and could by fans) be reconstructed in good parts only by reading the architecture, the enemy design and placement. The more I  think about that game, the more I am confirmed in my first fleeting impression that it is one of the most accomplished games of all time, using the language of the medium like not many others do.

        *Insofar as a discipline as young as Game Studies can have “classic texts” already.

        • GaryX

          Very much agreed on the last point. I’ve argued something similar w/r/t film before over on The Dissolve. Narratives don’t always need to puzzled out, and games–including the marginalia–don’t always need to contribute to some overall “point.” Things can feed into one another in order to serve the thematic or atmospheric whole, but the “Got it!” line of thinking is certainly a detriment. 

          Also, thanks for the essay. I’m trying to write and get others (in my field and others) to acknowledge the power of this “Narrative Architecture,” so it’s nice to see the thought already being clearly described. Are there any other texts you’d recommend?

  • SamPlays

    This game needs a puzzle that involves unwound cassette tapes and HB No. 2 pencils.

    • HobbesMkii

      “Now when I wind the tape back up…the answer is still on the label on the side…”

    • Effigy_Power

      No recording sound off the TV with a tapedeck? I call bogus.

  • huge_jacked_man

    This thing is nowhere near as good as some reviewers say it is. Just because it deals with issues of sexual orientation and is set in the 90s doesn’t make its shortcomings disappear.

    The writing is above average for a game but the story is told linearly due to areas of the house being unlocked in a given order and the gameplay consists of clicking every single object you find in the house. 

    Contrarily to what some reviewers are saying you aren’t actually left to figure anything out: the story is fed to you through audio logs you find in the order dictated by the developers.

    Also it’s 2 hours long and costs $20. 

    Oh and *Spoilers* the age of consent in Oregon is 18 so when the game celebrates your 17-year-old sister’s eloping with an older student it is effectively celebrating the sexual abuse of a minor. How progressive.

    • SamPlays

      Sounds like the only major flaw of the game is the absence of killstreaks.

      • huge_jacked_man

        If only there was a middle ground between enjoying mainstream, lowest common denominator games and praising an overpriced indie pile because it has a lesbian love story in it. 

    • Raging Bear

      Of course it’s linear. The story simply wouldn’t work at all if it let you find the last journal entries first.

      The main story is fed to you, but as Teti says in the video, the richness is in the details rather than only in the broadest strokes of the story, and those details are up to the player to hunt for and interpret.

      Oddly enough, I read a writeup from some other site that inferred a sexual abuse angle (as in, an actual one. Not an oddly vindictive, technicality-based accusation that no sensible person could possibly care about), which was rather interesting, and is the kind of thing you can’t discover by playing this of all games as a speed run.

      • huge_jacked_man

        “Of course it’s linear”

        See that’s the thing, a lot of reviews of this game lead you to believe the game lets you explore the house at will, that the story has an emergent quality the player pieces together through exploration. But it’s nothing like that – the story is fed to you in a straight line with little left to interpretation. This removes all pretense this thing could have of being anything more than a tedious visual novel. 

        • lokimotive

          You can actually explore the house at will if you check the ‘no locked doors’ box in the options. For the first play through, however, I’m not sure if that would be a particularly good idea.

          But I do think it’s fairly nonlinear from a traditional narrative stand point. Yes, the ‘audio logs’ are only triggered at certain points, but you have to glue the details together yourself. From a chronological perspective, how you piece the narrative together is pretty up in the air.
          Perhaps its a disconnect in terms, I think when reviewers say that it’s non-linear, they’re talking about the narrative, but you’re expecting the gameplay to be non-linear.

      • Fluka

        Yeah, I think you’d be poorly served by rushing through this game too quickly, and the subtle sexual abuse theme is part of that.  I failed to open that particular safe, and I glossed over some of the notes, so I missed what was going on with those two particular characters.  I’m not sure how this is any more linear than a modern first person shooter.  It rewards patience and thoughtfulness, and a sense of curiosity.  

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          I had mentioned this to John before the taping and he too had completely missed that safe and not connected notes from earlier. One of my good friends accidentally stumbled onto a secret that comes up naturally later in the game and wound up missing half of the narrative entirely. A whole lot more of the family’s history made sense to me on my second playthrough. Every object in the house with writing on it feeds into a larger narrative that most players won’t even notice the first time. To get to the “end,” you only need to learn Sam’s story, and not even all of it, but if you take time and really pay attention there are deep and human bits to help you understand your mother, father, and uncle Oscar, and even a bit about your grandfather.

        • Fluka

          @dsanskrit:disqus Yeah, at some point I should really go back and search for stuff that I missed.  (spoilers) The irony was that I had actually tried the safe’s combination on the filing cabinet earlier, just cuz that particular number seemed really important to Terry.  Somehow I didn’t think to try that later.  Then someone told me and I was all “OH.”

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          @Fluka:disqus The number is totally important, but only after you’ve connected all the dots. So much makes sense after you get it (as alluded to above, there are a few essays online analyzing this whole c-plot of the game).

        • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

          sexual abuse theme? are you talking about the uncle and father?

        • Fluka

          @STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM:disqus That’s the one.

    • Fluka

      Oi, those are some severe spoilers.  Don’t read that final paragraph if you don’t want, like, a ton spoiled.

      Also, I’m pretty sure Oregon has a Romeo and Juliet clause exemption?  So that half those teenagers doin’-it on senior prom night aren’t going to end up on a sex offender registry.

      • huge_jacked_man

        Probably, I’m just pointing it out to be a dick but it might not have had it back in the 90s.

