Critical Play: Walking Simulators

Gone Home - Wikipedia

I played Gone Home, a PC game created in 2013 by The Fullbright Company. I think the target audience is older teenagers and above, given the serious and sensitive issues which the game explores. The game begins with the player, 21-year-old Katie, returning from college to her family’s new home. When she arrives at the house, she finds it empty, so Katie decides to look around to piece together what transpired.

The game’s boundaries are the house, and the sole gameplay mechanics consist of walking around the house and using the mouse to interact with different objects. For example, the player can click on a light switch to toggle the lights, on a drawer to open it, and on a note to read it. As the player investigates, the story of Katie’s family emerges through the objects and notes she encounters.

With no guns and no people, 'Gone Home' is a different kind of first-person  game | The Verge

The game’s fun comes from its Narrative experience — as a full walking simulator, the game consists solely of storytelling. The player must actively piece together the story by examining different objects throughout the house. This was extremely successful — unlike a traditional story, as the player is sifting through the house, they are exposed both to details relevant to the story and to details tangential or mundane. Thus, the player not only learns the main story but also human details about the characters — what they like to eat, do for fun, their personal thoughts, and so on. In a traditional story, many of these human details are lost because the story is linear and fixed in length, and so the storyteller must be prudent in what they choose to tell, so they can deliver just the right amount of detail to the passive reader / listener. However, the non-linear format of Gone Home allows the player to explore the human side of the characters to whatever extent the player would like, thus giving them the opportunity to connect with the characters (or to not if they want to progress with the main story!). This greatly contributed to the game’s emotional impact and thus its success — I had the opportunity to explore the human details which resonated with me and this made the game much more impactful.

While this non-linear format led to the game successfully conveying Narrative fun, it isn’t without downsides. This non-linear format required extensive details in each area in order to allow the player to investigate further tangential or “mundane” details. Likely as a result of this, the game’s main story is short. Building all these optional details requires much more effort than just conveying a linear narrative. I felt the game was over too soon — I finished the main story in less than an hour. The scenery and objects were heavily detailed, and if a lower level of detail was used, then perhaps the developers would have the time to make the game a bit longer. I think it is especially important for this game, since it discusses very serious and sensitive topics and felt a bit rushed.

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