Experienced Points: What Made Gone Home Such a Powerful Game?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Sep 9, 2014

Filed under: Column 163 comments

My column this week attempts to offer a gentle counter-argument to the people sneering at Gone Home and calling it a “walking simulator”. I suspect this will go the way of all debates about this game, but you never know. Maybe the stars will line up and one person will see the game from a different angle.

I have no idea where this optimism came from. I hope it’ll pass soon.

This game had one of those situations where a single mistake threw the rest of the game into sharp relief. At one point I was reading a note ostensibly written in 1994 or 1995, and one teenager referred to someone’s dadIt might have been a teacher. The details elude me now. as a “tool”. I was instantly yanked out of the story. In my experience, “tool” didn’t come to mean “useless person” until almost a decade later. At that point I realized I read dozens and dozens of notes that had nailed mid-90’s lingo and I’d just taken it all for granted. Looking back, I realized how hard it was to get little details like that right.

Which makes it all the more disappointing that a vast majority of the audience won’t even notice the details because they grew up in the wrong place and time.

EDIT: So apparently the word “tool” was indeed in use for years before I ran into it. (I guess I’d have known about it sooner if I’d ever watched Beevis & Butt-head.) Interesting.



[1] It might have been a teacher. The details elude me now.

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163 thoughts on “Experienced Points: What Made Gone Home Such a Powerful Game?

  1. Eathanu says:

    Now, I may be speaking out of my ass (having been born in 1990), but I was under the impression that “tool” has pretty much always been a synonym for “penis”

    1. Blake says:

      Born in ’86 and remember it about the same.

    2. evileeyore says:

      I don’t know about Shamus, but I distinctly recall referring to people as “tools” when I was in High School, and my class graduated in ’92.

      It is entirely possible my area was an early adopter of the lingo though.

    3. Aitch says:

      Yeah, this bugged me too. Using “tool” as derogatory slang was definitely around in the mid 90’s. It crossed totally into the main pop culture lexicon with Beavis and Butthead in ’93, and was in at least underground usage dating back to the late 80’s as evidenced by the (eponymous?) band Tool (~’89). I’m guessing its origins are much earlier, but it had to have caught on in slang usage by the mid 80’s for it to show up in the 90’s like that.

      Might’ve just been used more widely on the west coast and not shown up to any predominance in rural suburban PA til much later, culture used to be a lot less homogenous (homogeneous?) without the internet around.

      And now to feel wrackingly old for the rest of the night…

      1. PAK says:

        We were definitely using it in my California high school in the mid-to-late nineties.

    4. Phantos says:

      Different places tend to have different slang words, so it doesn’t surprise me that Shamus might not have heard it until later on. All depends on your environment, I think.

    5. The first place I ever heard the term (I grew up in a small town through the 70’s and 80’s) was in a computer game of all places. In Infocom’s “The Lurking Horror,” whose setting was a text-adventure version of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they made reference to The Tomb of the Unknown Tool, which was hinted at as being someone who was a nerd or loser of some sort.

      1. krellen says:

        I kind of miss Infocom as a thing that exists, even though I don’t think I ever completed a single one of their games.

        1. I freely admit we bought several of those “Inviso-Clues” booklets to finish some of the games. Usually it came down to one puzzle we didn’t see as logical or obvious (like giving the thief in Zork as much stuff as you could until he was too weighed down to beat you in a fight).

          What I miss most are the “feelies” that came with the games: The “Don’t Panic” button, the Wishbringer stone, the maps, certificates, etc.

          The most recent such item(s) I got with a game were the things that came with pre-ordering Fallout 3. The lunchbox is okay, my kid likes the bobblehead, but I chucked the pipboy clock in the trash after it ate 3 fresh AAA batteries in under 2 weeks.

    6. Alan says:

      I was born in 1975. My early memory was that “tool” was short for “tool of the man,” a drone serving a larger, malevolent power. I noticed the drift to “dick” in the early 2000s, but at that point it became clear that it had drifted earlier and I had simply missed it. (Turns out that in common use, both definitions often work.)

