All great works feel as though they were written just for the viewer, and games are no exception. Gone Home, the Fullbright Company’s new game for PC, Mac and Linux, makes me feel an aching nostalgia for my suburban childhood. With its point-and-click PC style and dated musical choices, it appeals so directly to my experience of the mid-90s that it’s like re-reading old diaries.
Gone Home quietly explores whether games can be used to tell stories in a way that differs from film and television, but does not rely on a point-scoring or win-centred approach. Film critic Roger Ebert challenged the notion of games as an art form because, like chess or mahjong, if the aim is to win, the experience has a different quality. The mystery at the heart of Gone Home could sit happily in a short story or thriller. There’s no competitive element. The player’s experience is one of reaching an emotional understanding of a family, as you might through a novel or a soap opera.
You never meet another character. You piece together a sense of who everyone is and what happened through seemingly disconnected items and evidence hidden around the house. And those connections are intentionally weak. It allows the plot and conclusions to take place in the mind of the player and not in the action of the game.