Late last year a kerfuffle broke out on twitter about video games, one of the many, many, many targets of the ire was the critically acclaimed game Gone Home. People said it was too short, it wasn’t really a video game, it cost too much, it was marketed as a horror game when it wasn’t one—
Whoa, whoa, back that up, sparky. Not a horror game?
Okay, if you haven’t played Gone Home, stop reading this now, buy the game, and play it. You’ll thank me. There’s a lot to love here, from the riot grrrrl soundtrack, to the voice acting, and the ’90s references. This is your last chance, from here on out there be spoilers.
You play as Kaitlin, fresh home from Europe to find her big creepy house empty, her sister Samantha missing, and paranormal paraphilia around the house.
The atmosphere is so well done I was terrified of what sister-eating abominations waited for me in the dark, shadowy house. This was post-Amnesia: The Dark Descent which meant for horror games the only thing between Kaitlin and a bloody death was legging it back to Europe. I didn’t know how she’d protect Sam, but dagnabbit, no one hurts my virtual little sister!
As Kaitlin explores, she finds dairies, mementos, secret hidey-holes, and unlocks audio logs where Sam slowly reveals the story.
Turns out she didn’t need Kaitlin’s protection after all.
Because Sam fell in love with Yolanda (‘Lonnie’), and ran off to be with her.
Let me repeat that, the player goes from bleeding out of every pore over the threats that may or may not be lurking around the corner to sighing over how Lonnie and Sam meet, fall in love, get torn apart, and then reunited. The finale in the attic is one of the most exquisite endings I’ve seen in a video game, where lights surround the player, the music swells, and Sam tells how she found Lonnie before she got on the bus to boot camp.
Gone Home did what a horror game should do, it took the every day and made it eerie and chilling. Who hasn’t had the experience of coming home to a dark house and wondering, if only for a second, what if there really are things in the dark out to get me? What if I was wrong about reality this whole time? And as you’re wondering that, you run across Ouija boards, and a family member’s attempts to find a ghost.
All of us have seen, experienced, or read coming out stories and the fear someone faces when they begin realizing ‘oh I’m gay,’ or bi, or trans, or queer. It’s terrifying, but slowly the terror fades and reveals the astounding, breathtaking, mind-bending truth that there was nothing to fear all long.
So yes Gone Home is a horror game. Here both of these everyday fears—big creepy house and discovering one’s sexual identity—meet and blend into a seamless whole that creates a game both eerie and heart melting.
Gone Home throws a harsh light on it’s post-release criticism, the people bellyaching at it proves the game’s point. And I think this makes it not only a horror game, but art. It shows how we’re quicker to believe our own fears than we are the good.
This is the kind of horror I love, where the fear gets turned on it head. The house really isn’t haunted and the questioning leads to love the characters thought impossible.
And in the end, we all live happily ever after.