Quick Review: Gone Home

Gone Home is an interactive story, not a game. I loathe visual novels but I enjoyed Gone Home a great deal. It is a small story, about which not much can be said without spoiling it, but the comments are open for spoiler-filled discussion.

Gone Home has a short play time, around two hours. There are no monsters nor puzzles nor combat, just exploration and discovering the story at your own pace. You arrive home from the airport to find the house deserted. Go inside and find out what happened.

Two things made the game for me. First, Sarah Grayson’s voice acting as Sam. She’s great, especially when [spoiler]. Second, I really enjoyed the contrast between what the game seems to be and what the story is. Negatives: the main story is not something you cannot find better in a book; the side stories are more sketched than written (also perhaps their strength); the locked doors that structure the narrative are an obvious artifice. But seriously, Sarah Grayson.

I got Gone Home on sale, and I might hesitate to recommend it even at the 75% off, $5 price point versus “worth playing if you get it in a Humble Bundle.” I found it worth the time.

: Zubon

Metacritic reviews are very polarized, with the negative anchored by folks who missed the “no puzzles or combat” thing and spent $20 for a 2-hour non-game.

5 thoughts on “Quick Review: Gone Home”

  1. I find the discussion over whether something is or is not a game particularly irritating. Gone Home uses the same storytelling techniques as a particular sub-genre of first-person shooter, and any first-person game could use Gone Home as inspiration for its interaction design. I don’t really see the point of saying that there is interactive software that uses interactions to communicate meaning, but it’s not a game, because it sounds like the amateur game designers who define what a ‘game’ is or what makes a ‘good’ game or what kinds of ‘fun’ are valid, in a way that just so happens to elevate their personal tastes (and cut out a bunch of the history of the medium as not being ‘real’ games). That said, I find Sid Meier’s definition particularly useful, especially because it lets the conversation evolve away from whether or not something is a game to why did someone find the choices within the game interesting or not interesting.

    Also, playing silly buggers with the definition of the word ‘game’ generally leaves one open to a smartalec coming along and pointing out that ‘game’ already has a definition and most of the games industry doesn’t meet it: what they make are puzzles.

    1. I find discussions of discussions over whether something is or is not a game particularly irritating, because it sounds like the amateur philosophers who argue about words in scare quotes do so in a way that just so happens to elevate their personal status.

      *high five*

  2. Could you elaborate on why you loathe visual novels? Is it that the implementation you’ve seen so far is dismal or do you not consider it a valid form of creative expression at all? Do you also loath graphic novels? Tone poems?

    I’m not being snarky. There are many people who do object to hybrids on principle, who can back up their objections with solid, rational argument. I’m not one of their number but I understand, without sharing it, that desire for purity of form.

    1. I have yet to play/read Fate/Stay Night.

      I have yet to see a decent implementation of a visual novel. Literally not one I have seen has risen to “decent,” to the point that I gave up hoping one could be good, although I have yet to play/read Fate/Stay Night. The best I have seen is “forgettable,” Sturgeon’s Revelation writ large. The structure seems to promote mediocrity: take about a page worth of manga drawings, then use them to fill space around a story that will be shown in increments small enough for Twitter. It combines the worst of the parent media with the least convenient format.

      I often enjoy graphic novels and comics, though I’m not a particularly visual person. I would like more of them to let the medium do the work, letting the art and the words each do their part without relegating one to a secondary role.

      I haven’t spent much time with tone poems.

      I tend to prefer text. Some of that is being more verbal than visual. When the weight of the expression is carried by the verbal content in a non-textual format, I tend to be annoyed that I was not just given text, which groks better. When the non-verbal component is carrying its weight, I am rapturously pleased and ready to celebrate it. Seriously, Gone Home’s story (text) does not bring anything new to the table, Sarah Grayson’s voice acting carried it, and the format was an effective delivery method for the assorted stories.

      1. Have you tried Analogue: A Hate Story from Christine Love?

        Granted, it has the surfeit of manga drawings, but its text demands a little more interaction and involvement from the reader than “click a button to continue reading piecemeal pages.”

        Basically one has to piece together nonlinear fragments of letters and diary entries to form a picture/timeline of events long past. It’s still classified as a visual novel.

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