Flash Sociological Reviews: Gone Home (part 3: video gamers)

This is the third part of my first Flash Sociological Review, focused on what video gamers said about Gone Home. I invite you to read the first (the media) and second (my own experience) parts of the review. All the quotes cited in this post come from comments written in articles on Gone Home. SPOILER alert, be careful.

Is Gone Home a Video Game?

If Gone Home’s status as a game was a major theme for writers on online magazines, video gamers, not to be undone, also passionatelydiscuss about the subject. Unlike the former, gamers are more keen to express themselves bluntly and without circumlocutions:

It’s a good interactive experience, to be sure. But I very strongly disagree that it qualifies as a game (tdlf in Polygon Comments).
I’m not sure why Alec calls this a “game”. The creators don’t even call it that. They call it an “interactive exploration simulator”. I’d call it interactive fiction. Either way, it’s not a game, and I think it’s important to be clear about that. (Crinkles in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).
This is simply an intriguing (and good) demo parading as a game. Just when it draws you in, it drops you off (Witty_reference in Polygon Comments).

Developers, journalists, writers, theorists and other knowledge based professionals have spilled too much ink (maybe the metaphor has lost effectiveness in the digital age) in their efforts to define what a video game is. Too many definitions and approaches to sum up right now. One of the characteristics shared by all of them is that they tend not to give straightforward descriptions and let the concept open to debate. At most, these professionals elaborate analytical and practical definitions that serve their purpose. Video games live, like the majority of concepts and pieces of reality, in a vast landscape of grey shades.

This contrasts with the sharpness of video gamers when it comes to considering what a game is and what’s not. They are very clear in their statements and, as the last quotes showed, there are some of them that not only do they evaluate negatively Gone Home, they also categorically reject the idea of categorising it as a game.

If the gameplay in this game is literally just walking around looking at objects, why could the story not have been told in the form of a book or movie? (Sirnick in Polygon Comments).
Giving this a 10 seems extremely flattering considering that it’s more an interactive story than a game. (…) This interactive story/’90s relic simulator doesn’t appeal to me no matter how much I want to remain open (David Boni in Polygon Comments).
I still wonder why it is called a game. (…) Compare it with, let’s say “Papers, please”(PP) . PP engages with players on a much deeper level, through your actions within the game you make a moral standpoint. (…) Now on the other side is “Gone Home” where you go on rails through a house with the only choice being not to engage with the story at all. It’s like reading a book and having the choice to skip from the middle to the last chapter. Gone Home is a digital exposition. A cgi museum. I don’t see how it is moving the medium in any way forward. Yes, it has a well written story with an interesting theme, but nothing about it justifies it being a game (Otto_ in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

The simile of the book, along with the interactive story or fiction, is extensively used. They refer to cultural products that are different from video games to describe Gone Home. One of the players even comes to compare it with a digital exposition and a museum. Is this user implying that the Gone Home is a place where you can see things but are not allowed to touch them? Having spent several year s researching on cultural heritage (I won’t say for how long!), I would have a great deal of things to say about that assumption (based on a 19th century ‘s museum notion), but the point is crystal clear: Gone Home, unlike other games (or just unlike games), lacks of interactivity. Furthermore, Otto_in says that the mere narration of a story does not qualify as a game. It just doesn’t justify it. Sometimes, even the story is disregarded:

This “game” was awful. It lacks actual mechanics, skill element, replay value, or compelling technical/artistic design. (…) This is not a title that gets by on actual mechanics, and the story is the sort of too-precious a first year creative writing major might have churned out (Gpsmith86 in Polygon Comments).

The focus is on its lack of mechanics and replayability. According to this user, those seem to be important features for a game to be considered as such. Hence, is what you can and cannot do in a game, along with the possibility of playing it more than once (not attached to a single play, even if you already complete its ‘story’), its most important defining characteristics? Others seem to agree:

Just finished this title and all i can say is EXTREMELY disappointed. (…) Furthermore, with the extremely casual, no emphasis on actual gameplay… all focus on the story… you would be better off saving your money and watching a playthrough on youtube. (…) No replay-ability. Incomplete story. Lacks any challenge, and nowhere do you as the player “unravel a mystery” as advertised. Hard for me to truly consider this a “game” as apposed to a somewhat (very limited) interactive(ish) story (AlphaFin in Polygon Comments).
Isn’t Gone Home just another Walking Simulator? And by this I mean that there’s nothing in there in terms of gameplay. (…) I don’t really get why anyone cares about backstory (lost-in-marbles in Polygon Comments).
2 hours of walking around a house looking at notes doesn’t count as a game to me. There is no leveling or progression. There were no puzzles. There was no kill screen. The most emotion the game elicited from me was pity for the girls problems.(Leemahi in Polygon Comments).

