Ghosts [Gone Home]
When I was just entering high school my dad sold our small house to a fortune teller and moved us into a house the prior owners took their lives in. It set a bizarre tone for my last years with my family; like anything could and would happen there. My family was made larger and more complex when my parents divorced and my mother remarried, then smaller and even more complex when she passed away as I was applying for colleges.
For a brief time before I shipped off to college, then, I moved into my dad’s “haunted” house. I spent most of my time with friends then, so it never settled in as home. Mental and physical distance from home is endearing and freeing. It made me miss the place where my parents were, but made me happy to be on my own. You don’t have to deal with their life or death or their anything. But sometimes you want to. It’s difficult to write about family because the notion and signifiers of “family” have been evasive for the last dozen years.
Gone Home is the story of (definitely) a family as viewed by a daughter who’s been away for a year. I’m not familiar with the way this family operates, but I am familiar with “finding out” things about people you know. Kate’s job is to find out where her family is, not just physically, but mentally/spiritually/emotionally. To find them in a strange place; an empty house her family was willed into while she was abroad. What’s going on with here parents’ careers? Her sister’s new high school? The former owner of their new home? Just how much can you help Kate make her new address feel like home?
I won’t spoil the answers to the former questions, but the final answer, I’m pleased to say, is, “enough.”
Gone Home delivers narrative and clues in as organic a manner something this deliberate can. You begin in a strange place, unsure of where light switches are or if you’ll find someone around the corner. The house is filled with creaks and pops of settling floors, touchy wiring, and a sense of forboding. As I uncovered the various rooms on the first floor, though, I found myself getting comfortable enough to shut a few doors or turn off lights here and there. Kate & I were settling in.
The Fullbright Company does an outstanding job of acclimating the player to her family, i.e., acclimating the player to a virtual and emotional space so well that #1 Arbor Hill feels real, but it ‘s not our home and you’re always wondering if it’ll ever feel like one to Kate. It’s an incredible balance to strike, like displaced people having a home in the arms of their loved ones. Except there are no arms, just scraps of paper, brochures, and notebooks.
Your parents secrets laid bare on invoices, your sibling’s love splayed on composition pages, your own post cards ignorant of it all; they lead you through four stories that all add up to where your family and home are. Like any family gathering, it can feel like it goes on too long; like there’s too much worthless “stuff” surrounding you. With everything to interact with, you feel like just touching everything will solve your problems. If only it were so easy.
Maybe it’s just my memory failing me, but it feels like, if only I’d paid this close attention to my family’s “stuff,” I’d remember them more often. Not just our ghosts. I think about what Kate knows now and what she could express to her family. She’s spent several haunting hours re-introducing herself to her family, and despite all that’s changed, in the end, it feels like you’re home.