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When I went back to university, it came at a great sacrifice; I no longer had time for many video games.  What games I had time to finish during those years were usually short DS games or Steam games.  And yet, I still bought a lot of games during Steam sales.  So now I have a backlog of games to get through!  And why not blog about it while I’m at it?

Gone_Home

The first game I decided to play was Gone Home.  Gone Home was developed and published by The Fullbright Company and released on August 15, 2013.  It is also going to be available on the Wii U later this year.

The year is 1995.  You play as Kaitlin (or Katie) Greenbriar, a college student who returns home to her family after a year abroad.  While away, your family had inherited a mansion from a reclusive uncle your father hasn’t spoken to since 1963.  You conveniently arrive home during a terrible thunderstorm, and realize quickly that no one is home.  The house is dark and ominous, and I’ll admit I’m pretty terrible about scary games so I had to immediately look up whether something was going to pop out at me.  Luckily, the game relies on atmosphere rather than cheap scares, so if you’re a bit of a wuss like I am, you can still probably handle this game while enjoying the spookiness of the house.  I just moved far away from home so it is pretty timely that I played this; as Katie you learn what your family has been up to in the year since you were gone,  and how living in the “Psycho House” (as the local kids call it) has dramatically affected their lives.

Now, here there be spoilers.  If you’d like to play the game before reading on, I really recommend it.  The story is fantastic and unfolds in many unexpected ways, and I really do think it would be more enjoyable if you didn’t know what was coming.  If you only read my blog because you feel obligated to or I amuse you and you never plan to play the game, read on.  But, really, you should play this game.

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That hair.

In the beginning of the game, you are standing on your porch.  I had to take a look through the inventory, and laugh at how 90s your passport photo is.  The door is locked, and there is a note from your younger sister, Sam, saying that she is sorry she can’t be there to see you, and not to go looking for her, because she doesn’t want Mom or Dad anyone to know where she is.  The key is found under a Christmas duck ornament, and immediately inside the house the lights are flickering and it’s pretty dark.

Here is where I made up my mind; my parents are dead, and that is why Sam struck them out of her letter.  I knew pretty much nothing about Gone Home before I started playing, and I’ve suddenly become convinced by the dark house, ominous music and thunder that this game would culminate in my finding the corpses up in the attic, and my sister was probably the murderer.  I braced myself and started creeping through the house, looking for evidence that I would no doubt have to hand over to a homicide detective, should I survive the game.

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Meet your (likely) murdered family.

I found my way to the father’s  study, where he is working on a sci-fi novel.  And his writing is pretty cliche.  It has lines like “her uniform stretched across her generous bosom” that makes it hard for me to take some books seriously.  Maybe he realized how cliche it is as well, because the page where I read that was in the garbage.  His book deals with a time traveler, and you soon find out that this would be the third book in a series; he already published two, which dealt with the same time traveler who had to save JFK’s life, twice.  He is now trying to write the book in the future, and envision how different history would be if JFK lived.  Clearly, he is having troubles.

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Starting to get a Jack Torrance vibe here.

I also quickly found an inspection report on the electrical work in the house that explained why the lights keep flickering.  Personally, I was a little disappointed to find this early in the game; I was really enjoying how creepy the house seemed and wished it could play on my imagination better.  The letter seemed like a reassurance that would have been better placed towards the end of the game.

I watch a lot of Mike Holmes and this doesn't seem legit to me.

I watch a lot of Mike Holmes and this doesn’t seem legit to me.

As you discover items, you unlock a fragment of your’s sister’s diary, narrating her year since the move.  She at first talks about the new school and how everyone sees her as the “Psycho House” girl.  That does actually end up working in her favour, a girl at her school who she admires, Lonnie, wishes to tour the house and they quickly become friends.  The voice acting is absolutely fantastic and I quickly became really attached to Sam, although again I suspected the ending was going to be tragic.

The creepiness of the house wore off on me quickly, because I grew up in the 90s and the house provides a trip down memory lane.  VHS? Cassettes? Riot grrl? Snail mail?  Oh, that brings me back.  There was a print TV guide with The X-Files circled, which made me rant to my boyfriend about how kids these days don’t appreciate the TV menus that now tell you when things come on.  Back in my day, you had to go through a TV guide to know what is on!

That is a great lineup.

That is a great lineup.

I particularly took delight in some of the magazines you find lying around the house.

Truly a magical decade.

Truly a magical decade.

I began to relax, a little.  I started feeling bad for Terry, despite the fact he wrote cliches that I hate, as I would find rejection letters placed near alcohol, and a lot of copies of his books just boxed up and lying around the house.  I also found documents about his uncle who left him the house, Oscar Masen, including a torn up letter inviting Terry to come visit him before his death, and his will in which he left Terry everything.  HM.