The gameplay, that controversial and indefinite notion, is in the centre of these players’ complains. The absence of challenge, a sense of progression, levelling, puzzles, kill screen (is that even desirable? is a fatal interruption of play something you would ask for in a game? are glitches part of gameplay…? Sure they are!) is bitterly pointed out by gamers as the final evidence to expel Gone Home from the (not that) exclusive universe of existing video games. Dispossessing Gone Home of any possible interactivity by equating playing it with watching a playthrough of the game on Youtube, these gamers take their arguments to extremes. They’re really angry and don’t want Gone Home close to what they think a game is.

Funnily enough, they define the game as some sort of walking simulator, a (sub)genre so in vogue lately. Of course, those gamers do it as a way to discredit Gone Home. But not all gamers challenge the game-like nature of Gone Home, they defend its methods and ways to get to players:

I think we’re allowed to have different kinds of games. Writing Gone Home off as a “walking simulator” is silly. The “game” happens inside your head as you struggle to piece together the scraps of information you’re getting. It’s unnecessarily limiting for any gamer (or person in general) to restrict themselves to a particular type of experience. (…) Is Gone Home a video game in the classical sense? Clearly not. Can it coexist in my Steam library alongside shooters, strategy games, RPGs, and dozens (hundreds?) of other genres? Hell yes. And proudly. Because it’s a really great game. (Razieluigi in Polygon Comments).
Nevertheless, it is my GOTY, without a doubt, and one of my favorite games ever. (…) I know praising this game utterly scares some people, cause they think they will not have their story-less action shooters anymore; I don’t want to obliterate other genres of gaming when I say this, but I do wish this kind of games develops further and offers more choice (AngelTear in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

These gamers are depicting Gone Home as a different kind of game, one that cannot be labelled as classical, but a game nonetheless. In this case, being a game has more to do with what you are able to experience with it than what you can actually do in it.

According to this approach, video games are recognised as experiences and products with which people connect in different ways. In opposition to their fellow gamers, their perspective is inclusive: Gone Home can be considered as a game without excluding more traditional genres in the rich pool of video games. But these are not the only ones who drop some lines in praise of Gone Home:

I didn’t have to play Gone Home for very long to be able to tell that it was a game that I would be able to hold up to people who Don’t Play Games. Something that I will be sitting people down in front of for years to come and showing them what the format can do. Showing them that the format can truly be artistic. It’s something very special. It tells these stories with wit, and grace, and a wonderfully sensitive, wonderfully human touch. It tells these stories in a way that only a game can do, where you almost feel like you are helping it to form the story yourself. You’re not being spoken to, like a book or a play. It’s almost a collaborative process, and that’s something that games can make you feel (Colw00t in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

In accordance to this user, Gone Home is a video game that might appeal people who don’t play video games. Colw00t even capitalises the category of no-gamers, those who “Don’t Play Games”, as though they were a particular group that could be defined by that absence, what they don’t do: playing video games. Not only should Gone Home be viewed as a game, it could also be understood as a device to turn no-gamers into gamers. Or at least consumers of that specific type of video games. Furthermore, this gamer goes further by stating that Gone Home conveys its story through proper game mechanics; interactiveness is invoked and the idea of a collaborative process is brought to the debate: “in a way that only a game can do”. These opposing points of view can be summarised in the following humorous expressions:

(Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments)

If you live near Austin, I am allowing people to wander my house and poke about in rooms for $5/person. I promise there are obscure notes and slightly confusing pictures located in some rooms, and I have left a note on the front door saying not to look for my dog, Milton. Adventure awaits! Reply to this post for details (Renbo in Kotaku Comments).

