When Game Narratives Run Deeper Than Ever Imagined 

Content Warning: sexual abuse

Gone Home is incredibly beautiful, subtle, and powerful in its narrative. So many little pieces are available for discovery and connection in the game that don’t relate directly to the object of the game. Players can learn about the characters pasts, read private notes and letters, read work and school documents, and listen to cassette tapes. All of these add to the immersion of the game, and make the Greenbriars seem like a very real and knowable family. I find myself thinking about them and their story as if it’s a book I’m reading or have read.

The opportunities to draw extra connections in the game make the player feel clever and invested in the game. They can discover information about Terry’s novels, letters from his father, newspaper clippings about the player character Katie’s great uncle (the previous owner of the house) and a lot more stuff. I thought I was a pretty astute player, until I stumbled across an article called “The Darker Story of Gone Home.”

Before I go on I’m going to give a spoiler alert: the rest of this post reveals a lot about the game. If you have not played Gone Home yet and plan on doing so in the future (which I highly reccommend), I would stop reading. If you have played Gone Home, definitely read this article.

In this article for Indie Haven, a series of very smart connections and discoveries are outlined to suggest that Terry (Sam and Kaitlin’s father) was sexually abused by his uncle Osacar Masan (previous owner of the mansion in Arbor Hill.) It all lines up: the heights on the wall of the basement, the wooden toy (which I never found in the pitch black room), the way the will is locked away in the safe, Terry’s writing and his behavior. With this new information, Terry becomes a major character in the game, almost on par with Sam and her story.

In my last post I said Terry wasn’t a particularly likable character. I was turned off by his maniacal writings of the JFK assassination and time travel to the year 1963 (the year he was sexually a used as a child.) However now, with this new narrative, I feel very invested in Terry’s story, and a desire to go back and discover it myself. I thought Terry was selfish and neglectful of his wife and family, but he was just hurt and coping the best he could.

I assume because I completely missed this hidden plot line, that many other players did as well, at least on their first time playing the game through. A lot of backlash against Gone Home is rooted in the claim that it’s impossible to spend more than 3 hours total playing the game, and that it’s only designed to be played once. I might’ve agreed during my early stages of playing, but after some research I believe this claim is really one sided and not inclusive to the many forms a video game can take. I think the game should applauded for tackling issues usually shied away from (especially in video game medium) and presenting it in a way more like a mystery novel or film. There’s obviously a lot to Gone Home, and dismissing it as only playable once is like saying a Kubrick film is only good the first time. In reality, engaging with the Gone Home more than once can yield very different experiences and reveal totally new subtleties.
Works Cited

Rankin, Simon. “The Darker Story of Gone Home.” Indie Haven, January 2016. http://indiehaven.com/the-darker-story-of-gone-home/

2 comments Add yours
  1. My own thoughts line up with yours here. Gone Home became a much more troubling (and maybe problematic) game once I uncovered the Oscar/Terry story. When I had my first year students play the game—and later read the same Rankin article—many remained resistant to this disturbing storyline. A lot of circumstantial evidence, they thought, but nothing that totally convinced them. Any theories on why some players might continue to dismiss Gone Home even after seeing the potential for such a dark understory?

    1. I think a lot of gamers (experienced or not) have a pretty narrow conception of what a video game is, and an even narrower one for what type of game is worth their time and money. I can see why someone that paid money for Gone Home expecting a horror experience would be dismissive of the game. But, it seems like the game surprised a lot of people in a positive way, which is cool.

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