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Memory Leaks: Gone Home

🏚️ Where the heart is...

Gone Home is a 2013 walking simulator from The Fullbright Company. You play as Katie, a college student returning from studying overseas to visit her parents and younger sister in Oregon in 1995. Since no one met you at the airport, you've had to take a cab, and when you arrive at your home, you find it empty and locked. Remembering a hidden key that will give you access to at least part of the house, you set about trying to figure out what happened--be it sinister or supernatural--to your family.

How I Remember It...

There are games that you play over and over again and there are the games that you only need to play once. I played this when it was new-ish, loved it to pieces, and have never picked it up again. It took me about two hours to complete, and I spent the entire time on tenterhooks. After the first hour, I started to close it down so I could go to bed but realized that sleep would be futile, so I stayed up to finish it. Gone Home is a master class of mood and atmosphere. It absolutely captures the vibe of being in a familiar place where something--and you can't say what exactly--is just wrong. There's some light puzzling, but for the most part you're just exploring a space, figuring out how to move onto the next space, and piecing together the solution to a mystery from the clues you find along the way.

This game is definitely more of a narrative experience than a game. Indeed, the term "walking simulator" was originally coined as a pejorative to describe this sort of first-person exploration game. The industry has since embraced the term, which is appropriate given the subject matter of the game. And I can't actually explain what I mean by that, because it would constitute a spoiler. Actually, it's going to be difficult to really discuss the themes and nuances and execution of this game without spoiling, consider this your warning. If you're at all interested in playing this game, you should do so with as little foreknowledge as possible and expect it to take you a couple of hours. It's available on PC and all modern consoles.

BELOW THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

Part of the brilliance of Gone Home is how closely it holds it cards to its vest. For most of the game you're never certain if you're playing a horror game, a supernatural thriller, or a cozy mystery. It becomes very obvious that, whatever's going on, your sister Samantha is at the heart of it. There's a litany of clues about her having trouble at school and grappling with her own sexual identity. There's a startling red herring about an implied suicide attempt (the bathtub, it turns out, is stained with red hair dye, not blood). You also find some uncomfortable information about your parents. What's great is that all of this turns out to be relevant--just not in the ways you might have been suspecting. The solution is that your sister fell in love with a girl named Lonnie and went to pick her up from the bus station while your parents were away for counseling. They missed you because your flight got changed (or some such) and in 1995 no one had cell phones. All very human problems that feel rather heartwarming when you finally arrive at the solution. You spend two hours on edge and walk away with a total warm-fuzzy. It's kind of refreshing, actually.


In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.

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