Videogames as Literature

My Choice: Gone Home

Videogames as Literature

Videogames have the ability to create a setting, build up characters, and share deeply emotional stories. The only difference between a novel and a video game is that the video game is more interactive.

Instead of envisioning a setting, the player can move around in it. The map in Gone Home becomes more detailed the more you explore the house. The spatial element of this video game is impressive and it also syncs up with the storyline. How could the main character possibly know every detail of a house she’s never been in? Well, she doesn’t and it’s up to the player to fill in the gaps. The player literally builds the environment around her, which is something we’ve explored when talking about Portal. In Portal, the narrative architecture allows the player to become totally immersed in the experience by building a believable environment. Similarly, Gone Home creates a believable and incredibly detailed environment. The house is filled with 90s memorabilia, and each room had a distinct personality that allowed you to recognise it instantly. For example, Sam’s bedroom was obviously hers because she had posters and homework assignments left everywhere! The house is the only space the player can explore, but it is filled more enough information than the player needs.

Exploration is encouraged and the player can examine old cassettes, photographs, books, and letters that don’t have anything to do with the main storyline. These are used to build up the separate characters themselves and to develop the characters without anyone else having to be in the house. The letters are the most important pieces to understanding Sam and why she chose to leave, but there are plenty of other clues and story lines going on as well. For example, the mother and father are having difficulties with their marriage. The mother was possibly having an affair with another man, although nothing is truly proven. The parents left the house – the player later discovers – because they are on a marriage retreat. Besides that, the mother’s personality is shown through her letters, letters addressed to her by friends, and the various wildlife/wildfire knickknacks lying around the house. The player’s character is shown through the different trophies and various homework assignments scattered throughout the house, which all serve to highlight the difference between her and her sister. The father’s character is developed through the use of his books, letters written to him, and evidences of an early childhood in the house. Even the gift Lonnie sent Sam is kept in a closet, which makes Lonnie feel like a real person. All of these things may seem superfluous if this was just a game, but it’s not. This is a story about the lives of several different people. It’s the story about a family and the trials they face separately in their own hells and together as a family.

Final Journal Entry Transcript:

“Katie… I’m so sorry. That I can’t be there to see you in person. That I can’t tell you all this myself. But I hope, as you read this journal, and you think back… that you’ll understand why I had to do what I did. And that you won’t be sad, and you won’t hate me, and you’ll just know… that I am where I need to be.

I love you so much, Katie. I’ll see you again. Someday.

Love, Sam.”

This ending moved me to tears… the moment where it all comes together – when you realize why no one is home, who the voice on the phone was (Lonnie!), and why it’s called Gone Home.

Home is a place where you belong. For Sam, that was with Lonnie. For the parents, that was in each other, which is why they were trying so hard to save their marriage and confront their issues. For Katie (the main character), that’s literally going home and feeling at peace with what happened.

 

Uncle Oscar – Pedophile or Closeted Homosexual?

My Choice: Gone Home

Uncle Oscar – Pedophile or Closeted Homosexual?

Although Sam and Lonnie’s romance dominates the majority of the game, there is a darker narrative that goes under the radar. That’s understandable, because it is told with such subtlety that it never becomes the main focus. It’s the story about the relationship between Sam’s father, Terry, and his Uncle Oscar, the previous owner of the “Psycho house.”

Below are the two arguments I’ve set up using my own interpretation and the interpretation found on online sources explaining their relationship.

Theory: Oscar the Monster

In one of the hidden passages, there is a wall covered in markings that recorded Terry’s height as he grew up. Terry’s height stops being recorded when he reaches the age of twelve in 1963. In 1963, Oscar hosted a family Thanksgiving part in his home like he does every year. This year, however, was extremely significant because some unknown evil occurs.

Decades later, you enter Oscar’s old house and go exploring. There is a hidden safe in one of the secret passage ways next to a wall with markings that recorded your Dad’s height growing up.