The former set of comments parodies part of the usual gameplay in video games, simulating how Gone Home would look like if that kind of video game logic was applied to it. The latter uses irony to ridicule Gone Home and its premises as a game. Both of them made me laugh.

Narrative and mechanics in Gone Home: misleading the player?

Most of the tension in the debate with regard whether Gone Home is considered a video game or not relied on two elements that seems to be fundamental in video games: the way Gone home unfolds its narrative and through which mechanics (or the lack of them). But how are both evaluated by video gamers?

When it comes to approaching the narrative, there is a heated controversy in relation to the story that is being delivered. Adolescence is in the eye of the storm, whether it is ferociously criticised as a narrative resource…

I didn’t like Gone Home not because of its project type (I firmly refuse to call it a game) but because it’s a cliched love story told in a ham-fisted fashion that gets rammed down your throat. It’s all the more frustrating when they did manage to deliver a much more interesting sub-plot with a lot more subtlety, but chose instead to run with the teenage love drama with shitty storytelling. That’s why I hate Gone Home (Soldant in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

… or it is praised because of the accurate depiction of a subject normally neglected:

I liked it. A lot. (…) I am fed up to the back teeth with the sheer number of books, films, anything painting everything people get up to in their teens as “Oh my God, how can kids be so stupid (…)” etc., etc. It is nauseating. Gone Home is one of the few pieces of creative media I’ve experienced recently to allow that teenagers can be stupid, impetuous, self-centred and all the rest of it but also brave, determined, courageous, thoughtful and you’re damn right compassionate at the same time. It’s easily one of the strongest facets of the writing and what made me tear up as much as the actual plot, maybe more. (Eight Rooks in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

I find very interesting to read these mixed opinions on the main story: is it a cliché or is it an unusual good representation of teenagers? Was the correct decision to make the teenage love drama the central story of the narrative or should the developers have followed other lead?

This controversial scenario about the narrative becomes more complicated when new factors are taken into account, especially those related to the game’s atmosphere and mechanics:

On one side, this is a beautiful (seriously, just beautiful) analysis of teenage infatuation — something many people have been through and, as John mentioned, is somewhat devalued. (…) Flipping the coin, when your entire hook is predicated on ‘what has happened to everyone?’, having your story finish with everyone basically running away from home for a while is a bit of a cop-out. The peals of thunder and flickering lights used to give the impression of atmosphere are poor window-dressing for such a dis-satisfactory denouement. (…). And let us not forget, it achieved this through the primary mechanic of picking up bits of rubbish in an abandoned house. (Magos in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).
It’s an important step up in the right direction for new themes to take over games, but it’s also a pretty mediocre game., which is what I look for in a game, quality of gameplay, not a “progressive” plot (Dskzero in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

These users praise the story of Gone Home, considering it a beautiful analysis of teenager’s feelings of love, but criticise the frame that contains the narrative, how it ends and the mechanics used to deliver it. Magos, for instance, refers to the unimpressive effects to create a sense of atmosphere and the disappointing final where the big question — what happened to your family — is just answered with a “we’ll be back soon”. There is also an adverse criticism of the main mechanic of the video game, depicted as “picking up bits of rubbish” without “quality of gameplay”. These gamers are not alone:

I found the story utterly entrancing, but I’m baffled as to why the game spent so much effort in making me feel that it was going to be a horror game. I have such a mixed response to the game, because it seems to have an identity crisis. The first half is incredibly creepy, but that creepy atmosphere has nothing to do with the actual story arc. I don’t really understand the point of misleading the player in that way — it’s as if the devs didn’t really have faith that the story (and substories) were interesting enough on their own. And yet they were totally engrossing, without needing thunderstorms or the ‘psycho house’ story. (Puggy in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

According to this player, the story is entrancing and engrossing by itself, without wrapping it in a creepy fashion. Puggy assumes the developers have intentionally misguided the players because they didn’t believe the story could directly arouse interest among them. Again, good central story but not very well dressed.

