Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Gone Home

Scattered Thoughts on Gone Home

Quick: I often use the clunky term “non-heteronormative” in this post because I think, personally, that almost none of the terms that non-heteronormative people use to identify themselves can be used by a straight writer with outright certainty.

·         Gone Home is one of the few games I’ve played that was not meant for me, that is, a cisgendered teenage boy, and that makes me happy. Even the games that my demo has rejected that I adore[1] are usually built on the expectation that the people playing it are teenage boys, which is not in and of itself bad, but It Is One Thing And This Is Another
·         Gone Home is also not meant for me because, I’m sorry, but I’ve never liked any of the Riot Grrrl bands. The reasons for that probably aren’t great from a cultural standpoint, but there’s a few different kinds of things that I’ve tried to get into, literally forced myself to experience, and they just couldn’t stick. Led Zeppelin is one of those things, and Riot Grrrl is another.[2]
·         On the one hand, reading analysis of Gone Home has left me with the impression that there’s stuff I missed on my first go through, but on the other hand, I don’t want to go back through the game to find it all yet. I’ve never been a completionist, though I will go back and complete the game eventually.[3]
·         Speaking of “completing” Gone Home, I found the map to the secret doors in the basement, but I never found the other secret door, and thus never found the attic key. I learned that one of the “modifiers” allows you to run straight to the attic. So I did it. There ain’t two hands about it, I don’t feel bad for doing it, because I couldn’t find the door myself, and I think that that was a cowardly, cowardly move to allow players to simply move through the game without playing it, and I think that it indicates that they knew enough people couldn’t get through the game without that option, and then didn’t redesign the placement of doors/keys/documents to accommodate that. This game is not Resident Evil and being that it isn’t, it feels too much like it. In some ways, this simple game actually doesn’t feel simple enough. Sorry.
·         Speaking of analysis, it put a smile on my face to see Brendan Keogh compare Gone Home to Metal Gear Solid 2, even though I disagree with the analysis of MGS2 that he puts forth to support the comparison. Seriously, where the hell would we be without Metal Gear Solid 2?
·         Gone Home is played using Katie, a real character. There is much talk of player agency, but I don’t think there’s ever enough talk of character agency. My point is this: Katie might pick up the various things she finds, but she wouldn’t throw them across the floor the way the game allowed me to.
· That piece totally points out exactly what I mean. (I missed this document.)
·         As a military kid (who now identifies as something between a Pacifist and some more extreme variety of a Pacifist[5]), I feel like an unexplored angle in both analysis of Gone Home, and in the game itself, is the fact that Katie is a member of the Armed Forces who has just returned from being stationed in Europe, and that Lonnie was about to join the Army and decided not to. The game more or less says outright that, aside from loving Sam, the reason for this is political. I feel like there’s a metaphor in there for how heteronormative people will accept structures and constructs that dehumanize people outside of the heteronorm, but I don’t think the game gives enough stuff about Katie to say this concretely, and that would’ve been really cool.
·         As a random tangent on that thought (this has nothing to do with Gone Home, but the fact that the game made me think about it makes it special to me): for some reason I still feel really guilty that I never joined up, even though every person I’ve ever asked about it has said the same thing “I don’t regret it. Don’t do it if you don’t have to.” I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of my guilt for never formally becoming a part of the anti-war movement, for never putting my neck out for peace? In any case . . .
·         On the one hand, girls have always been about half of people on the planet, as well as half of the people that play games. On the other hand, I still think that name checking Street Fighter II and the Super Nintendo, even as an experience the developers might’ve had in their youths, might’ve been a coldly calculated move to make “Tr00” Hardcore Gamers™ relate more to the games initial impression of the friendship between Lonnie and Sam. That move doesn’t make me angry as someone who’s got more toes in that pool than I’d like to admit, but it does makes me a little bit sad as someone who wants to see games by certain people, for other certain people, without any consideration for the kind of people that games are usually for. (Me. The straight, cis, white male American teen.) And frankly, if I was on the team for Gone Home, I woulda said to take all that out because fuck hardcores, we don’t need that crowd. (Because Street Fighter II references ain’t gonna sell a mansion exploration sim anyway)
·         Especially since the entire aesthetic of Gone Home is based around subverting dumb horror clichés in favor of more mundane truths
·         Come to think of it, was there any reason to do that other than to maybe be funny? Does it add anything to the ideas in this story? You should have a reason for subverting something and I can’t think of any way yet that Gone Home’s use of horror adds anything to it.
·         On the one hand, I think the “neatness” of Gone Home, as Anna Anthropy put it, as well as the whiteness and the privilege that that “neatness” formally emerges from, may cause the game to be not as well regarded in the future. That’s a prediction, not a criticism. On the other hand, damn, this is a game about a girl, and her girlfriend, and her neighbor, and her parents. And I think that’s special.
·         Going through the game, I was impressed that they didn’t stoop to the level of sending Sam to straight camp or something like that to heighten the drama of the situation. I was even looking forward to getting through the game without Sam’s parents being even really aware of the true nature of her and Lonnie’s relationship, but alas, no.
·         I’ll admit this disappoints me mainly because I found myself really invested in the story of the dad and like anyone I hate to admit that the people, not just that I like, but that I deeply love and care for, are all flawed and problematic.
·         I feel like the side stories of the father and the mother strengthen the idea of actual humanity of these characters as a group, and I think the father’s story in particular reflects how the rejection of abnormalities and non-heteronormativity is passed down along a family line. The father picks up his own father’s love of written word, but the grandfather, even as he recognizes the humanity of the genre novels his son writes, rejects it for being dishonest. He then rejects Sam’s relationship with Lonnie as a phase. Sam also writes, and is accepted to a creative writing college, and her writing reflects her non-heteronormativity.
·         If I missed out on the parents doing the “phase” speech because I never found that secret door for the attic key, then I call even more BS on the game’s aesthetic.
·         I feel shitty that I’m the obligatory straight cis dude pointing out what are kinda minor flaws in a game about not-straight girls for not-straight girls but a lot of this stuff really does bother me.
·         On the one hand, the ending to Gone Home is painfully “Born to Run” and on the other hand, I LOVE “Born to Run”
·         On the one hand, if I was Katie, I’d be angry at Sam and my parents for being out of town the day I got home. On the other hand, I’m angry at my brother for dying and I’m angry at my parents for divorcing.
·         Sam runs away with Lonnie, and that’s it. I don’t think games are concerned enough with, not just the burden of freedom, but the cost of freedom.
·         Woody Allen gave himself the happy ending in Annie Hall. In FFVII, Aeris’ death means something, but in real life, the death of Hironobu Sakaguchi’s mother does not. On the one hand, Gone Home isn’t how things work out in real life (even for straight teens in love, lemme tell ya), and on the other hand, I think that’s part of the reason we make stories. God is cruel to us, and thus we make ourselves into kind Gods who are good to our own creations.[6]
·         Gone Home is a good game.
Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2013

[1] Metal Gear Solid 2+4 and their American cousin, Spec Ops: The Line, and Final Fantasy VIII, to name a few.
[2] And while we’re at it, The Sex Pistols can fuck right off.
[3] To me, the first playthrough, the raw experience of a game, where you don’t catch all the details and don’t use a walkthrough if you don’t have to, is absolutely sacred ground.
[5] Conflicts within myself abound.
[6] Or if you’re Yoko Taro . . . 

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