      It’s entirely possible that my early understanding of “tool” was a very local idiom, or something my very young mind made up. :-)

    7. RichardB says:

      We were definitely using it in England in 1985: I was at Uni then and remember it clearly.

  2. Hector says:

    I’m still ticked that this game was coded in Unity3D. The engine has some major bugs, and among them it just refuses to work for a significant portion of users… including myself. It’s not a very good engine for PC at all, either, being intended for tablets. Didn’t stop anyone from coding in it, despite the fact Unity has effectively ignored this problem completely.

    No, I’m not bitter.

    1. Ambitious Sloth says:

      Most of the games I’ve seen that use Unity3D run in browser which is part of the reason why it’s used so widely. Since people probably used an internet browser to find the game anyways they already have everything they need to play it. That said I’ve also never found standalone versions to work quite as well as browser-based versions. Though I’ve never figured out if it is because of the engine or just the quality of the game. I wouldn’t begrudge something that’s enable more people to make games available to a wider audience though.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’m old enough that when unity3d games hit the parts of the net where I get my browser gaming fix my mind was blown at the things that we can run as “browser games” now. It’s pretty amazing how far we came from the days of early flash games where the graphics wouldn’t even overlap correctly.

        I have no experience in game development so I don’t really know if unity is or isn’t a good tool (maybe someone else could shed some light on this?) but I can deal with a bit of lack of polish if it keeps the creative juices flowing.

        1. I rather like the Unity game, “Sir You Are Being Hunted.”

        2. The Unity web player is a browser plugin, which has all the capabilities of native code (because it is native code). So, while Unity is an excellent achievement, that is for other reasons (namely that the tooling and flexibility of Unity are excellent). Actually, one could argue that its more an indictment of Adobe for never adding true rich 3D functionality to Flash.

    2. Kyte says:

      Simply put, it’s stupidly easy to develop in. This is extremely valuable when you’re a handful of people.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        I can’t count the number of times I’ve been a handful of people.

        1. Hmmm, yes, it’s easy to quantify “zero” but I’m not sure how you actually count to it. If you just don’t hold up any fingers, from a certain perspective you simply haven’t started counting.

          1. James Bennett says:

            There’s a simple workaround for this problem. Simply start at one and count backwards.

    3. Kyte says:

      Simply put, it’s stupidly easy to develop in. This is extremely valuable when you’re a handful of people or less.

      Also, how exactly does it ‘not work’ for PCs? It works on mine, at least for my school projects (and my classmates, for that matter).

      1. It can be slow to start on older machines (though I’d say it fires up better than Minecraft does on my PC), when it gets going it seems to run okay. Can it be a victim of bad optimization?

        Last I heard, it was being tinkered with to make 2D easier, of all things. A buddy of mine wanted to do a Castlevania clone but (at the time, maybe still) Unity didn’t exactly play nice if you wanted to do a side-scroller without a bit of poking about.

      2. drkeiscool says:

        I have a gaming rig that can run Crysis and BF3 near to highest graphic settings, but can’t run a detailed Unity game to save its life. I have no idea why.

  3. Hal says:

    The article made me wonder something. I’m curious how we peg something as “rare” or “not rare.” Less than 5%? Less than 1%?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      The threshholds probably vary by how well attuned we are to the event in question. “Rarity” (much like the pony namesake) has a lot more to do with the psychic weight of an experience than its temporal frequency.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Simple:Rare is that which is not common.

      1. I thought Rare is that which produced “Kinect Sports”?

    3. Henson says:

      Rare is that which no longer makes video games. But Battletoads was great.

    4. By where it comes in the wandering monster table.

    5. Peter H. Coffin says:

      It depends on what loot table you’re using.