However, there are those who lament that the horror elements we find in Gone Home have not been incorporated in the story in the end:

Just watched a full walkthrough. I have to say I would have been upset if I had bought this. It looks like there might be some horror aspect to it, but it ends up being a textbook teenage romance story, (…). Honestly, I was bored throughout, hoping that the ghost stuff they talk about would have led to an actual paranormal encounter. Instead it’s the basic “I’m shy”-”I’ve noticed this person who doesn’t notice me”-”They notice me”-”I like them”-”They like me”-”We’re in love.”-”We run off because we’re young and stupid” plot. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before and the ‘horror’ elements just come off as a big tease (DarthSka in Kotaku Comments).
To my dying day I will speak of my hatred of Gone Home (or until the next overhyped slightly interactive romance novel pseudo game comes out). I would have enjoyed it if it had made good on the promises it made in the first 5 minutes. References to the X-Files? Horror-movie schtick? Dark and stormy night? Check, check, and check. And then things start to feel wrong. (…). Then you find that note. And you want to put your fist through the monitor. (MadMonkey in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

DarthSka and MadMonkey would have preferred a paranormal tale instead of a teenager love plot. In this case, the creepiness of Gone Home is something that makes the game interesting, but failing to integrate that horror atmosphere into the story produces as a result a narrative breakdown. It seems that all these opinions have in common the lack of correspondence between the atmospheric elements of the game (creepiness, horror elements, the paranormal) and its story (tale of lesbian teenage love) whether they choose one or another. Nonetheless, there are still players who celebrate the developers’ staging of the game:

I sort of understand where you criticism of the game is coming from regarding the misleading tension, but I for one really appreciated that they set it up that way. When I first started playing I kind of rolled my eyes when it looked like the game was going to twist into some sort of haunted house story with something terrible happening to your family. Once I found the invoice from the electrician fairly early on, explaining the flickering lights to be the result of shoddy wiring, I found myself smiling, satisfied with the idea that the creators intentionally played on that gaming trope only to subvert it almost immediately (gCo987 in Kotaku Comments).

Is the misleading intentional because they want to subvert that gaming trope? Is there any mislead (intentional or not) in the game at all? Is this a generalised feeling among video gamers when it comes to analysing their relationship with the games they play, which leads them to think of the developers as people who want to control what and how they experience it? Are gamers aware of the conditions that are imposed on them when they play video games? And the things they are allowed to do? In short, do gamers think that developers trust them?

(Don’t) Trust the player

One of the remarks on which Gone Home developers insisted several times was the fact that they trust the player. They wanted to be hands-off the player. Some gamers agree with this approach and feel that the designers of the game actually achieved their aim:

I think games like Gone Home and A Machine For Pigs are made by developers who don’t feel that they need to keep the player under their control. It’s like anti stockholm syndrome; a lot of people cannot accept it because they aren’t used to a game not telling them how to play, or at least hinting towards it. (…) Gone Home wanted the exploration and narrative progression to be in your own hands, not a checklist made in-game (Blue55 in Edge Comments).

This user describes the rejection feelings towards the game experienced by some players as being part of an anti Stockholm syndrome, because they are not capable of accepting a game that it’s not trying to tell them what to do and how to play. The game puts you in charge. You must be an active part of the interactive process, experiencing the game for yourself and collaborating with it in the storytelling:

The point of the game is to experience it for yourself and draw your own conclusions from that experience. It’s meant for the player to go in with little to no prior knowledge and experience the game for him/herself (Farron in Polygon Comments).
All the bits and pieces were placed just-so in Gone Home such that my imagination was co-laboring in the process of telling this story, speculating wildly now and again, but constantly disciplined by my senses. All those little things coming together to create that feeling of oscillation between familiarity and trespassing was to me one of the main reasons I really enjoyed Gone Home. (ctznalien in Polygon Comments).

Nevertheless, not everybody thinks the game trust players completely:

The tragedy of Gone Home, on the other hand, is that it doesn’t, in fact, trust the player enough to let “the exploration and narrative progression to be in your own hands” — its voiceover painstakingly explains its main storyline (if not its many much more effective side stories), and its overdone horror elements are only there to “exert (narrative) power over the player (Marijn in Edge Comments).

Two elements overpower the player: on the one hand, the voice-over (the diary’s entries) that explains the main storyline; on the other hand, the misleading horror elements of the game. For this user, those are features of the game that overwhelms the player from a narrative standpoint. Those elements give scant space to video gamers to take control of the game.

