One thing that’s fun about going to an open house or an estate sale is wandering around a home that isn’t yours. You’re an outsider, a stranger, but you’ve been given the chance to peek at someone else’s life. “Gone Home” is a game that revels in this voyeurism, giving you a look into the personal lives of a fictional family.
You are in the role of the nearly silent Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 21-year-old who’s returning home to Portland, Ore., after a yearlong trip to Europe. While she was abroad, her parents and younger sister, Sam, moved into a new house. Arriving at the house, Kaitlin discovers it locked and abandoned. On the front door is a mysterious note from Sam, imploring Kaitlin to not look for her. Naturally, you figure out how to unlock the front door soon enough, and the game begins in earnest.
From this point on, the entire game is exploring this big house and answering the questions raised when you arrived. You venture through the house as if you were seeing through Kaitlin’s eyes, looking up, down and around at the house to find out what happened here. You can pick up objects and turn them around, read notes, put cassette tapes in tape players, turn lights off and on, even take a look at what’s in the fridge.
Interpreting the clues and trying to piece together what was going on with your family is pretty much the entirety of the game. The main mystery — what happened to Sam? — connects most of the dots for you, but there are still nuances of the situation you’ll have to figure out for yourself.
What I found remarkable about the game is how involved I became with it. I felt like the characters were real people, much better realized than I’m used to when it comes to a video game. A lot of the ground the story covers connected with my own life experiences too. I lived in Salem, Ore., in 1995, when this game is set. Going “home” to the place and time was especially impactful to me, because I remember exactly what using a pay phone in downtown Salem was like, so when the game makes mention of this it took me all the way back to my childhood.
This story also covers a lot of ground I’m not used to video games exploring. The story was pleasantly straightforward, but carefully crafted. And I found myself choking up a little at the end of the game. Sam’s story is one I’m not going to forget anytime soon, and I don’t think you’ll forget it either. I don’t want to reveal ANYTHING though, since discovering what’s going on is pretty much the entire game.
“Gone Home” is a remarkable game. It’s easily the game that’s impressed me the most this year, and I don’t foresee anything else on the radar that could even touch it. This is both an important game and a very good one. If your computer can run this, you should play it. I’m already calling it my Game of the Year, whatever that means.
Noah Hinz is an art and game design enthusiast living in Walla Walla. Contact him with questions, game and playing suggestions or anything else related to games at firstname.lastname@example.org.