Homecoming

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(Includes spoilers of the game Gone Home)

I’m not sure what I could say about Gone Home that others haven’t already said. Everyone has already touched on how emotional and immersive the game is. Some people may dismiss it because it’s a game where you don’t actually shoot anything or go into combat at any point. Instead it’s a point and click mystery with a couple of puzzles and a lot of intrigue. There are also some that don’t like it because it is “too short.” To me this was just the right amount of time for a game like this. Then there are the few that complained that the game was very misleading in its tone, because they were expecting some sort of survival horror adventure. I believe the creepy atmosphere was done for the sake of the character. Imagine what she is going through. This is your first time in this house, no one is home, and there is a huge storm going on outside. Now it’s up to you to piece together what exactly happened and where everyone is.

I admit I’d been having a tough time lately. Things haven’t been going well, and I’ve just completely miserable about life in general. I remember when Gone Home came out. I easily brushed it aside because I figured it would focus too much on nostalgia because “90s!” Here I was thinking it would be nothing but “hey, 90s kids, remember this?!” I decided to take a chance on during this year’s Steam sale, and was completely blown away by it. All I have to say about my previous misgivings is that his game is much deeper than that.

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The story in Gone Home takes place in June of 1995. As a child of the 1980’s, who was around 14 years old during this time, I could relate a lot to what was going on in the game. I never lived in a big house, or had a questionable family history, but I did have my own bouts with trying to find an identity for myself during these formidable years. This is what makes Gone Home so personal to me. At different times I’ve been both Katie and Samantha, and at times I’ve felt like both Terry and Janice. A few times in my life I’ve also been Lonnie.

On the Samantha side, I’ve been the teenager who needed to find their way. While parents didn’t seem to understand what I was dealing with when it came to problems at school, and trying to find a label that fit me. During high school I was the studious kid, the Hip Hop aficionado with the high priced sneakers and over the top slang speak. I was also the raver kid who went to underground parties and listened to thumping trance music while rocking orange hair and for some reason, goggles. Samantha’s story shows that I wasn’t the only one who tried to reach out in order to fit in, but got rejected by just about everyone. When she finally found something that made her happy her parents were right there to tell her how awful that was. It seemed as if my pivotal teenager years lied there in Samantha. Her desperation to exist without judgment made me relate to her on so many levels.

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As far as Katie, I’ve been the older sibling who went away and came back to find my world in disorder and chaos. I missed out on seeing someone important to me grow up, and that’s something that has bothered me for years. Reading Samantha’s journals as Katie made me want to reach out to her and let her know that from an older perspective I understood. Samantha missed her older sister, and during this crucial part of her life. She must have felt so trapped there, alone with two people that just didn’t understand.

The writer in me could relate to Terry. Here was this guy who was trying to exorcise a tough period in his life by writing through it. They kept telling him what he was writing just wasn’t good enough. However, he wasn’t writing for them, he was writing to save his own soul. That is reflected by the story in his latest book. The man that had gone back in time twice to save JFK was going back again, this time to save himself. This is what a lot of writers struggle with. We have something inside that we need to get out, and we did it through these tales we tell and these characters we create. It’s kind of fun, and it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.

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In Janice’s case, here is this character who seems stuck in something that just isn’t working for her. She plays the dutiful wife, but trouble with her teenage daughter, and her husband losing all of his confidence, has thrown Janice into the company of another man. Relationships I’ve had in the past all hit walls. You work through them, which is ultimately what we find out Janice and Terry are doing. When she finds his manuscript in the trash she digs it out and scrawls a note that tells him to keep trying. I’ve stumbled before, as have others. Janice realizes this, and instead of giving up, keeps trying.

Lonnie risked it all and went for something, even thought there was a possibility it wasn’t going to work out for her. In my own life I’ve had a lot of missed opportunities because of risks I didn’t take, or times I convinced myself that it wouldn’t work out so don’t even try it. Lonnie was brave. She knew she would never be truly happy following the path she had laid out for herself many years ago. She did what she had to do to find happiness.

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The game itself is very haunting by nature. The messages on the answering machine give you chills, and walking into these rooms with the lights turned off make the hairs on your neck stand up. There is a reason for it, though, as you later find out, Janice has told Samantha repeatedly to not leave lights on in rooms. The exploration in the game is top notch, and you reveal more and more clues about the family and about yourself, the gamer, as you progress. I personally don’t like empty houses, which is why this game gave me some anxiety. The creepy weather alerts on the television didn’t help me either.

Going through various parts of the house revealed so much about this family and their past. Uncle Oscar was a very bothered individual. He did something once upon a time, and the guilt he carried because of it forced him to close his shop and retreat from the world, ultimately becoming so much of a recluse inside his own house that the neighborhood kids dubbed it “the psycho house.”

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As I continued to explore and learn more about these people the less anxiety I had over it. When I finally opened Samantha’s locker and foresaw her ultimate end game, I felt happy for her on a personal level. When I saw the photo of Lonnie in the locker, I said, “Everything is going to be okay, kid.”

There this is the nostalgia factor. The random VHS tapes you find lying around really put into perspective what era this takes place in. There are also the magazines that are scattered through the house, as well as the décor in Samantha’s room. Sam and Lonnie play Street Fighter II a lot, and there are Super NES cartridges, and of course, the fact that Sam listens to her music on tape. However, that may be because what she listens to is raw garage band music, and not the commercial stuff.

That’s another thing people complain about, the period the game is set in. I think the creators were from this era, as was the music they listened to. Heck, this was a period of Generation X, when teens and young adults were fed up with getting force fed the status quo and went out of their way to find their own way of doing things. This can be seen in the “Riot grrrl” movement that Sam and Lonnie seem to be engulfed in. Also, the creators probably chose that era because cell phones and the Internet were not as prevalent as today. To be honest, the whole mystery would have ended with a cell phone and a GPS locator.

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When the game ended I was a bit teary-eyed. The parents were off to marriage counseling, the father, after many failures with his books, found new life with a new publishing company, and was able to resuscitate his dead career with a brand new novel. When Katie was in the attic, and things finally started to come together, I felt more relief and a huge weight was lifted off my chest. When she read Samantha’s final journal entry in her notebook, the sun shined on me. Things aren’t as bad as we make them out to be. If Gone Home taught me anything is that we’re not trapped, and we’re not stuck, we just hit a few bumps, and in the end, it’s up to us to fix whatever is wrong us. It’s strange that it took a video game to make me understand this, but for the first time in a while I realize that things are going to be all right.