The allusions to the efforts made to guide the player through the narrative are especially bitter:

I thought they screwed up with this game. It was almost the amazing thing that everyone raves about, except that it kept beating me over the head with the narrative. It completely broke the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling by having totally superfluous narration running over every little bit of exploration. (…). I’d find a note that said “Character X was mean to character y”, and the voice-over would then tell me the exact same thing. It was like trying to watch a movie while someone sat next to you explaining what was happening in every scene. It drove me crazy. (Buttless Boy in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

Buttless Boy finds annoying that the game don’t let you discover the narrative by yourself. For this user the voice-over is a background noise that ruins the experience. In this case, they don’t feel the developers have confidence in the player.

The mundane story of Gone Home

There are those who like how the game was designed and produced, they even felt intrigued by the story, but in the end, they were disappointed because of its mundane outcome:

I was very disappointed with this game when I finished it. It kept me intrigued until the end, but I kept waiting for that moment when I was going to be shocked by something in the story, or something crazy would happen, or I would be reunited with someone, and that moment just never came. At the end, I felt like I had wasted the last few hours completely. Just so much potential here, but the story wound up being just blah at the end (…). The design was great, chasing the story was intriguing, the end result was meh (NoTanFightFan in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).
Despite the game’s many accomplishments, I felt let down and underwhelmed by the experience.(…) Exploring the house is great, the production value overall is very nice, and the voice-acting is some of the best of the year. But I’m still feeling a sense of “Oh. So, that’s it?” at the end of it all (Lord Punch in Polygon Comments).

Somehow, the scent of mundanity in games seems, in the eyes of these gamers, to diminish their game-like attributes and the comparisons with other forms of narrative start again:

And if you want some really good ‘normal life’ games I think you should check some visual novels or IF games (GameCat in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

We are facing a new chapter in the controversy around the definition of video games. Have normality a place in the universe of video games? Are video games extraordinary by definition? Why the depiction of a normal story is considered to be inappropriate for a video game? The tension is still there between the normal and the extraordinary, between what happens in real life and in the game. They don’t necessarily work at the same level (the pairs normality-real life and extraordinariness-the game), but they reflect a common dichotomous representation of playing video games which divides what happens in real life from what takes place in the game as though they were separate realities. It might interest you to have a look at some of my previous entries on a similar subject here and here.

In contrast, as we saw in the the first part of the review with some writers working for video game magazines, there are some players who celebrate the mundane approach used in Gone Home. For them, the normality of the whole story is what makes this game so appealing:

…it feels kind of strange, how deeply moving this whole family’s story is. And the best part is that it’s so, well, normal. It’s a family story that could be anyone’s, and to feel so much passion from it is just amazing (Cpt_freakout in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).
When the game was over, I smiled at myself. I’d imagined all sorts of crazy scenarios but in the end it was all rather mundane. I loved that. (Stellar Duck in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments)

They even compare some of the situations happening in the game (like having lots of unpacked boxes in the house) to their own daily life experience:

I bet that’s more usual than we think; we constantly connect events in video games with those happening in our every day life. And these connections probably help players to empathise with the story and the game’s characters.

Emotional impact and empathy

There is no doubt that Gone Home leaves no one indifferent, touching players deep inside and appealing to their emotions, whether they accept them or not. Gone Home makes its way to produce emphatic feelings. As it could not be otherwise, nostalgia makes an appearance:

It was sweet, passionate and thoughtful I found and it had a tender pain in it as well. Caught the feelings of that age very well. Made me nostalgic as hell! (Stellar Duck in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments)

This user even define the pain as being tender! While the presence of people complaining about Gone Home is more notorious when confronting other aspects of the game (its definition, mechanics, atmosphere, narrative), by contrast, when it comes to dealing with the emotional impact of the game, gamers are more keen to praise Gone Home, which includes taking it to the extreme:

What’s more important to me is that this game succeeded in making me feel completely and utterly immersed in its house, its characters, their lives, and their emotions. Never before have I had so much of a sense of familial concern and … wow, I just surprised myself with the fact that I’m going to say this, but I am… love… for a character in a game. Going through her journals made me legitimately feel as though I were reading the diary of my own beloved sister (if I had one) and worrying about her. (…) Because I was present in the world, it was MY sister that I was worried about and empathizing with so strongly. (And I’m saying this even though the player character is female and I’m male. The game did that good a job of putting me in her shoes. I absolutely felt that this was MY sister as I played through this … experience (ConsumerRightsVG in Polygon Comments).

