In class, I asked you to spend at least a couple of hours playing Dear Esther and to keep track of your progress through the game — where do you go and what brings you to decide to follow the path that you do? Write a blog post with a 2-3 substantial paragraphs discussing your pathway and the patterns that you notice in the game as you play. As with Gone Home, pay particular attention to how the game establishes setting and time, both at the start of the game and then throughout and how the game establishes character. Do you feel like Dear Esther is very similar to or very different from Gone Home? In what ways?
The opening scene of “Gone Home” immediately grabbed my attention. An answering machine with a message on it, and then the entrance to an eerie mansion at 1:15AM with the sound of rain in the background. Having played almost the entirety of the “Dead Space” series, it screamed horror game, but as the game continued it began to lose its edge.
The suspense of the empty house with dim lighting and sounds of a thunderstorm in the background is enough to put any gamer on the edge of their seat. The setting in this game created an expectation in my mind that a murder had occurred in the house and the main character has unknowingly stumbled into a trap but it becomes clear that this is not the case soon after walking inside the house. It was extremely disappointing to see that such a good introduction and game setting could be followed by simply walking around a house and picking things up and putting them down. As I progressed through the “game”, I felt myself only becoming more and more annoyed with the suspense factor remaining high.
Despite being disappointed in the lack of user control, I admired the developers willingness to explore the topic of homosexuality, especially in the time period the game was set in. The uncomfortable setting fit well with the theme’s that the developers were trying to get across. Overall I think the game could have been much better if they gave more control to the player and added a more interesting ending.
PLAY THROUGH OVERVIEW (SPOILERS):
In the first-person, interactive, video game, Gone Home, you play as 21 year old Kaitlin Greenbriar who has just returned from a year long trip to Europe.
However, the home you return to is new and foreign – a mansion in Arbor Hill, Oregon given by your father. In the middle of a severe thunderstorm and no one home to greet you, there is only a note from your little sister, Sam, taped on the door. Claiming that she can’t be home to see you because it is simply “impossible”, and that you will see each other again “some day”, the note sends a clear message that something must have gone terribly wrong.
Opening the door, the room is pitch black. Luckily though, the light switch is on your immediate left. At first, you explore this strange new mansion and interact with this new environment – lights, lamps, doors, tissue boxes, coasters, cassette tapes, pieces of paper, magazines… Just about anything and everything placed in the house, you are able to pick up and analyze.
Yet, after amusing yourself for some time, you slowly come to realize there’s something not quite right about this house. You continue to explore the house as the thunderstorm in the background gradually increases in severity. Several pieces of Sam’s personal notes (yes, you were snooping) are both dramatic and serious about finding her place in this world. Some sound quite suicidal. The mess in your parents room seems like they left in a hurry to catch a late plane. And when you feel the most uneasy, you run into a bathroom with a bathtub filled with water and red stains.
What is your initial reaction?
Hair Dye! ( yay :/ )
By this point, your emotions have been toyed with, you have been taken on a roller coaster of ups and downs, and now you just want to find someone to say “hello” to. You continue your search for clues, open a couple of “secret” passageways which have already been occupied by your father’s work, find the secret combination to your sister’s private locker and find a huge lead to discovering the whereabouts of your sister. You helplessly follow her map directions to hopefully find the key to the attic – the last known place Sam could possibly be in the house. Not only do you find the key to the attic, but also an ineluctable warning. Signs of exorcism, possession, and Satan!
Unlike the bathroom – blood/hair dye – scenario, this sign irrevocably leads us to believe Sam is in big trouble. By this point, anything could have happened to Sam. Filled with mixed emotions of excitement, caution, frustration, and hopefulness, you rush down the hallways and head straight to the attic.
Success! The key worked and the attic has finally opened. The wooden ladder opens like a staircase of heaven, or more so to the devil’s cabin. You proceed with caution, expecting to see blood on the walls or maybe even dead bodies. Something horrific and terrifying that will leave you sobbing for your virtual sister Sam. You walk up the stairs to find a photographic darkroom your sister has been using for examining her photographs. The level of anticipation has slightly decreased but still remains high as you walk deeper into the attic. At last, you come to a dead end with Sam’s personal diary lying on a table.
The screen slowly fades to black, the game credits come on, and you hear Sam begin to explain the reason’s for her absence. She has gone away to reunite with her lover. This has all just been a huge misunderstanding and a lesson to not jump to conclusions so easily. However, there is no debate we would have gone through less trouble if Sam had only just written a less dramatic and less worrisome note.
