September 26, 2015

Gone Home

Fulbright’s Gone Home is a fascinating transitional artifact. The main story is a linear tale that is carefully contrived to appear to be a hypertext – indeed, it looks exactly the sort of hypertext that Bolter imagined in his “memory palace” keynote at ECHT90, but the network is contrived to force you to experience the story linearly. The subplot, though, is a real hypertext, told in artifactual cues scattered throughout the house. (In a good GDC talk, the lead writer and lead architect agree that some of the cues, and some of the artifacts, were too subtle).

There main story is the return of our player-protagonist, Katie, from her student backpacking excursion across Europe. She arrives at the family’s new home – they’ve moved while she’s been away – past midnight. It’s empty. The family is gone, and Katie wanders through the empty house trying to find out what’s happened.

What’s happened involves Katie’s younger sister, Sam. And it involves – as family stories do – her father’s own damaged and broken family. Sam’s story is told from audio journal entries (with superb voice acting); Dad’s story through old letters and scraps and newspaper clippings and, in the end, through the environment of the house.

There’s a third story, too: the question of what sort of story this actually is. Katie’s wandering through an empty house; in the end, we expect that she could find (a) a ghost, or the Elder Gods, or a madwoman in the attic, (b) a body – either her sister’s or her father’s, or (c) the story that explains everything. We don’t know if this is horror, mystery, or romantic melodrama, and Gone Home is very careful not to let you know until very, very late in the game.