I finally got around to playing Gone Home and it's one of my most cherished gaming experiences. It was so unique and immersive. When I read a blurb for Gone Home I didn't think much of it, and I certainly didn't think a game with such a simple premise would have a deeply thought out, moving narrative. For those of you who aren't familiar with the title, Gone Home is a story driven first-person adventure game created by The Fullbright Company. You play as a girl named Katie who just got home from a year long trip around Europe, but once she enters the house something feels off - nobody is there. All of your loved ones are gone. The only things greeting you is a note your sister wrote and an eerie ambience that seems to have taken the place of your family. Naturally, your goal is to find out where everyone is and what happened to them.
Not only did it surprise me with a wonderful experience, but it also made me realize how vital a good story is in a video game, and why we need more narratives like this.
Gone Home is the first game I've ever played where the story is the crux of the game. I've heard of other popular narrative driven games like Firewatch, The Stanley Parable, and The Beginner's Guide, but to me the concept of a game that just made you walk around wasn't interesting, so I never tried them out. I mean, I could just save $19.99 and just go outside and walk around for real. Why pay for that? The only reason why Gone Home got past the barrier of ignorance I set up is because it was a Playstation Plus free game one month, so I picked it up on my PS4, and I'm really glad that I did.
A lot of games use different gimmicks when they try to put you in the protagonist's shoes, but this one doesn't need any. It was solid all the way through. While you're exploring the house, a storm is pouring and thundering right outside. It helps create that eerie, suspenseful vibe I mentioned earlier. I didn't know if I was gonna find my family watching a movie together on the couch, or if a ghost was gonna pop out and murder me, and that suspense helps give the game life. I never felt bored while playing it, I was always on edge. It's an edge that doesn't feel too creepy or scary, but it's just enough to make you feel uncomfortable. That uncomfortable feeling turns into curiosity, and makes you want to search every room and figure out every single secret the house has. Each room was carefully crafted, they all looked like real people lived there. Nothing was too neat, and nothing was too cluttering, it was a good mix of both extremes, and it felt really human.
The characters were fascinating; I wanted to know everything about them. Having a keen eye while searching through their rooms lets you get a clear look into each of their lives, and all of the little quirks they all have. The quirks are showcased naturally in different tangents, but they all feel connected. Like when I was playing I kept picking up these buttons that had random logos on them and I was confused, but later on I found out that the sister, Sam, had a stash of them in her room. Shortly after, I realized that she would make them to support her friend's punk band, and then I noticed that Sam really likes punk music and the Riot grrrl movement, and then beside a Riot grrl tape there was a note full of different Street Fighter combos that Sam had been practicing, and then I would look at the cartridge and find out Sam was borrowing it from a friend and didn't want to give it back. The connections in Gone Home are always like this. They don't feel forced, they feel incredibly natural - which is one part of storytelling that many games fail at.
I was deeply engaged and almost completely enveloped in the game's universe minutes into my first playthrough. All of those narrative factors collaborated so well together, and made me feel a personal connection to Katie and her family; I actually cared about their stories, where they were, and if they were okay.
Before I started playing Gone Home I was playing another game that focused on a weird family, God of War 3: Remastered. The leap from a combo game about carnage to a heartfelt tale of relationships was a big one, and it made it painfully obvious how much a story affects a person's experience while playing a video game. When I was playing God of War I really didn't care about Kratos, he was an asshole. He really wasn't a likeable guy! He would kill anything for any reason and he'd be unreasonably angry while doing it. The revenge-based plotline of the series was littered with death and violence to try to make people more engaged, but it didn't do that for me. It's not a bad game in any sense, but it felt like a meaningless experience at some points. When I was in the middle of a 72-hit combo I was extremely excited, but when I slew all of those enemies and I was solving one of the main story's puzzles, the excitement I had turned into boredom - I didn't care at all if Kratos finished his quest. I want to care about what the person I'm playing as cares about, because that lets me get way more out of the game, but often I find that I'm not able to care about the protagonist's objectives.
Gone Home was a wake up call for me. It made me realize how important narratives are, and how much we need them in video games. I don't think narrative based experiences should replace God of War or other games like it, because they're still massive amounts of fun, but I do think that there need to be way more narrative games out there. I want to play more games like Gone Home. They're really enjoyable. If you haven't played a story-driven game you should try to test one out. The genre is relatively fresh and full of potential, and with the rise of Virtual Reality, I think we're going to see way more creative stories in the near future.