What begins as a mysterious and engaging roller coaster of emotions, finishes with an ending that leaves players with mixed emotions of both disappointment and relief. For the veteran gamer who is experienced in outlandish scenarios, Hollywood cinematics, and the supernatural, Gone Home fails to meet these expectations. On the other hand, those who are new to the characteristics of today’s average video game, will find Gone Home relatable, engaging, and most important of all – realistic. Behind the main storyline of discovering the whereabouts of your sister Sam, you inadvertently learn about the troubled past and present situation that haunts your family. However, this is not forced upon you, and you can very easily play through the game without knowing any of it. As far as replay value goes, Gone Home ranks fairly low. Confined to explore only within the walls of the (small) mansion, one would only play again to understand the sub-plots, admire the several pieces of artwork, or pick up and observe all the meaningless objects left around the house. Nonetheless, Gone Home is targeted towards an audience of both new and indie-gamers, immersing its audience through environmental storytelling.
Gone Home is a wonderful example of how video games work to try and create an empathetic link with the audience to invoke emotional response. As you begin the story outside the Greenbriar residence, you hear a raging thunderstorm and see every beautiful detail of the home’s entrance. Already you find that you have to become an investigator, opening cabinets or drawers to examine small artifacts such as cups or pictures before finding keys to unlock new explorable areas. The game really does a great job of establishing an eerie mystery as you enter the house, almost like a horror game with the dark, empty home in the night. As you stumble across old letters or pictures your character says small tidbits that really express herself. Even insignificant findings help add an element of humanity to her, and all the letters help create an imaginary timeline of the other characters.
What’s interesting is that the character you play as isn’t the main storyline of this game. In fact, in the grand scheme of the game, your character is pretty insignificant. From the very beginning you read letters, diary excerpts, and invitations to map out the story of Sam, while also feeling a creeping paranoia that a monster is lurking behind every door you unlock. Eventually, after flipping every imaginary, and literal, stone in the “psycho” house you gain access to the attic, where a final letter reads that Sam has run away with her true love Lonnie.
In my opinion, Gone Home does an excellent job in establishing a very specific mood: one of mystery and anxiety. This mood is established from the raging thunderstorm outside in the night, the vastness of the “psycho house”, the little to no lighting of the corridors, and the fact that every single door is closed. But, this mood doesn’t really seem to matter in terms of the storyline. To me, there seems to be disconnect between the emotions the game transmits aesthetically and what the story is trying to deliver. It’s also a bit frustrating that there’s no way to alter or twist the storyline: everything is already pre-determined. In this sense, the game really seems less like a game and more like a real-world simulator.
Overall, this game does a great job of paying impeccable attention to detail, while immersing you completely with a mysterious ambiance.
Gone Home sets the player to be the main character Katie who comes home from her trip to Europe to find an empty house. The setting is an eerie house late at night with a thunderstorm booming outside…classic horror movie. The first thing I found was a note from a girl named Sam telling me not to find her but that I would meet her someday which made me think Sam was in trouble or kidnapped. As I progressed through the rooms of the house, finding hidden keys and secret passages, I learned more about myself and my family members.
The game was very interactive, allowing lots of freedom but also keeping the character on the main path through the house. The items in the house seem scattered but selectively placed for the player to find at the right time. Various letters, books, notes, and diary readings reveal the dark secrets behind not only the family but also the history of the house. The 90s setting was very difficult for me to understand just because it wasn’t a time period that I was familiar with, however I appreciated how thorough and well-developed it was.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a story doesn’t have an official ending, which is what occurred in Gone Home. After exploring the massive house being scared that around every turn there would be a dead body or ghost or other monster, there was no resolution with the family story. It was very upsetting because I became attached to the story; I wanted to know where my parents were, if Sam was doing okay, etc. But overall, I enjoyed the game and the techniques it used to tell the story.
As I started playing the game, I thought of how different it is, in some aspects, from games I’ve played in the past. Devoid of reflex-based mechanism and strategic conquests, Gone home is a game that doesn’t require adeptness, and anyone over the age of 7 can enjoy the game’s dynamics.
Whenever I play an interactive video game, I put myself in the position of the main character, who in this case, is Kaitlin. The house succeeded in feeling abandoned; the intensity of simply walking around the house and looking for clues, put me in the position of a reckless soul, stumbling upon secrets about characters who would, as it turns out, be my family in the game.
As I uncovered certain secrets about my sister Samantha and her love life, I felt like I had taken a step so deep into the game that I couldn’t stop myself from playing further. The game is simply an interactive novel within which time loses its significance as a dimension. Not to say that the game lacks pace, but it has a special pace of its own, that a player must figure out eventually.
It addresses some important concepts, such as the nonacceptance of homosexuality in the 90s and adultery in economically strained relationships. I can imagine the nostalgic reaction someone who was a child in the 90s would have to this game, and at the same time, I felt like it was one hell of a ride in which I was learning about people who weren’t in the house but their presence was still being felt through the emotional discoveries of clues.
