Gone Home in the test - nobody at home

Author: Jochen Gebauer
Date: 2013-09-07 09:50:00
In just under two hours, Gone Home tells a great, heartbreakingly intimate story. But I still can't test it.

Oh, Gone Home, what am I doing with you? Actually, I should have to pull your mutton legs out: after two hours it's over and still 19 euros expensive, no replay value and as demanding as hiding against myself, with the price-performance rating (playing time divided by costs) you have long been "poor" Cashed in, overtaken "insufficiently" on the right and raced through the roundabout three times at "insolent".

But damn it, it was two great hours, sometimes wonderfully scary, then heartbreakingly human, always exciting and never cheesy, even if your ending certainly doesn't please everyone, but we'll get to that later. So I can't possibly judge you as a game and write a classic test, because that would be like trying to impale a butterfly with a pin in order to preserve its beauty.

Instinctively familiar

I have already started an article similar to that, almost a year ago, at that time the un-game was called Dear Esther and told a poetic story about guilt, atonement and the human desire to preserve the ephemeral, to drown it in formaldehyde and oneself to persuade it to stay alive.

Gone Home is so similar - just completely different. My journey does not begin on a nameless island in the Scottish Hebrides, but at home, a recognizable American home, but instinctively familiar, the spare key is badly hidden in one of those tacitly agreed places that every family knows and about which nobody really knows who originally came up with it.

With the discovery of this key, my interactive work is practically done, there will be a few little puzzles to follow, but I would rarely have to go stupid to avoid "playing" Gone Home to its controversial end, the following two hours do not provide any Demand - if I'm just curious, click on everything, take everything in.

Perfectly staged

While a storm is raging outside, I explore a house that is my house ... and somehow also completely strange, even scary. That sounds like a contradiction, but Gone Home stages it perfectly.

I play Kaitlin Greenbriar, just back from Amsterdam, a long trip through Europe with me and full of joy to see the family again in Oregon, but the family is not there, the house is ghostly empty and yet strangely alive, as if the residents were just walked outside the door and never came back.

When the television is switched on, a storm warning flickers, a half-written manuscript page lies in my father's typewriter, I find letters from my mother to a friend from my youth, I feel like an intruder on the one hand and strangely at home on the other hand, there is a literally intimate atmosphere, the family is slowly waking up to Life, with all the lovable quirks, everyday worries and subliminal abysses, rarely (if ever) has a game drawn such believable characters even though they are not even present.

Empty promises?

But what happened to them? The premise of Gone Home is reminiscent of the Mary Celeste, that famous ghost ship that was found abandoned floating in the Atlantic, the lifeboats firmly moored, the supposedly still warm food on the table, the crew as if swallowed by the ground.

Yes, you can accuse Gone Home of playing with marked cards, faking a classic haunted story, only to tell something completely different, apparently trivial, and if Michael is disappointed with the finale, even genuinely angry (see box), then act it is legitimate criticism.

But I do not share them. On the contrary: Gone Home is such a wonderful experience precisely because it illustrates how dogmatic our expectations of the medium have become - and how great it can be when a game doesn't meet them for a change.

Great because it is banal

Of course, when I think of an abandoned property in the raging storm, I involuntarily think of a haunted story. But why actually?

When I visit my parents on the weekend and no one is at home, I don't suspect murder, manslaughter and supernatural things right away - I'm almost instinctively convinced that there is guaranteed to be a completely banal explanation.

With Gone Home, however, I instinctively expect disaster, simply because it's a game. The fact that this catastrophe ultimately does not materialize (or better said: that it is a banal, everyday catastrophe) is not a disappointment to me, but a compelling factor for the story that Gone Home tells.

If Michael says that there is only an old support stocking in the supposed surprise bag, then that is absolutely correct - but I would find it inappropriate, even lying, if something else came to light.

One trick pony?

So Gone Home defies the conventions of a classic test not least because I would never come up with the crazy idea of recommending it to someone I don't know personally.

After all, with some justification one can understand it as a hopelessly overpriced and playfully undemanding one-trick pony, as a circus horse that can only do this one trick - and that's crap.

But you don't have to. It can also be seen as a wonderfully intimate story of growing up, a bold example of what games can do when they don't act like games. 19 euros is a proud price for such an experiment. But my last visit to the cinema cost more with popcorn, cola and 3D frills - and in those two hours I wasn't entertained as well as Gone Home.