Year Made: 2013
Platforms: PC, Mac OS, Linux
Price: $19.99 (Note: If the price makes you nervous, Steam often has extensive sales on their games. This is the pre-sale price.)
Content Areas: English Language Arts
Suggested Age Level: Middle School, High School
Play Length: 2-3 hours
Number of Players: Single Player
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Every now and then, there is a game that redefines what a game can be. Gone Home is one such game. Gone Home, developed by The Fullbright Company and designed by Steve Gaynor, tells the story of Katie as she comes home to an empty house after a year abroad. Perhaps more accurately, the game tells the story of Katie’s family through the things they have left behind. The player walks through the house, listens to music, and examines everything from scraps of paper to notes on the fridge in order to find out where her family is and what happened to them.
Gone Home has a story that players will want to share notes on with each other as soon as they finish. While the main storyline focuses on Katie’s sister Sam, the game is filled with several subplots for the player to discover and experience. It is truly a game where how much you put into it is how much you get out of it. Every family member has their own story to tell and if the player takes the time to examine everything they see, they can peel back each layer. Gone Home is also a prime example of a game’s environment being just as important as the gameplay itself. A torrential storm outside the house provides little more than background noise with occasional interruptions from a TV left running. Every now and then, the player can play tapes and listen to songs. The scarcity of the tapes means that every song is treasured just as much as one of Sam’s journal entries. The punk rock anthems of the 1990s, the desperate voicemails from parents, and the echoing footsteps in an empty house all add to the compelling mystery of Gone Home and the immersion a player feels as they step into the lives of the family they never meet.
The gift of Gone Home’s gameplay can also sometimes be its curse. There were times where I found myself getting antsy over the amount of time I walked in silence down hallways and examined useless things in the hope of finding something worthwhile. Other players have not had the same experience, but it could be a struggle at times for students who have difficulty focusing or waiting for the payoff of finding another story installment. The only other problem that could arise comes from the nuances of the storylines and how some communities and students might react. Along with the LGBT issues in one storyline, there are also hints in another storyline of abuse, which could be triggering if a student has experiences something similar and picks up on those issues. As with any game or other piece of media, I strongly suggest that you play through it if you are interested in using it and make the best choice for your students and community.
Gone Home’s focus on developing a story about people the player never meets is perfect for an English class studying mood and tone and highlighting how elements such as setting influence mood, tone, and even plot. Students sometimes struggle to make the larger connections in how various literary elements contribute to an overall mood, but Gone Home makes it a necessity to understand in order to really know the family. Language Arts educators could also pair Gone Home with short stories like “The Things They Carried” to give students a familiar entry point into more classic literature. Beyond the basic facts though, Gone Home teaches something even more important in our globalized and diverse world: empathy. Through these developing stories, players empathize with people they have never even met and watch as a love story unfolds. The game opens for a larger discussion about how we see people and come to understand them. In a world where students are almost guaranteed to work with people from different backgrounds than their own, this skill is more crucial in being career and college ready than ever.
The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home creates a unique opportunity for players to develop empathy for others, not through the people themselves, but through the items they leave behind and an environment that tells just as much of a story as the missing family does.
Educational Rating: 4/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension)
Overall Rating: 6/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)