Meanwhile, upstairs you find evidence that your mother, Jan, was having an affair.  Evidence includes an employee review of a fellow forest ranger, a romance novel about being saved from a forest fire, letters from a friend that mentions troubles with her relationship with Terry, and a book in the bathroom about rekindling intimacy, which promptly grosses Katie out.

If I knew a forest ranger or fire fighter, I'd probably send them joke gifts like this all the time.

If I knew a forest ranger or fire fighter, I’d probably send them joke gifts like this all the time.

During this time I’m still convinced that my family is gone forever, and I am absolutely tearing the house apart.  As I leave my parents’ bedroom with objects strewn everywhere, I start to think about how bad it will look if they actually came home.

My suspicions of foul play were heightened when I entered my sister’s bathroom and there was blood in the tub.  AHA!  But no, it turned out to be red hair dye; she did Lonnie’s hair.  At this point in her diary, it become obvious Sam has a crush on Lonnie.  And it turns out Lonnie really likes her too.  I am still wary of a tragic ending, because it is pretty hard to find LGBT narratives that have a happy ending.  But the romance between Sam and Lonnie blooms and it gets me right in the feels.

Then you have to explore the dark and creepy basement.  Fuck.

Here there is more stuff about Oscar Masan, including a news clipping about how in 1965 he sold his pharmacy for a song, and a letter to his sister asking for forgiveness for some unspeakable sin he has committed.  This letter was found in a safe filled with morphine and syringes.

Sam and Lonnie found a lot of secret passages in the house, and used them to hide notes, stories Sam had written (actually, Sam seems to be a better writer than her father) and most notably, to me, a zine they made together.

This game is the best ever just for this.

This game is the best ever just for this.

The basement was a little disorienting and it was kind of hard to find the secret passage up to the kitchen area, which was previously locked off.  Here, you find that your father has decided to write in the greenhouse, and it is going much more smoothly, and his books are being reprinted by a new company, who he is also pitching his third novel to.  Your mom has another letter from a friend suggesting she’s reading too much into her friendship with Rick, and indeed, you find a wedding invitation to Rick’s wedding on the fridge.  It is marked on the calendar, but then scratched out.  Your parents have gone on an anniversary trip, and will be back in a few days.  Sam REALLY should have left the kitchen unlocked so I could find this out sooner.

Things are not wrapping up so nicely for Sam.  Your parents find out about her relationship with Lonnie, and deny that Sam is a lesbian; it is just a phase, she just hasn’t met the right boy yet.  Meanwhile, Lonnie is joining the army and ships out on June 6th, which happens to be the day you get home.  Sam hints that she can’t live without Lonnie, which is pretty alarming to hear.  Once I get the key to the attic, I rush up to discover what has happened to Sam.

Well, it turns out that Lonnie called and decided she just couldn’t do it, she got off the bus and wanted Sam to come get her and run away.  Sam agrees, and tells Katie that they’ll meet again some day, and she’s sorry she couldn’t be there to welcome her home.  The game ends as you find her diary.

It is so, so refreshing to find a game that has a positive portrayal of a queer couple AND they get a happy ending.  So relieved was I for Sam that I got really choked up at the end.  I got so caught up that I found myself rushing to make sure Sam is okay, so I missed a bit of content.

One big thing I missed was that I couldn’t understand what Oscar Masan had to do with anything.  Sam and Lonnie have ghost hunt excursions and even use an Ouija board, but it doesn’t seem to actually lead anywhere.  What did Oscar do to name the house “Psycho House”, and why did his family reject him back in the sixties?

I looked it up, and apparently what I missed was a height chart in a creepy secret passage in the basement, near the safe with the drugs inside.  The height chart was for a young Terry.  I totally missed it, and a lot of people interpret this as Terry was abused by Oscar, who was caught on Thanksgiving of 1963, the same day JFK was killed.  This is why Terry is so fixated on JFK when he is writing, and why Oscar was shunned even if he wasn’t charged.

Gone Home is an amazing game.  If you’re not necessarily a good gamer or familiar with video games, it is pretty easy to play; you just rummage through and explore the house.  The story is fantastic, the way everything turns out okay in the end reminds me of a children’s book I had growing up.  It was about two siblings who are afraid of the dark in their grandfather’s house, and their grandfather explained how he was afraid of the house when he was a child, and saw monsters in the darkness, but his grandparents turned on the lights, showed him what was making those shapes and noises, and then gave him ice cream.  Gone Home is like that; it feels like a horror game in the beginning, but in the end it was just me jumping at harmless noises and shadows.  Once I realized this, the house felt more friendly and lived in, instead of a tomb in which I would find only bodies.

And now I feel absolutely terrible for ransacking everything.  I hope Katie had time to clean before her parents got home.

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