From reading the initial responses to Gone Home, I was optimistic that I’d like the game, but I wasn’t optimistic that I would like it as much as many people did: many people’s favorable responses seemed to be about how well it resonated with their experiences, talking about the details of being a teenager in the 90’s. Which I wasn’t (I was in grad school in 1995); and I am also not a lesbian, another point of similarity for some critics.

As it turns out, though, I had no trouble on that score. Not the 90’s stuff, I didn’t care about that one way or another. But the loving detail with which the house was crafted meant that there were a lot of places to find purchase; for me, it was in having a really neat daughter around. So many times, I would see something Sam had done that her parents (presumably) saved, and I thought: I can totally imagine Miranda making something like that.

So: a game that moved me, in the world that it drew as well as the plot. The main plot, mostly, but also some of the stories drawn to the side about the parents’ worlds not turning out the way that they hoped: my life has turned out very well, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had significant turns along the way, and I see enough contingency around me that there’s always a fear lurking that my life could go wrong in ways I won’t be able to recover from so easily. (And who knows, maybe Sam and Katie’s parents will be able to recover.)


Playing Gone Home so soon after System Shock made me want to compare the two games’ world building. But here I stumble, because the truth is that I have a hard time getting a grasp on System Shock‘s world building at all. I played that game over the course of two months, with the audio logs separated by long stretches of fighting; I played Gone Home over the course of a single evening. And while the audio logs might not have been that much more frequent in Gone Home than in System Shock, the connecting exploration kept me in the world and enriched my understanding of the background behind those audio logs.

Not that System Shock didn’t do that as well, exactly: I was still in the world, after all, and I was constantly reminded of the context of being in a station run by an AI bent on destruction! Still, it’s not at all the same; and I never thought that Gone Home would have been better if only it had some shooting.

There is something lost in the absence of violence, though: a lot of my favorite games this year have involved coming to grips with systems, and conflict is a tried-and-proven way to bring that out. So Gone Home does a great job of bringing out the Looking Glass school of narrative development, but not so much that school’s focus on systems. Which is fine, one game doesn’t have to do everything; and, actually, one thing I got out of our VGHVI discussion of Gone Home was that there’s more in the way of potential systems to understand in the game than I gave it credit for.


Quite a game, I’ll be curious to see where it leads over the coming years.

Post Revisions: