“Gone Home” is a 2013 first-person exploration game produced by indie developer Fullbright. The game is set in 1995 and perfectly encapsulates the grunge aesthetic of the era. It follows Katie, who has just returned home from a year in Europe. When she gets back, she finds an empty house that feels haunted. With the clamoring thunder outside, it feels as if there is going to be a jump-scare around every corner. In the place of the expected ghosts a player would correlate with haunted houses is Katie’s family. All that remains of them is their stories, the stories that Katie has missed because she has been gone for so long.
As soon as Katie gets to the house she finds a note from Sam, her little sister. The note begs Katie not to dig for answers and says that they will see each other again. Sam narrates the story through journal entries. These voiceovers tell the story of Sam starting school, struggling to make friends and coming to terms with her queer identity once she falls in love with friend from high school Yolanda “Lonnie” DeSoto. The subplot features Katie and Sam’s parents, Jan and Terry, struggling to keep their marriage afloat. This paradox of one relationship blooming against the backdrop of another struggling adds to the heartbreaking nature of this game.
The soundtrack is filled with music from riot girl bands Bratmoblie and Heavens to Betsy, as well as a fictional band called “Girlscout” played by the Portland, Oregon-based band The Youngins. The songs make you feel as if you’re truly a part of 1995 and transports you into the shoes of Sam and Katie.
The game leaves you with the feeling that you’re always being watched. Personally, I never once felt at ease throughout the game, but this did not deter me from playing through more than once. There are so many tiny details of this house that it’s impossible to see everything on the first run through. Against the backdrop of a spooky mansion, there are family photos, stories and even a heartbreaking side plot.
To add to the sense of unease that I felt during the playthrough, Katie moves at a snail’s pace. Moving from room to room turning on the lights left me panicked. Every door that opens leaves the player feeling insecure, wondering if something is around the corner.
The plot, in addition to the full world that the developers have created, is one of the reasons that I adore this game. It stuck with me and I wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. I was not 17 years old in 1995, but I felt like I could truly connect with Sam. I have been Sam, and so have many other queer people. This game feels haunted and like you’re absolutely alone, which I feel is an incredible metaphor for the feelings that many people who identify as LGBTQ have toward coming out. I can’t speak highly enough of this short game. The runtime is only about three hours, but in the end, you may very well want to start again.