Gone Home’s Narrative Architecture – Micro-essay #2

Jadzia Genece (40019177)
Carolyn Jong

gh fam

Gone Home, a highly-rated game by The Fullbright Company, is a game that functions like an interactive story that gradually unfolds in a very linear fashion, a bit unlike a traditional video game. Although the player is in full control of the main character, their only purpose is to interact with the surrounding environment – picking objects up, observing them, trying doors and playing cassette tapes. This game begins as Katie, the main character, returns from a trip to Europe to find that her family’s new house is empty. It is up to the player to discover why that is so through a series hints and mental puzzles; they must make observations and piece together subtle clues found throughout the house as you explore it. This is where the concept of narrative architecture comes into play. Gone Home contains intriguing examples of environmental storytelling. As the player progresses, they learn about the family through visual hints given throughout the game; as the player discovers more about the family and its various underlying issues, Katie’s situation begins to piece together in the player’s head. For example, as the player move throughout the house, trying to discover what has happened to Katie’s sister, Samantha (who the game is centered around), the player learns that the mother, Janice Greenbriar, is a bit detached from the rest of the family.

gh schedule

Sam finds it strange that their mother wants to cook a family dinner, since she is seemingly never around. As she is an environmentalist with a long commute to this forest, this should make sense. However, the game begins to hint that something else is going on with Janice. In the master bedroom, Katie finds a book that Jan borrowed from a man named Rick, who writes on the bookmark as if her mother is a close friend. Later, in a closet, Katie finds another book about rekindling a romance well into a marriage. She also finds a report from her mother’s job that evaluates Rick’s skills as an environmentalist; she gives him perfect marks all across, meaning that he will become a part of Jan’s forest team permanently. She also has an adult romance novel about an environmentalist, which is also a bit suspect. All of this evidence points to Jan having an affair, which is one of the reasons why she and her husband leave for an anniversary week vacation. This just so happens to be when Katie arrives from Europe, explaining their absence. This is an example of the game’s more blatant environmental storytelling. The affair is never mentioned in text or audio – the player is simply left to assume that their suspicions are true.

The setup of the home the player explores is also a great example of the game’s use of space as means of telling a story. As the Greenbriar family left the home before they could finish unpacking, the house is more organized in some parts more than others. Sam’s bedroom is fully unpacked, as well as the TV room Terry Greenbriar’s office. These are seemingly the most lived-in rooms, which explains why there are fewer boxes than the guest room, for example. The basement where Sam and her girlfriend Lonnie would hang out showed signs of recent use; bags of chips lying around and an empty pizza box. As “game designers don’t simply tell stories [but] design worlds and sculpt spaces”, this game did a good job in presenting the home as lightly lived-in by a family (Henry Jenkins 3-4).

gh living room

By exploring and observing the items lying around the house, the player is able to gather information on the people that live there, as well as the circumstances that led of the the events that the game are centered around.

As stated by Henry Jenkins, “spatial stories are not badly constructed stories; rather, they are stories which respond to alternative aesthetic principles”; Gone Home demonstrates this by creating a convincing, authentic-feeling domestic setting (Jenkins 7). It creates the story of a subtly dysfunctional family through their home; evidence that tells a story but that does not feel out of place. This game keeps the player vigilant as they progress, slowly discovering the reason behind the absence of Katie’s family and the unfolding of Sam’s love story. I’d deem this game a success in terms of spatial storytelling, as it creates plenty of intrigue surrounding what should be mundane.

Gone Home (The Fullbright Company 2013)

Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge: MIT             Press, 2004. 118-30.

Gone Home’s Narrative Architecture – Micro-essay #2

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