The safe can only be opened if the code 1-9-6-3 is entered. Inside of the safe, amongst syringes and bottles of morphine, is a letter from Oscar to Terry’s mother expressing remorse, transgression, and a plea for forgiveness. Forgiveness for what?

In the cellar of the house, the light is broken. There in the bleak room, a child’s wooden toy horse can be found. It is the only object hidden in the dark alluding to a sinister childhood memory.

According to Austin Walker’s “Transgressions – You Can Do Better,” Terry grows up to become obsessed with the year 1963. “His book’s protagonist travels back to that time to prevent a tragedy. The Kennedy assassination occurred just days before Terry was coerced into the basement on Thanksgiving Day. It became the analogue for the abuse. Terry’s mother found out on that day and the torment ceased, but the repercussions hadn’t yet begun to take hold.”

Did Terry’s mother walk in on her brother abusing her son that fateful night? If so, a lot of pieces may fall into place. For one, it would explain the tension between Oscar and his distant father – who probably did not know how to deal with the situation. It would also explain the letter of remorse written to Terry’s mother that was found in the safe. Finally, it would explain why Terry became estranged from his own wife. Perhaps he still had not dealt with the past. Perhaps this is why he was so obsessed with going back in time and stopping it from happening. Maybe he was JFK.

Theory: Oscar the Cross-Dresser

The reason Sam tried to reach Oscar is because he was a closeted homosexual, much like herself, and she needed advice. Why would she try to hard to reach out to someone who hurt her father? Wouldn’t it make more sense that she reached out to someone who went through a similar experience and could give her advice?

The house has a sewing room filled with women’s clothing – perhaps Oscar cross dressed from time to time and Terry discovered his secret at the Thanksgiving party and revealed it to his parents. The 60s were a conservative period, and homosexuality was not seen in a positive light. Thus, Oscar was rejected by the family and labeled a “psycho.”

As an adult, Terry has a difficult time coming to terms with Sam’s sexuality. Is this because he was still attached to the negative stigmas of the 60s? Is it because he saw how sad Oscar’s life turned out in the end? Maybe his obsession with going back in time has to do with finding a way to stop his younger self from ruining his Uncle’s life? Was Oscar the real JFK and Terry the young spy who could save him? One could only speculate.

Conclusion

According to Steve Gaynor, Walker’s reconstruction of the story events “100% matches my blueprint. As far as I’m concerned it’s totally accurate to what I meant to put in the game, but other interpretations are completely valid.”

(http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2013/08/21/qt3-games-podcast-gone-homecast-with-developer-steve-gaynor/)

Hold on.

So… Oscar did abuse Terry? Oscar was a monster?

I actually had to stop and put this blog away for a few days, because this made me rethink everything for one moment.

Why is something as serious as trauma, child abuse, and sexual abuse open to interpretation? If a writer intends on using this as a way to shape the narrative, then it must be clearly defined and shown. The fact that it is hidden and “open to interpretation” is problematic because it supports the idea that physical or sexual abuse is just a matter of interpretation. Terry’s perspective is completely left out of the picture, and we’re left with fragments of what might have happened or what could have happened. If it did happen, why not just be clear about it? I understand that this is a subtle storyline and that memories are hard to recreate, but this was an intentional piece of the game. Keeping it hidden does a huge disservice to people who have actually experienced abuse. Unfortunately, real-life survivors are often told that their misfortune is the result of a misunderstanding or that they merely remembered the event wrongly. The ambiguity surrounding the event that allegedly took place only serves to reassert the belief that abuse is a matter of interpretation.

Links:

https://imaginationisspicy.com/2013/09/09/gone-home-the-ghost-no-one-sees/

http://clockworkworlds.com/post/58411117679/the-transgression-you-can-do-better

http://indiehaven.com/the-darker story-of-gone-home/

https://steamcommunity.com/app/232430/discussions/2/864977472590701710/

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.