It’s downloading? Good. Now, read this.
It really is a good time to be a gamer, especially if you care about good storytelling. The last few years have seen a number of important titles likeThe Binding of Isaac, Dear Esther, and Bioshock: Infinite that have pushed players and developers alike to broaden their understandings of how games tell tales. Last month, Gone Home became the newest entry in the “games as stories” category, and it deserves every bit of the acclaim it’s received.
At first blush, Gone Home’s premise may seem fairly pedestrian: It’s 1995, and you inhabit the high-top tennis shoes of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a teenager who returns from a one-year trip in Europe to find her house empty and her family absent. As a storm rages, you control Kaitlin as she explores the house room by room, uncovering photographs, scraps of paper, and other mundane suburban artifacts that slowly reveal the story of the Greenbriar family. If this doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend three hours, just give it a shot – I promise you, five minutes in, you’ll be hooked.
In a way, though, Gone Home actually begins before you even start playing – at the title screen, which features an exterior view of the Greenbriars’ mansion. All of the lights are out except for one, a warm, beckoning glow that shines from the rectangle of a second-story window. It comes from one of the last rooms you’ll find in your journey through the house, but its presence is felt throughout. Though the house is empty, you are not alone: The settled debris of a family history surrounds you, stirring to life as you explore.
Because Gone Home is heavily exploratory in nature, it would spoil most of its beauty to describe the plot or gameplay in too much detail. Instead, here are three ways that Christian gamers in particular can expect to be surprised and challenged by what Gone Home has to offer.
You will be reminded of the idealism and pain of adolescence. The two central characters of the narrative – Kaitlin and her sister Samantha – are teenagers coming of age during the mid-90′s, a time of grunge rock, mix-tapes, and underground zines. Gone Home recreates this era with poignant precision, a feat that will transport Generation Y-ers away from the responsibilities of adulthood to a raw, ragged remembrance of what it was like to be young, rebellious, and coming to terms with the broken world. For the three hours I spent in the Greenbriars’ house, I found myself recalling all the passions of adolescence that, for good or evil, shaped me into the man I’ve become today. It’s the kind of nostalgia that only a carefully crafted piece of art can evoke.
You will be pushed to empathize with human brokenness. It’s hard not to give anything away here without diminishing your experience of the story on your first playthrough. All I’ll say is that Samantha harbors a secret that is slowly revealed as the story progresses, the sort of secret that will make many Christian gamers (myself included) squirm in their seats. But one of the greatest achievements of Gone Home is its ability to place you so snugly in the shoes of its protagonist that you can’t help but receive her sister’s recorded confessions with open ears and an open heart. By the end of the game, you might not agree with the stance Gone Home‘s writers take. If you’re like me, however, you will feel genuinely moved by Samantha’s story, and will probably find yourself heartbroken over the way you treat frailty in the lives of others.
You will reconsider the nature of home. At its core, Gone Home is a game about where “home” is, what it means, and how often it fails to provide the sense of rest that we yearn for. The game’s title is multivalent – yes, Kaitlin has come home after a year abroad, only to find that the feeling of “homeness” has vanished while she was away. The idea of “home” turns out to be transient, as hauntingly familiar and yet as impossible to recapture as the pre-millennial culture that Gone Home invokes. In this, Fullbright taps into two of the grandest truths of Christian life: the impermanence and brokenness of human existence, and our yearning for something that is eternal and whole. By the story’s end, I felt myself aching for the hospitality of Heaven.
So go. It’s probably done downloading now. Spend some time exploring the world of Gone Home. Then come back here and share your thoughts. We’ll do our best to make them (and you) feel at home.