Critical Play: Mysteries – Gone Home

Gone Home is described as a Story Exploration video game. The entire gameplay consists of walking and looking around the house and picking up objects. Almost immediately after entering, you start to get some clues of what’s going on. The tag on your own luggage tells you your character’s name, where you flew in from, and the date. As you start wandering, you get a sense for who your family members are based on their items.

The genius in the design of Gone Home is in the selection and placement of these items and I can tell it’s the part of the process the designers put the most thought into. The designers need to give the player a sense that they’re always gaining important information but no individual clue can give so much away that it causes the game to be over. Also, the player is free to move around anywhere in the house so the clues can’t be in any chronological dependency. The placement of the clues was not only the most important part of the game, but in my opinion, was the engrossing. While the theme, a spooky house, and medium, iOS game, can easily change, the clues and hints are integral to keeping the player hooked and wanting to search more.

The narrative, the story of what happened to your family while you were abroad, fits amazingly with the game mechanics of searching to clues. If I were to put myself into the shoes of someone who actually came home after a whole year to find no one home, I would definitely start by looking around the house. A lot can change in a year and I would immediately start just wandering around and looking at things. I think the choice of this narrative is a great fit for the clue based wandering game mechanics.

One thing I think the game lacks in extrinsic motivation for the player. While it seems like the designers were focused on increasing the player’s intrinsic motivation to create a story to explain the clues, I think they could add instructions of how to win at the beginning. For instance if I was notified that at the end of the game I could submit a guess for what happened to the family and this story would be verified by the game as correct, I would have more excitement to continue and would be extremely validated at the end.

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