Even though this gamer is not a female, he considers the game made him identify with the character controlled by the player (Kaitlin); even if the has no sister, he love Sam (Kaitlin’s sister) and felt she was his sister while he was playing Gone Home. He experienced being completely immersed in the game: the house and the family’s emotions and lives.

He offers the key to understand this enthusiastic empathy with the game and its characters at the end: “I played through this experience”. Yet again, the definition of Gone Home as an experience: “It’s just something that needs to be experienced” (Drvoke in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments). And experiences are there to be lived, felt, enjoyed and suffered. In the end, emotions, which Gone Home delivers in bulk:

As for emotions, how it affects you will depend on who you are but there’s more than just pity. You play as the main character’s sister so you’re seeing everything from the perspective of a family member. This game can make you sad, happy, it can make you laugh, make you feel annoyed, creep you out, fill you with a sense of dread, make you feel relieved and more beyond those (Farron in Polygon Comments).
This game will leave a lasting impression on you (FriendlyNeighbourhoodMurderer in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

The cascade of sensations and feelings is so strong that outplays the gamers emotionally:

When I tried this, I though I was going to play a game. The game played with my emotions, instead. A truly masterpiece (Quietone in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

As the emotional bond between the players and the game grows, they start worrying about the main character’s fate (Sam), imagining dreadful scenarios of death and despair:

When Lonnie had left and Sam sounded so incredibly sad, the moment she mentioned that she was going up to the attic to “wait” for Lonnie to come back was probably one of the most panic inducing moments I’ve had in a game. For whatever reason my mind immediately jumped to suicide. To say that I was relieved/ecstatic with how the ending played out would be an understatement(gCo987 in Kotaku Comments).
I was worried sick I’d get to the attic to find she’d hung herself while the parents were away, and that she didn’t want Kate to go to the attic to be confronted with her body (Kala in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

Gone Home stamps a lasting and impactful impression on several players and connects with them with ease. As mentioned above, empathy is made possible even if the player doesn’t share any characteristics with the main agents of the game. This path of the distant other (mainly white heterosexual males) empathising with the game and its characters (which includes the house) is more beaten than we could imagine:

The game’s ability to make a heterosexual British male empathise with a character that is in so many ways my complete opposite is fantastic (Quasar in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).
It amazes me how much this game managed to suck me in, especially considering I am nothing like either of its protagonists, being neither female or gay/lesbian. (…) It just did a tremendous job at making me empathize with their situation, as well as figuring out what was going on in the periphery with their parent’s and uncle (gCo987 in Kotaku Comments).

It’s remarkable how a video game can mediate others’ feelings of empathy in this manner. Gone Home does an extraordinary job in this regard, having into account how different players can be. Of course, there are still some common places that helps to sort this out:

As a privileged white male who never had to deal with some of the more specific matters in this game, I still thought it was an incredible experience. Besides, it’s not like there aren’t any parts of the game that are universal. We’ve (mostly) all gone through high school, all had to make new friends at some point in our lives, had to deal with the highs and lows of success and failure, etc. (Jhoff80 in Polygon Comments).

Almost universal experiences for a worldwide audience that seemed to enjoy this affective trip. Naturally, not everybody was equally affected:

I think this game is somewhat overrated. (…) Anyway, it didn’t struck me emotionally as strong as Proteus, Brothers, The Wolf Among Us or The Walking Dead Season 2. It doesn’t even have any innovation in gameplay (maybe except “put item back on the shelf/table/etc” mechanics which I loved), I’ve seen all these in many other games.

Although this player wasn’t as impacted by Gone Home as by other games, The Fullbright Company’s title is aligned with other games that are known for their substantial effects on video gamers. I just only can assume that we are witnessing the rise and consolidation of a line of video games centred on delivering strong emotional experiences.