Gone Home was critically acclaimed upon its release. I remember reading the countless reviews praising its narrative and immersion factor, two particular traits in video games that I value quite highly. Often times I feel that as long as these two aspects are exceptionally executed, the actual gameplay can take on a secondary role. As a fan of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and other narrative-heavy games with minimal gameplay, I thought playing Gone Home would heighten my love for this rare genre even more.
Instead, I experienced a narrative through the eyes of a character who makes no impact on the story whatsoever in a setting that felt slightly claustrophobic. Corridors and rooms and passages initially begged to be traversed and rummaged through, yet the payoff would be stumbling upon one of Sam’s numerous mixtapes, a colorful binder from the 4th grade, or perhaps a key to another passage or room. The lack of any substantial impact on the story’s resolution and the excessive “corridor crawling” make Gone Home feel less of a video game in a traditional sense and more of a passive and exploratory “interactive short story”.
I admire the game for its willingness to explore homosexuality and its associated struggles subtly without any explicit, forceful perspective on the matter. I genuinely cared for Sam and Lonnie’s relationship as it was essentially presented from its origin. The directional audio and soft lighting did contribute greatly to immersion. Yet I feel that Gone Home could have conveyed its message as well, if not better, through other media instead of shoehorning interactivity as a draw point. As an avid player, the game simply felt a bit too restrictive despite its earnest story and thus made for a slightly underwhelming experience.
Gone Home was my first game I have ever downloaded and played on my computer– I am much more of a console man myself– so even the process of downloading the game was difficult. However, once I got the game running I was all good. From the start screen I thought to myself “Oh no. This is going to be a horror game” For reference I do not do well with anything related to horror. When I started actually playing I sympathized with the character because one of my visits back to my parents house nobody was there. This initially gave me investment in the character and throughout the game I felt as if I became part of the game through the notes and letters left around the house.
With each new hint in the game I became more and more a part of it. When I encountered the hidden passageways I appreciated the setting of the game and it made the game seem even more real. The detail put into the build of the house is that of an actual house. The only portion of the game that bothered me was the time in the game. There was no time limits or any obvious time changes throughout the game, just the storm becoming slightly louder at times, so I felt like I was stuck in a moment. If the TV’s were showing a signal or music playing, I would have felt like I was progressing. The only times I felt as if time was flowing was when the audio played a voice or I read a note.
As far as being the only character in the game, I thought it was odd but I could appreciate how the developers of the game designed it. If there had been other characters, the tension created by being home alone would not have been near as intense. I enjoyed how I learned about myself, yes I said myself not my character, through the notes. I learned that my sister loved and could confide in me about things that she could not even talk about with our parents. Even though I did not learn much about myself from my parents, I learned the problems that were occurring in the family. Since I myself, not the character, am no longer living at home I really do not know what is going on with the family anymore and I am always playing catchup whenever I visit.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed playing Gone Home. Normally I am not a big videogame enthusiast but this game is different than my general idea of a videogame. When the game starts I am initially confused as to why no one is home to greet Katie when she arrives home from Europe. This detail and the note on the door from Sam create an initial allure to the game. When I first walk into the house I’m not really sure where to start because I don’t know what I’m what I’m looking for. To be honest at this point I looked up what the point of the game was, only to learn that there isn’t really an end goal as I had expected there to be. The creators of this game did a good job at adding mystery to the game with simple details like the stormy weather with occasional loud bursts of thunder or the random creaks that the house makes. There were many times when I actually worried there was someone else in the house and that something was going to jump out at me. The creators accomplished the goal of making the house creepy.
The choice to have Sam’s journal entries play when certain items are discovered or examined was a key part to establishing the story in the game. These entries help to explain everything that Katie finds as she examines her home and pieces together each clue. Although Kaitlin is the only character physically present in the game, her character profile is less established than Sam’s profile. It appears as though Sam is really the main character. We don’t know much about Katie except for the fact that she seems to be perceived as the better behaved child through Sam’s opinion. Sam’s transition throughout the course of the game seemed to play a major role in developing the story of Gone Home. As the game starts Sam is an insecure and confused child and by the end of the game she has become a reassured young adult. As the journal narratives begin I expected to be told the story of a young girl who feels like an outsider at her new school and struggles to find her place but it becomes a tale of finding one’s sexual identity. The creators of Gone Home were able to turn a predictable story in a semi controversial direction and make a much more interesting story.
Prior to playing this game I would have never considered a videogame to be a piece of literature. Gone Home as a very captivating story line and is able to insight emotion within its players. Gone Home has many of the same key components as a videogame which allows us to analyze it as a piece of literature which seems rare for a videogame. You can use literary tools such a setting, tone and characterization when discussing this game. It is interesting to see the connection between literature and videogames especially since that is exactly what this class is all about. I hope that we can continue to play more games throughout the course of this class that we can analyze in a literary manner.