Gone Home – Interactive Storytelling

Gone Home is a story experience, just as much as it is a game

I’m probably a little late to the party, seeing as Gone Home was released in August of last year to mixed reviews, but I’ve finished the story just a few days ago. Playing Gone Home was an experience that has had me thinking ever since the credits rolled. What I really enjoyed about the game was how much it made me reflect on storytelling.

Banana for scale?
Banana for scale?

In the story, you play the part of Kaitlin Greenbriar who has just returned home from a year abroad to… an empty house. Her family is nowhere to be found. As Kaitlin (you) explore the house, the story unfolds through digital clues scattered throughout the home. What sort of things have the family been through? Where have they gone? What have you missed in your time away?

What really impressed me about this game was the telling of the story. Each piece comes through scraps of paper and letters scattered throughout the home. Each room (and there are quite a few in this mansion) becomes an adventure of its own, picking up objects, examining them and looking for clues about what exactly happened during your year of travel. The “world” (really just a large house) is a rich landscape of cabinets to look in, tables to browse, doors to open, and lights to turn on and off. In general it’s a peaceful game, although there are a couple of suspenseful moments. No violence or adult material here. Just a captivating story.

An engaging story that kept me playing to the end

Gone Home really captured my attention for the get-go. I was skeptical at first because I heard the game was pretty short (I completed the story in under an hour) but found that as I entered the front door I was immediately immersed in the “what happened” of the tale. The natural exploration of walking around and picking up objects and looking for clues never wore off. In fact, I’m ready to go explore again despite the fact that I now know what happened (or do I?).

Moving through the house had the classic game elements of locked doors until you find the key and trying to remember where you’ve already been (not an issue for me, but I’m sure my wife will get lost several times while playing), but it didn’t feel forced. It was a natural progression of territory unlocking. It made sense. And so the story kept me engaged. Because the environment didn’t feel unnatural, it helped me be more immersed in the story as it unfolded.

Storytellers take note

The way Gone Home unraveled the story was probably the most interesting part. As I participated in the narrative revealing, I felt in control of the story to a degree (the rules of video games still apply). I was able to explore the story at the pace I wanted to. To casually move from room to room examining items or to race through the clues to find out what happened. There was some narrative built-in to certain objects as I picked them up, but ultimately I was free to just… explore. As a storyteller myself (or at least attempted storyteller) it was interesting to experience the freedom to move about the story. Movies are generally very linear in their deliberations (Pulp Fiction or Memento maybe not so much) and unless you’re reading a “choose your own adventure” book, novels as well. Gone Home held a deep story in open hands. Roam around the house wherever you like (besides the locked doors I previously mentioned) and experience the story at the pace and order as you want.

I don’t know how to apply the example of story telling The Fullbright Company modeled in Gone Home yet. I’m still working that out. But the great part is that it got me thinking. And I believe that is a really good thing.

Check out Gone Home if you haven’t already. And if you have, let me know why you found it so engaging as well. I’d love to have a discussion about this thought-provoking game.