Para… Normal.

My Choice: Gone Home 

Para…Normal (Reference to Young Frankenstein’s “Abby Normal”)

Initially, Gone Home pulls the player in under the guise of a horror story. There is no backstory given beyond the fact that the player is returning home after a year abroad. The player learns that this is a new house that was labeled the “crazy house,” but there is no explanation to why it is called that. Instead, the game opens on a stormy night in an unlit, empty, and mysterious mansion.

While playing Gone Home, the music and setting of the game made it seem as if something dreadful had happened. You must turn on the light in each room if you want to explore it. Sometimes, as in the case of the secret passages and the basement, light was not available. The music of the game made it very tense, and the ridiculously loud mix tapes gave the game a violent edge. The only soothing part of the game was Sam’s voice, which floated into the room every so often.

Did Sam kill herself? Was her mangled body hanging from the rafters of the ill-lit attic? Was Uncle Oscar’s ghost coming back to haunt you? These grisly thoughts kept me intrigued in the game and the curiosity pushed me forward.

Moving around in an unfamiliar environment alone and in the dark surrounded by angsty music seemed like the perfect recipe for a horror game. The ghost board games, ghost literature, and seance room made this game seem paranormal – I was expecting a ghost to pop up and chase me! I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a horror game. In fact, all of the friends I pushed this onto refused to finish the game because they kept expecting a jump scare. I was expecting a jump scare as well, however, the only scary part was how touching the end of the game was.

It’s not until the end that you realize this isn’t a story about ghosts. Instead, this is a coming-of-age queer love story. Not only that, but it’s a game that explores the lives of different members of a normal family. There’s nothing paranormal about it!

So why did Steve Gaynor, the creator of Gone Home, make it seem like a horror game?

This game reflects the burgeoning LGTBQ movement in the 1990s and does a great job capturing the general attitude towards LGBTQ members at the time. Nevertheless, who would want to play a game about the lives of two seemingly obscure characters? If the player were not a LGTBQ member, would he or she understand the experience? Would the player be able to relate to the character in a meaningful way?

Ultimately, the game revealed a character that was alone, misunderstood, and confused. This character, Sam, is someone a lot of people can relate to minus the LGBTQ issues. The horror elements were just tactics used to keep the player interested in the game, like I was. The true story was about Sam and how she found herself and got in touch with her sexuality, but you don’t realize that until the end. Keeping the main storyline undercover allowed this game to reach even more people since there was no stigma attached to it. It seemed like a regular horror game when in reality, it was a game about the silent hell that LGTBQ members experienced and continue to experience today.

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