Investigate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there.
After a year-long trip to Europe, Kaitlin Greenbriar returns to an empty home. “Don’t go digging around trying to find out where I am,” reads a note on the front door, signed by her younger sister Sam and punctuated by lightning from the storm outside. The player, as Kaitlin, must then explore the house, figuring out why her family has disappeared. They have left behind a trove of objects and artifacts — in darkened rooms and behind locked doors — for the player to explore, and it is through this environment that the story reveals itself.
As a game, Gone Home is simply elegant. It eschews many of the complex systems and elements that we have come to expect from games. Players are limited to movement and object interaction — navigating a space and turning on lights, picking up photographs, or reading documents that populate the house. The fullness of the environment emphasizes the emptiness of the house — you can feel the negative space where the people who own these objects should be. The meticulous attention to detail encourages a slow, foreboding pace for the game. Everything in Gone Home works to perfectly capture that experience of walking through an empty house, knowing that something is out of place.
Emerging from the jigsaw of notes, photographs, and cassette tapes is a story of coming of age for Kaitlin’s sister, Sam. Her crisis resonates through the house with a certain level of familiarity. In large part, this comes directly from Gone Home’s game design. The tone and pace of gameplay transform the Greenbriars’ “normal,” suburban house into an intimidating encounter. Sam’s story is woven into this exploration through objects and narration, allowing the player to normalize and internalize Sam’s conflict as he/she conquers the fear of moving alone through the house. Sam’s story, intimidating not only as a crisis for her to overcome, but also as something for Kaitlin to come to terms with and for a game to carry as its storyline, becomes normal through this process. By blending Sam’s story into the experience of the game, it can be carried along by the nostalgias we possess as players.
Gone Home was honored with the Game of the Year Award at the 2014 G4C Festival.