Is Less More? The Effects of What’s Missing in Gone Home

I established in my last post that Gone Home is a lonely game. This has not changed at all as I’ve continued playing. The game is shockingly devoid of characters and character interaction. We never even see so much as a reflection of the player character Kaitlin. She speak to and encounters no ones throughout the game. The…

I established in my last post that Gone Home is a lonely game. This has not changed at all as I’ve continued playing. The game is shockingly devoid of characters and character interaction. We never even see so much as a reflection of the player character Kaitlin. She speak to and encounters no ones throughout the game.

The closest thing to a dialogue or interaction comes in Sam’s journal entries that are read in a voice over during the game. Personal journal entries written to catch her big sister Katie up on her life are read out loud by Sam Greenbriar, but we only hear her voice. Her voice is highly emotional; when she’s happy we can hear her smiling, and when she’s upset we can visualize the pain in her face. The absence of her face and body while hearing these journal entries makes them even more affective- I found myself tearing up on a couple occasions. The player must imagine her face: her joy, her pain, and her loss. The sound of her voice while the player stares at an empty home, or even more affective: stares at Sam’s own empty room littered with her belongings, leaves players feeling lonely, longing to see Sam’s face and comfort her.

Sam Greenbriar’s empty bedroom

Sam is a very relatable character, and her struggles as a gay high school student in the mid 90s resonate and call players to feel. We get far more characterization of Sam in the game than of the player character Kaitlin. Sam is fun, punk, creative, unique, and rebellious. She makes zines and listens to punk rock, and makes players laugh and cry through her storytelling. Samples of her writing and drawing can be found all over the house, and they are inspired and interesting.

An interesting moment comes when the player discovers two of Katie and Sam’s writing assignments from high school back to back. They are both the exact same assignments from sex ed class, completed when each Greenbriar sister was in their 9th grade year. Sam’s is creative, thoughtful, dynamic, and outside the box (though she did not follow directions properly and got a “see me” from the teacher.) We find Katie’s old assignment in the next room. She has completed it word for word exactly as was requested by the teacher, and it’s incredible boring to read, though she received full marks.

After this scene I began to wonder who the game really wants players to identify and side with. I don’t believe that it is Kaitlin- she is a blank, faceless character whom we control and hardly hear anything from. Additionally, the Greenbriar parents aren’t attractive characters either (the father some maniacal failed author and the mother likely having an affair with a coworker named Rick.) On the other hand, Sam’s story is an intricate narrative with twists and turns, love, heartbreak, joy, and pain.. The player searches the whole game just to hear or voice or find a note she has left behind. We want to know what happened to Sam because we love Sam. She is the main character of this game through and through.

Stillness and Loneliness: The Mechanics of Gone Home

In the first 30 minutes of playing Gone Home, nothing happens. For the next 30 minutes, still nothing happens. Other that the rain hitting the roof and the occasional loud clap of thunder and flash of lightning, nothing in the game world truly happens thats outside of player control. Kaitlin, the player character, has arrived to…

In the first 30 minutes of playing Gone Home, nothing happens. For the next 30 minutes, still nothing happens. Other that the rain hitting the roof and the occasional loud clap of thunder and flash of lightning, nothing in the game world truly happens thats outside of player control.

Kaitlin, the player character, has arrived to her family’s new home in Oregon after a year abroad in Europe, but no one is home. The player must explore the house and try to figure out what happened. At least, this is what has been the objective clear to me so far.

The house is very big and extremely eerie. Every time I turn a corner I expect a creepy figure to be lurking in the shadows, but there never is. I wait for items to fall off of shelves as if pushed by a poltergeist, but again nothing happens. The player moves with the computer arrows, looks around with the mousepad, and picks things up by clicking. These are really the only thing that happen. If the player stops moving the arrows or mouse, the whole game remains still and the same. The player is the only one who can initiate change.

There is one thing that happens relatively out of the player’s control. After picking up certain items, a journal excerpt written for Kaitlin by her younger sister Sam will begin to play.

The main actions in the game consist of opening doors, grabbing and examining items, reading papers or letters, and turning on lights. Sometimes these controls are different, and when they are it sticks out.

For example, when Kaitlin is exploring Sam’s room and comes across a stuffed animal on the bed the control says “Oh it’s Steggy!” instead of what would normally be “grab [item].” The player can still pick up the toy by clicking and put it back, but whenever the cursor hovers over steggy it says the same message. Another example is when Kaitlin comes across a condom in her parents’ dresser. It says “Ew.” These more personal messages come up a few other times as well.

These changes in controls and mechanics of the game serve to characterize our player character Kaitlin. As the game begins we don’t know much about her other than that she just returned from traveling Europe. These messages in the form of controls give Kaitlin a voice. From them we can tell how she feels towards Sam (and towards the idea of her parents’ sexual relationship.) Outside of these short bits of Kaitlin’s voice, the game gives no glimpse into Kaitlin’s head or life. We never even see a part of Kaitlin’s body when we pick things up. They also make the game more personal and less lonely. So far in the game, there have been no other characters and no dialogue exchange through which we familiarize ourself with our player character,