According to the media, one of the most relevant aspects of the story told in Gone Home is the depiction of a lesbian relationship. Some writers for video games magazines, who defined themselves as being queer, acclaimed Gone Home’s representation of homosexuality in the shape of an adolescent lesbian love story.

But how have others, homosexual or not, received this portrait of queerness? There are those who think this is a stereotyped, bland and stigmatising portrayal of the homosexual community, only for the self-indulgence of those who consider themselves trendy, progressive or liberal…

As someone who the story should relate to (supposedly), it’s a rather poor portrayal — yet accurate for a specific type of individuals in our community — and while I appreciate I can’t condone the form nor the execution. (…) If the idea was to portray (stigmatise) the overly dramatic people in our community who like to stick together, lavishing over their personal sappy stories as to how things were terrible for them and they have made it now (most of them stay stuck into that state), then mission accomplished. If it was to make some people feel better about themselves and comfort their own open-mindedness and liberalism by praising the subject, then mission accomplished there as well. It’s a step. In the direction? I don’t know. It talks about the hardships of coming out I guess so that’s good. Was it what we needed? I don’t think so at all.(Muskatnuss in Polygon Comments).
I genuinely don’t get why people liked this game. The exploration was a good start, but the main story and most of the subplots were incredibly bland. I think the high scores had more to do with people slapping themselves on the back for being so progressive as to show vocal appreciation for a gay love story (acetken in Polygon Comments).

…while others, although within the gay community, don’t consider having homosexual elements an important part of the game:

Just to make a point, as a gay gamer myself, while I definitely did experience Gone Home and would recommended it, I don’t pick games just because they do or do not have gay content. I play games that appeal to me in general. If Gone Home had been a crappy game, then it’d still be a crappy game whether or not it had queer content in it. Just adding a gay element doesn’t automatically make it appeal to me. (oxHanoverxo in Polygon Comments).

Obviously, there are people that, unlike the ones who felt empathy with the characters even if they were completely different to them, felt absolutely estranged from what happens in Gone Home:

As a Chinese player, I sense zero cultural identity in Gone Home, almost every thing is too exotic for me, it’s not a place we called home, more like a place we called museum. And you can imagine how could this situation remove a major part of the humanistic value of this game. And I cannot stop thinking about how many praise for this game is based on a political correctness angle, what if Sam is not fall in love with a girl, what if Sam is brother instead of a sister, what if Lonnie is not so perfect (she is too Mary Sue for me, such a idealized lover for teenagers), what if the patriarchs are not so annoying…… (…) it seems that a heterosexual male love story is far from being praised like this (Freedomourne in Polygon Comments).

This Chinese player links the Gone Home’s praise to the lesbian love story. Is this just an assumption? Would it have been radically different in case the story had portrayed a heterosexual relationship? Possibly it wouldn’t have been an element of discussion. Anyway, sexuality and gender seem to be important subjects in Gone Home as well as in other video games.

I’m sure the community of gamers (a dangerous concept, to be kept in theoretical quarantine) is going to be always present in every video game, at least in the shape of comments and forum posts. But Gone Home seems to be a special occasion to turn to the community:

I came here to read this as soon as I had finished the game. Thanks for posting this and sharing your thoughts and feelings about it. It has also brought out some amazing comments from the RPS community (Cyphran in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).
A wonderful game. As I read these intelligent comments, i found that I did not find all of the clues. I thank everyone here for really “Amplifying” my game experience. I understand now the Game, much much better. One of the main themes seen in this game is how people tend to only see life in their own narrow ways and not be able to understand other people’s valid lives (Freestonew in Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments).

The community is an abstract space where players, regardless of their personal characteristics and location, can share thoughts, feelings and experiences about Gone Home. It amplifies the game experience and modifies how players understand and interact with the video game. It comes to no surprise that people find pleasure, maybe more than with the game itself, just reading what is said about it:

I love articles about this game, if only for the comments. (rdgrrbbt in Polygon Comments).

Also visit:

Flash Sociological Reviews: Gone Home (part 1: the media)

Flash Sociological Reviews: Gone Home (part 2: personal experience)

Extra content: the absurd

(Rock, Paper, Shotgun Comments)

…and don’t seem to stop this guy at all:

Originally published at the3headedmonkey.blogspot.com.

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