Micro essay 2: A Voyeur in the Home

Gabby Orellana

ENGL 255B: Video Games and/as Literature

Carolyn Jong

March 24, 2017

Micro-Essay 2: A Voyeur in the Home

           Although, at first glance, Gone Home appears to take on various qualities belonging to the horror genre, the game adopts a strong home thematic through the player’s interaction with the presented setting of the Greenbriar’s domicile. Indeed, the game play takes the player from the role of a voyeur to a familiar, through the evolving relationship between the game’s structural design and the player’s association with the characters of Katie and Sam.

           The character of Katie serves as the player’s gateway to the narrative and technical universes of the game. Seeing as she’s both the player character and the first narrative element the player is presented with, Katie introduces in them a pervading sense of intrusion via the initial mechanisms of the game play. Shortly after hearing her voicemail, the game’s controls are taught to the player by having them use her character to find the spare key on the porch and actively open the house’s front door. Lana Polansky states in her article The Poetry of Created Spaces how games often call for a specific range of reactions in the player through what objects and environments they are given to discover and, more specifically, through the filtered account of who the environment is being perceived by (Polansky). In the context of the game, Katie’s character has been gone for many months and, more importantly, is returning to a completely unfamiliar setting. The player is in that way learning to operate the game play and the layouts of the house through the bias of Katie, who is herself an intruder within its walls. The inclusion of personal objects with which the player can interact with pushes this notion of encroaching on intimate spaces ever further. Most rooms of the house are visually connected to different family members. This is done through the increasing awareness to the rooms’ contents, based on the knowledge the player gains on the family. Katie’s willingness to expose her family’s personal nooks and storage to the player becomes in that way an ultimate show of her foreignness within the house. Although the player can consciously decide to unearth the father’s hidden pornographic magazine through numerous motions of clicking and dragging, Katie’s motivations to execute the action remains unclear. She does however object at the player’s later attempt at reading a sexual entry of Sam’s diary and prevents them for continuing with the act. This establishes that through Katie’s unfamiliarity with the specific domestic setting, the player is initially offered a freedom that encourages them to invade the privacy of the characters, since they’re under the protection of their role as both an outsider figure and an accepted individual of the familial sphere.

           As the player progresses further in the game and consequently becomes more familiar with its mechanisms, their relationship with the concept of home becomes less antagonistic and more complimentary. Through the increasing presence of Sam, the player starts to develop a sense of belonging and attachment to the domestic setting. Henry Jenkins argues that one of the ways environmental storytelling has the ability to facilitate a game’s immersive narrative experience is through the use of pre-existing narrative associations (Jenkins 123). In this light, Gone Home employs the almost universal experiences of the player’s associations with their own home to guide their relationship with the virtual setting. The exploration mechanism of the game play is what allows for this development. By making the player explore the house and adapt to their environment, it directly parallels the narrative rhythm of Sam’s own involvement with it. As the player uncovers secret passages, modifies their map depicting the layout of the house, it recreates Sam’s experience of moving into a foreign house, of slowly coming to learn more about its structure and its content before ultimately making it her own. The concept of home remains a personal and subjective one, but it can be understood as built around the interactions and changes an individual has with it. The fact that the player is capable of leaving their own mark on the game’s environment through their interactions with it elevates their role from beyond a simple surrogate for the returning travelling daughter and makes them part of the familial unit. They’re offered the possibility of importing their own habits and preferences based on their experiences within their homes. The player can choose to leave all the lights of the house on if they’re uneasy with the dark, to open every single door if they crave open spaces or even move most objects from one room to another to suit their own decorative tastes. The setting of the home becomes that much more powerful because, by making room for the player within the spatial environment of the game, the game establishes with them a deeper connection to their own concrete real experiences, while engaging them with the established virtual one and its characters.

            By inviting the player to explore the Greenbriar’s house without repercussions and subsequently embracing the result of their interactions with the setting, Gone Home presents a universal thematic of home that subverts the alienation of the player by what initially appears as a closed off and intimate structural setting. The spatial design of the game provokes changes in how the player relates to it throughout the game play in a manner that mirrors the changes seen in the narrative arcs of the characters’ themselves. Gone Home’s story line is one that rings deeply personal despite the player not necessarily having directly experienced it in their own lives because it relies on their existing memories within a similar setting.


Works Cited

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. 118-130.

Polansky, Lana. The Poetry of Created Space. Bit Creature. October 5th, 2012. https://web.archive.org/web/20150502082451/http://www.bitcreature.com/criticism/the-poetry-of-created-space/

Gone Home. The Fullbright Company. 2013. Video game.

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Micro essay 2: A Voyeur in the Home

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