Gone Home (2013, PC)

By Pal of Parmenion / December 23, 2013

Gone Home was produced by some of the people who worked on the BioShock series (one of them was a design lead for the Minerva's Den DLC) and so it's no surprise that when viewed as a piece of environmental storytelling it isn't half bad. It's not at all revolutionary: you read notes, listen to some spoken words and look around the environment for clues just as you do in so many other games.
   The problem with Gone Home is that there's nothing else to it. Environmental storytelling (let's dub it ES) is usually used to do more than just cram a narrative down your throat: it's used to tell you about the environment you're playing in, to add colour to a world and give your actions more context. However, seeing as Gone Home doesn't have anything else for you to do except go through its little story, its ES doesn't have the same effect it does in other games.

   In fact not only does Gone Home's lack of any substantial interactivity mean that the ES is kind of pointless, it even undermines its ability to work effectively as ES. One of the joys of ES is the sense of discovery you get, but because there is neither challenge nor alternative activities here this sense of discovery is diminished. Practically speaking you were never not going to get to the bottom of it all as you may well not have done if it was just part of a much larger game, nor was there any difficulty in progressing along the path you more or less had to take. You were more or less just straight up told a story. No discovery, no world building, just a story over which you had no significant control.
   So ultimately, because it's not part of anything greater and lacks interactivity the only proper way to judge it is to put it in the same broad category as books, films, theatre, television and so on: straight narrative. Is it really a five-star tale of a young woman's struggle against rigid social conventions when compared to Wild Swans? Do they really think it stands on the same level as Thelma & Louise? A Room with a View?
   It's not a good game, it's not good interactive fiction and it's not even a decent story in the grand scheme of things.
   The problem is not that it "tries too hard in its pandering" either, it's that it doesn't try hard enough. To pander is simply to attempt to please and so any manmade thing which brings people pleasure or happiness could be said to be pandering. Why should I give a fuck? The problem is that if it is pandering then it is shallow, lazy pandering. Story time:

   "There was once a woman and she fought the patriarchy with her girlfriend with whom she had gay sex. Also there were no dragons or ghosts."
   The End

   That was shallow pandering. It was boring. It was lazy. If you wanted to be told a story about the struggles of a queer woman then you just got what you asked for. Were the setting and story "grounded", compared to the typical game, as has been abundantly claimed? Sure they were. Only becoming ungrounded for a while is precisely the reason we play games in the first place.
   Bottom line is that low-grade LGBT teenfic on Steam shouldn't get a pass just because it's on Steam. Each of the glowing reviews this thing received just made me want to force these people to read a fucking book.