  • duwease

    The review mentions the attention to detail, and I think if you really focus on appreciating those details, the game provides so many little moments like that to entertain you.  I think I took longer than most people to get through this game, because I discovered early on that once you’ve learned some interesting new twist to the story, you can go back and pick through the earlier locations, and all of the little details are colored in a different light.  I spent a lot of time near the end revisiting some of the earlier locations, and was pleasantly surprised at what subtleties they had hidden away for people who took the time to do so.

  • Fluka

    I really loved this game.  It felt like a breath of fresh air.

    It’s not a profound rumination on lofty philosophical themes.  It’s not long, there are no deep mechanics, and no intricately branching storylines.  It doesn’t deal with class, or race, and its story is resolutely specific.  It is not the fabled “Citizen Kane” of videogames

    But it’s still really quite something.  I like the fact that its scope is distinctly small-scale and personal.  It’s not interested in presenting the user with the fear of failure with puzzles or enemies.  Rather, it has this wonderful sense of empathy, inviting you to learn further about Sam and the rest of the family.  You explore because you want to find out what happened to them.  I also love the fact that it’s so accessible.  This is a game I can hand to a friend who has no experience with, say, first-person-shooters or other modern titles.  While it fully uses the interactivity of the medium to tell its story, it doesn’t require intimate knowledge of gaming conventions.  All you need is a knowledge of the basic move and use controls, and a sense of curiosity.  (At the same time, for more experienced players, knowing things like the tropes of survival-horror can make the experience even more rewarding.)  At the very least, it’s a wonderful counterexample to the stereotype of games as twitchy, violent fantasies.

    Also, this may be the very first time I have *ever* seen a tampon in a game.

    • PaganPoet

      Someone needs to go ahead and literally make a video game adaptation of Citizen Kane, so we can say that we have it already and move on with our lives.

      btw, tampons are for bad girls, Fluka!

    • GaryX

      God, that David Cage quote really upsets me. Such a banal anesthetization of style is exactly why video games attempting such narratives often fail. Most designers–and critics, I’d argue–seem to think filmmakers have some kind of mode in which they just make film, and that if it’s emulated, suddenly the game will take on an emotional maturity it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Some filmmakers do have a “mode,” but they’re pretty obviously the shitty ones. What these designers fail to grasp is that it’s not necessarily a style they seek but a language–ie, a way of communicating narrative through the unique limits and strengths of film. One can’t just translate from the other* and instantly mean the same thing,** but rather we need to find a way to create a language in video games similar to how Scorsese has his own language and way for approaching cinema. There can, and probably will, be a “Scorsese of video games,” but stylistically, it will probably look quite different from him.

      I think this kind of talk is also representative of a lack of authorship in design in general (architecture, for example, is becoming big on procedurally generated structures or unquestioned parametric design) that troubles me, but that’s something of a different point. Just don’t make AI work in some way to emulate some other person–particularly when it’s a transparent attempt to make your own creation creditable–but make AI work in some way because you want to tell me something.

      I think David Cage might just, generally speaking, be good at pissing me off.*Imagine translating a metaphor to film. If filmed exactly as written, it generally doesn’t work. Metaphor, of course, still works on film, but it’s approached differently than it is when written. Video games have trouble making that distinction and emulate instead of translate.**Cage, here, also seems to be conflating pastiche with earned emotional beats, which leads me to believe he read the syllabus for a Postmodernism 101 course but never actually attended.

      • Fluka

        I just don’t understand why we keep listening to him when he talks!  He is a very silly man who wants to make movies!  

      • Effigy_Power

        I am still waiting for the “Mona Lisa of Film”, the “Stonehenge of Comics” and the “Sistine Chapel of Music”. When is that coming?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Probably around the same time as the “Great Expectations of Ballet.”

        • The_Misanthrope

          Man, I just saw a cuneiform tablet that was the apex of its form!  The Lascaux Cave Painting of Cuneiform!

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Seriously, holy fuck. No wonder this jackass is stuck making shitty videogames instead of working in film, which he clearly wants to do. You can’t program an artist. Fuck. This guy is what the videogame industry has as a leading “creative?” BARF.

        • GaryX

          I’m glad I’m not alone in my disgust for this guy. You would think his previous games, let alone statements like that, would have people laughing him out of a room.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    It’s Digest caption contest time!

    Here’s the screencap: http://i.imgur.com/BDfyYSw.jpg

    I’ll get the ball rolling:
    “You said WHAT about my cats???”

    • SamPlays

      Teti: I love your luxurious beard.

      Sanskrit: Thanks. My mom gave this great beard shampoo for Christmas. It would do wonders for your sideburns.

      Teti: Are you implying anything?

      Sanskrit: Oh, nothing. [pauses] I like how they curl at your temples.

      Teti: Thanks. 

      [awkward silence for 10 minutes]

    • HobbesMkii

      DERRICK: “I guess you could say we’ve really ‘Gone Home’ when discussing this game.”
      JOHN: “How dare you, sir!”

    • Effigy_Power

      Teti: You have no idea how genuinely happy I am to have a partner here who shows commitment to his facial hair, unlike others who shall remain nameless… It’s Drew. I am talking about Drew.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    does anyone else hope they make a sequel? not a direct one following the same family of course, but a new house, a new family and a new year (though it should still be the 90′s, I would say 98 or 99 would be a good choice, it’s totally within the realm of plausibility that a family would not have a computer or a cell phone at that time, my family sure didn’t) 

    I think the premise of Gone Home, exploring a house and discovering a family’s story, is too good to use on just one game, I think there’s a lot of potential to tell a lot more stories using that same setup 

  • SuperShamrock

    Man, fuck this game. All you do is wander around bad graphics in a totally linear fashion, clicking on everything you see and having a cheesy Young Adult novel read at you.

    Even the nostalgia angle fails. The house it’s set in is just being moved into, so instead of having a 90s home it’s full of bare closets with, like, a single old Trapper Keeper.

    Fuck you AV Club for recommending this game.