Gone Home was a game that I got for free years ago as part of my Playstation Plus membership. I don’t know what drew me to choose to play it out of the hundreds of indie games that come with a subscription service like that. I hadn’t heard anything about it at the time, but one day I picked up the controller and quickly discovered that there was something very unique about it.
The set up wasn’t like anything else I’d ever played before. I’ve been a tortured vampire gunman in the old west, an elite, alien hunting space marine, an Italian plumber and a hundred other things before, but this time I was a girl from Oregon, who’d just got home from a tour across Europe and found her house empty on a stormy night. There are no NPCs (non-player characters) in the game, just a series of rooms full of notes, receipts, answering machine messages, diary entries and other tidbits of information that allow you, as the player, to piece together what happened while you were gone.
Not everyone will like this game. There’s no action whatsoever. There is never a point where you come to realize that the house is inhabited by an axe murderer or a slew of zombies start banging at the doors. It isn’t that kind of game. I wouldn’t even really consider it a puzzler, as following the story unlocks progress without the need for much problem solving.
It is just an empty house, but that’s really all it needs to be.
Writers often set restrictions or limits for themselves in order to exercise the ability to work around some aspect of storytelling they might have been using as a crutch.
I’m going to write a story with no dialogue.
I’m going to write a story using only dialogue.
I’m going to write a story where every paragraph is from a different person’s perspective.
I’m going to write a story where every third word begins with the letter T.
And so on…
It’s kind of similar to the way a painter like Picasso might decide to do a series using only the color blue. These kinds of limits can actually unlock a greater amount of creativity than when the artist has all of their options available.
Gone Home decided to tell a story using only the environment, and in doing so, they showed us exactly how telling an environment can be. One detail that stood out to me was a box of unsold books found in a closet that informed the player of the father’s failed aspirations as an author.
Tacoma works in a similar vein, albeit with a more amped-up, Sci-Fi approach. You play an investigator on a derelict space station that has recorded the activities of its crew during their time onboard. You’re job is to Tony Stark your way through these holographic recordings, fast forwarding and rewinding them so that you can view the separate conversations that took place, before and after the crew members converged into groups. You do this so that you can uncover what led the station to be in its current state and the fate of the crew.
There are still elements of Gone Home’s signature setting-based narrative, but Tacoma has introduced a much more interactive element that has its own narrative value.
In short, while I think Gone Home is the superior work of art, Tacoma wins the gold medal for entertainment.
I want to reiterate that these games aren’t for everyone. Some people like to unwind at the end of their day by shooting aliens or launching those deviously sinister blue turtle shells at an unsuspecting friend. I get it. I personally find popping the heads off Cabal in Destiny 2 to be very therapeutic.
But if you want to try something outside of the usual, or you’re curious about how a game can slowly reveal a deeply human story just by using scraps of paper around an empty house, then one of these might be for you. There is certainly plenty of appeal for the Sherlock Holms’ among you who love piecing together a juicy mystery, but there is also something Zen about wondering through these abandoned places. I recommend playing alone, late in the evening, when there’s no one around to distract you. These games deserve focus.
I’ve just finished streaming Tacoma on my Twitch channel, CodyDCampbell. I’ll be streaming Bastion next and then I haven’t decided on what I’m going to play after that, so I’m going to try doing a poll! If you’re interested in that sort of thing go to https://www.twitch.tv/codydcampbell, scroll down and help me decide! I stream every Friday night starting ~8PM and whenever else I have time throughout the week.
Right now it’s between Life is Strange 2, Transistor and Night in the Woods.
Thanks for reading,
PS. Here’s the video version of my review for Tacoma.