The main character returns from a long journey to her family – father, mother and little sister. But instead of being warmly welcomed, she discovers an empty house that her family recently moved into, a locked front door, and a note from her younger sister urging her not to look for her. Find out what happened to her family, and we have to in the game.
In 2010, Bioshock 2 appeared on the shelves of game stores – a sequel to the original Bioshock, released in 2007. The sequel was based on the base of the original, and the developers focused on the twisting of some of its elements. As a result, the gameplay of the game was perceived better than its original. By the time Bioshock 2 was released, publishers and developers were beginning to realize the prospect of distributing additional downloadable content for games. For some, this prospect promised to get more money at less cost, for others – the opportunity to tell stories in worlds familiar to players, not related to the main plot of the games.
In August 2010, Bioshock 2’s only single-player expansion, Minerva’s Den, was released, focusing on telling the story of one family and what one family member is willing to do for another. Some time after the release of the DLC, Steve Gaynor, Karla Zimondja and Jonneman Nordhagen spun off from the development team and founded their own studio – Fullbright.
After 17 months of development, during which the developers had to abandon the original concept of the game, otherwise they would not have been able to develop it on their own, the Fullbright studio showed the world its first project – Gone Home.
Press and community reaction
After its release, the game raised a lot of controversy in the gaming community. Some reviewers noted the player’s good immersion in history, as well as the display of LGBT topics.
Another part complained that Gone Home cannot be considered a game, because in it the player simply walks and reads notes, and interacts with objects. There is no opponent in the game, no challenge. Gone Home was given the derogatory (* at the time) label “walking simulator.”
Also, the game was at the center of an event called gamergate, which took place in August 2014. Supporters of this movement criticized Gone Home for not having the qualities of a “traditional game”, and received various awards and high marks solely because of its involvement with the LGBT topic.
However, time has put everything in its place. The term “walking simulator” is no longer derogatory. The gamergate movement has come to naught. Gone Home itself has become a role model for game developers with an emphasis on “storytelling through environments.”
The gameplay of the game is a “walking simulator”. We move around the game space and interact with various objects. We turn on the lighting, open the doors. We select and turn in our hands jars, pencils, felt-tip pens, books, read notes and inspect the environment. The developers focused on the last two aspects when creating the game.
Reading notes, we build a picture of past events, extract facts. But the environment gives the facts a certain color, thanks to which we are better immersed in the atmosphere of the game. Immersion is also positively affected by the fact that the heroine and the player are in equal positions. They both know nothing about the house in which the action takes place.
An empty mansion, with the lights off in the rooms, makes a depressing impression. Instinctively, you start to turn on the light wherever possible, in order to make it “alive”. At the same time, you create a map of the mansion, in which the turned on light serves as a marker that the player has already been in this room. Each room of the mansion has a specific function, and it is furnished accordingly. You will not confuse the dining room with the study, and the parents’ bedroom with their daughter’s room. Each room bears the imprint of life. One contains the writer’s manuscripts and his business correspondence with publishing houses, the other contains a pillow shelter, the third is the secret place of a couple of teenagers.
The environment in the game takes us back to the 1990s. No, not to lads and crimson jackets, but to CRT TVs, VCRs and videotapes, cartridges from the NES and various series with magazines.
The game also mentions the feminist movement Riot Grrrl, which emerged in the punk rock of the 90s, and for some time turned rock into an influential subculture. Moreover, the developers not only mention the performers of this movement, but make their work an object of interest for the main characters of the game. In the game, you can find various audio recordings of the groups Bratmobile, Heavens To Betsy, The Youngins – representatives of this movement.
The game came out very authentic, which positively affects the immersion in it and the perception of the plot. This immersion is also positively influenced by the initial inaccessibility of the entire mansion. We gradually open up new rooms, find keys to locked doors, combinations for closed safe locks and open secret passages and rooms. Thanks to this approach, the game has a sense of mystery. When you find the next page of the diary, you understand: “This information is not intended for everyone,” otherwise, for the sake of it, you would not have to look for the code from the locker in various parts of the house. With each note you find, you learn more about the Greenbriar family. We are gradually discovering the story that happened during the absence of the main character.
This story tells about the collapse of the family, and in the center of it is Sam – the younger sister of the protagonist, who moved to a new school, faced bullying, and subsequently met her love – Lonnie, her classmate.
The LGBT theme is the core of the entire game. What is important, if the change in the orientation of the heroines in other games ( * for example Life is Strange or The Last of Us Part 2 ) did not change anything, then in Gone Home the story would cease to exist. Through notes, we are told about Sam’s experiences, her actions, about the attitude towards her from other people. But the game doesn’t stop there. Along the way, topics that are relevant at all times are touched upon: the search for oneself, the creative crisis, the relationship between spouses after years of marriage, the desire for the unknown and misunderstanding on the part of loved ones.
Importantly, developers don’t poke these problems in your face. They do not show the character and do not say: “Empathize! Her father was killed, and he rescued the zebra from the barbed wire! Empathize, damn it! “. Everything is done in moderation. Several photographs, notes, and Sam’s voice recounting the events of days gone by. The rest of the developers are left at the mercy of the player and the music, which immerses in the atmosphere of the game.
However, touching upon a bunch of topics, the authors do not disclose a significant part of them. The central thread of the game finds its logical conclusion in the finale, but everything else hangs in the air. Moreover, other topics do not overlap with the central theme, and there is very little interaction between the older generation of the Greenbriar family and the younger. There is only one moment in the game related to the difference in the views of generations on LGBT people – the topic.
The saddest thing is that the game is not revealed as a game. Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, What Remains of Edith Finch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter had interactive elements and the story was shown to us. The various notes that are present in these games work to immerse yourself in the game world, and do not tell the whole story, as it happens in Gone Home.
Gone Home came out as a very authentic and concise game. Due to the fact that the developers have paid attention to the gaming environment, a simple story captures and does not let go until the very end. In addition, the project is entirely devoted to social topics. Let only one of them turn out to be fully disclosed, but for this, the developers should say thank you. For there are not so many projects that prioritize social problems.