Samantha Greenbriar’s room in Gone Home.
Gone Home invites you to step into an empty house and uncover its stories. It isn’t a game that focuses on battle systems or outlandish weapons. Gone Home asks to player wander around, remain curious, and discover what they can about the lives of Greenbriar family.
You enter the world of Gone Home as Kaitlin Greenbriar. After traveling abroad, she arrives to find that there is no one at the house to greet her. Your first task is to find the spare key and enter the dark home. Once inside you can turn on the lights and wander around, exploring every nook and cranny.
You discover intimate details about your family members by interacting with the environment and rummaging through the items in the house. One item will give you a hint where to look next. Interacting with an important item will open up a journal entry written by your sister. These journal entries are both voice acted and presented as text and can be accessed at any point after finding them. The main mechanic of the game is simple: explore by clicking on various items in the house.
There is a haunting tone to the game. When you enter the home it is dark, secluded, and silent aside from a thunderstorm raging outside. The game intersperses a quiet score with Riot Grrl songs (played via cassette tapes found within the house).
The place is littered with personal items from the Greenbriar family. Tapes of X-Files episodes, boxes full of copies of your father’s books, Nintendo cartridges, and other items serve to tell the story of the members in the house. The details are more than window dressing; they tell the story.
While the player is controlling Kaitlin Greenbriar, she is not the focus. Gone Home is primarily the tale of the younger sister, a teenager whose tale you slowly learn through diary entries, letters, and scattered items. You are shown Samantha’s desires, flaws, insecurities, fears, struggles, and triumphs. The intricately designed details make her story feel real. Glow in the dark star stickers above the bed, a couch cushion fort in the living room, and boxes of short stories written in elementary school all inform the player about Samantha.
While Samantha’s life is the focus, the rest of the family is not ignored. You witness details of the parents’ marriage. You get a glimpse of a trauma haunting Kaitlin’s father (a man obsessed with writing stories where the main character changes the past). The details of these tales are fuzzier than that of Samantha’s. The player is left uncertain and making assumptions. But for players who explore the house in detail, those characters have a lot to say despite never being present within the home. The items that are hidden away in drawers act as evidence of the lives of their owners, painting incomplete but striking pictures of Kaitlin’s parents and her great-uncle.
At the end of the day, Gone Home is a relatively short game. It can be completed in roughly 4 hours. But this focused experience is a gem. Months after completing this game I still think about the characters and the story. While the player never meets or interacts with Kaitlin’s family members in the house, the details of their lives are abundant. Their tales had me crying more than once.
Gone Home harnesses the power of a well written story. Developer The Fullbright Company created a game that I will not forget for quite some time.