Everybody was very, very excited about Gone Home. Being a little pre-occupied with an 8 month old, the game had slipped below my radar prior to release but, upon seeing frenzied exclamations from trusted friends, I decided to take a look.
It has so far left me a little conflicted.
It’s a short game, I’m told, yet I’ve only managed to play it for about 20 minutes. The setup is this: you arrive home from a trip abroad to your parents’ new house, a house you’ve never been to before. Upon arrival you find the house apparently empty, with a slightly dramatic-in-a-teenager-kinda-way note left from your younger sister pinned to the front door. At the same time there’s a raging storm outside.
Given that the game is set in the mid-90s, there are no mobile phones. This makes it impossible to find out the whereabouts of your family. Having just had a really long plane flight, and with everybody seemingly out, you decide to head to bed and wait for their return in the morning–
–oh, except that’s not what happens. Instead, you go through the entire house ransacking drawers, cupboards, hunting under beds, nosing through wardrobes and cabinets, bathrooms, reading every single private letter, journal entry and recorded audio tape you can find.
It’s a player behaviour I simply can’t figure out. To clarify, Gone Home is a lovingly rendered period piece with wonderful writing, intriguing level design and a nice dash of knowing humour. It’s really quite good.
This is a game, though, which prides itself on character depth. It’s all about the people. And yet the player character herself is given so little motivation to immediately turn the house upside down, invading everybody’s privacy, that it feels entirely unwarranted in the loose narrative. As such, I’ve played 20 minutes, become engrossed in the character-driven roleplaying atmosphere, read a few letters than have been left in prominent places, and then concluded “right, then, off to bed. Figure this out in the morning.”
But that’s not what the game wants me to do. It’s an example of ludonarrative dissonance, a flowery, rather poncey term most often linked to the Uncharted games. In short: the gameplay is completely at odds with the scripted storytelling.
Either the player character in Gone Home needs to be established quickly as a nosey, privacy-encroaching expert of domestic espionage, or there needs to be a more urgent call to action: some reason for having to find out right now where everybody is.
I’ll keep playing, at some point, but that’ll first require me bypassing my involvement with the player character, which I suspect will lead to a rather diminished experience overall.
And that’s before I even get on to my sever dislike of ‘journal storytelling’ in games. But that’s for another post.