A simple game that encapsulates a slice of the queer youth experience.
WARNING: There are spoilers in this article!
In 2013 The Fullbright Company released their debut game: Gone Home, an intimate, exploration simulator. It took the gaming community by storm with it's simplistic gameplay and queer-focused story. After the console edition released, I decided to revisit this game. I wanted to know if it was still as relevant as it was at its release, and if it still holds up as a good game. Luckily, I was not disappointed.
I chose Gone Home, because I wanted to play a game that focused on a queer female character. Not only are queer women horribly represented in most media, but they are almost non-existent in games. The few we have are either dead or aren't explored enough. Gone Home is the opposite - Samantha's story is explored in detail, and it's the emotional crux of the entire game. This is a huge deal. I'm still shocked that it exists in a world where queer woman are killed off to generate cheap drama. That's what makes this such an important title.
In Gone Home, you control Katie Greenbriar. You are coming home in the summer of 1995 from a year abroad and find your house empty. A cryptic letter from your sister hangs on the door. With that, you spend the night searching for clues throughout your sprawling family home. Every time you find a new clue, you're greeted to a voice over of your sister, Samantha. She tells you her story.
Samantha's letter to Katie.
You never play as Samantha - you hear everything about her second hand. This caught me off guard at first, but it's effective. Her story is a pretty generic, queer trope now: A young person falls in love with someone of the same sex, faces adversity from her parents, and runs away. That's true - it is a generic trope that gets old - I'll admit that. Still, it's used over and over again because it's something most queer people experience at some point. There are those lucky few that don't, but it's a universal feeling. By playing as Katie, though, you experience this through a new lens. You experience the aftermath, and you have to piece it back together - and that's intense.
I have to say that the relationship that you walk into is an intricate one. Samantha and Katie were close - after all, Samantha wouldn't say the things she said if they weren't. This makes the little action you have in the game burst with tension. Also, you never learn anything about Katie, so you make your own assumptions. The only real fact is that you and her had a close relationship. How do you know? She writes to you - and she leaves behind (maybe on purpose?) a lot of clues for you to find. Other than that, you are left to answer your own questions. Did you always know that she was bisexual? Or a lesbian (it's never made clear in the game)? How was your relationship with your parents? What was it like growing up with her? This elevates the game past it's barely-there gameplay.
Samantha's room, found upstairs.
At the start of the game, I found it boring. There are no real mechanics. You pick things up, you unlock doors, and sometimes, you can listen to a tape. You interact with the environment - it was a change from the RPGs and action games I'm so used to playing. I began writing it off as another artsy exploration simulator - not that they are bad, but they are plentiful. But, curiosity got the best of me. I could not stop playing this game until I knew everything. Hell, I still don't know everything (I only got through one play through before I started writing). It's got good replay value, because there's just so much that you can miss in the first run through. Thus, I was able to look past my own initial boredom and fall in love with this game
On a personal note, this is one of the only games I've played that encapsulates a very real aspect of being a gay sibling. It reminded me a lot of my own relationship with my brother and cousin.. At times, they were the only person who could be there for me. The thought of not having them during these times made me feel for Samantha. I remember falling in love with a boy, and wanting to run off with him. I remember the sting of my parents' rejection and feeling so angry at them because of it. But I had people who I could go to. Sam didn't. I know her. I know her what she's feeling, and to experience that on this format is nothing short of groundbreaking for me.
White, straight men dominate the video gaming industry. I am a white, gay man. I cannot comment on what it's like to suffer as a woman in the queer community. I cannot definitively say that this is an amazingly positive experience for a queer female gamer, because I'm not one. I can say that this game still holds up as a beautiful representation of queer youth. Samantha is a teen girl who falls in love with another teen girl - and their ending is not fraught with sadness and pain. Depending on who you are, the ending could be seen as more beautiful than tragic (I don't want to give it away, but don't worry, no one dies). That's big deal and I feel like this game give you a refuge from a world that thinks you're disposable.
The attic, which is locked throughout most of the game.
Gone Home defied my expectations. I sat for hours playing through this house. My domestic adventure gave me a beautiful look into a queer teen's life and family.
So, is this game still relevant? Yes, I can confidently say that this game is one of the beacons of hope in an ocean full of poor representation. It's not a perfect representation, but there never is. Does the gameplay still hold up? Again, it bored me - but the curiosity and the exploration eventually draws you in. My verdict: Gone Home is a timeless exploration into family and queer youth, and every queer gamer should play it.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and writer of plays and screenplays, based in NYC. Do you guys have a game that you think is significant to the LGBTQ+ community? Email me, and I'll give it a look!
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