  4. Robyrt says:

    Oddly, I felt a lot less connected to the ’90s suburban environment of Gone Home than I did to the post-apocalyptic future DC of Fallout 3, even though both are aimed squarely at my age and location bracket. I think the house was on the wrong side of the Uncanny Valley for me: it had a lot of realistic touches, built on top of a fundamentally gamey “find the red key” structure that broke my suspension of disbelief. From the narrative end, a predictable “forbidden love” plot left me angry at the main characters more than it gave me the warm fuzzies. Still, it’s a big step up in the first-person walker genre from Dear Esther, so I’d love to see more games in this vein get made.

  5. Tychoxi says:

    This was a very interesting read, but I think the game delivers on storytelling too and not just in a nostalgia/”recreation of a gone era” way. I think they way it unfolded the two or three stories inside the house was almost flawless. You are never left wandering around without a clue, the game masterfully guides you from snippet to snippet and clue to clue.

    1. Yep, I agree. The father’s story owes relatively little to 90s nostalgia but that was the one I found most compelling. It’s also the least obvious one, and I was surprised by how many people talking about the game missed the clues.

    2. Packbat says:

      My reaction was similar. I was homeschooled throughout the 1990s – I had cassette tapes, sure, but I didn’t have the kind of immersion in the way things were that would give me Shamus’s reaction.

      And I didn’t see the parents’ reaction to their lesbian daughter as being especially 1990s, although now that it is pointed out to me I do. It just seemed … real, although in a depressing way.

    3. lethal_guitar says:

      Exactly this. This is also the main reason why the game worked for me, I guess.
      I was born in the late 80s, so technically, I’m a 90’s kid, but the game certainly didn’t evoke that much nostalgia in me.

      But all the attention to detail, the believable/natural placement of items, and the general environmental storytelling approach is what really makes the game work IMO.

      Regarding the stories, there was also the mother’s affair, the backstory of the old relative who owned the house at some point in the past etc.. It just offers so much to discover in a really great way.

  6. A friend of mine is writing a novel that has a lot of historical detail in it, and yeah, it’s super-hard to catch a lot of those technical details. Just have to hope that your Google-fu is good enough.

    Thank Gawd for Wikipedia.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Who and what novel? Care to plug them/it?

    2. It’s funny, isn’t it? So many words we use seem modern but are older than dirt, and then there are modern speech modes, behaviors, and objects that we assume have always been and were present since fire was discovered.

      I almost think that’s why fantasy is so popular (and I include sci-fantasy where tech might as well be magic): You can set it in a kind-of-sort-of era you like and any apparent inaccuracies can be handed a slip of paper that reads “because a wizard did it.”

      1. Ranneko says:

        Yeah, I was asked if I had heard people using the verb learn to mean teach when I was in class earlier this week, as in “I will learn you how to speak Swedish” kind of usage. Said I had definitely seen it in media, and wouldn’t be surprised if it was real and looked it up. That usage apparently is at least as old as the 13th century, though now it is associated with uneducated usage.

        Just amazing how words and usages change over time.

        1. While I’m sure it goes back a bit farther, the earliest use in that vein I could find from my misspent youth is old Bugs Bunny cartoons like “The Fair-Haired Hare” or “Sahara Hare” where Yosemite Sam yells, “THAT’LL LEARN YA!”

  7. Mechaninja says:

    Shamus, I think you’re mixing your times up. You said in the article that you were thrown back to your teenage years, you were 24 or so in 94/95. I know this because your birthday is only a couple months sooner than mine.

    I’m almost certain tool started becoming a thing with Beavis and Butthead, which first came out in 93.

    1. evileeyore says:

      Beavis and Butthead debuted in ’92 on Liquid TV (an MTV cartoon show).

      Which… is entirely possible where I picked it up. Weird though as I hated that show (Beavis and Butthead that is, I liked Liquid TV overall).

    2. Shamus says:

      The items I’m thinking of are school items, and those threw me back to my teens. I guess the school folders of 95 were similar enough to the ones of 89.

      1. evileeyore says:

        Once you’ve seen one Trapper Keeper…

    3. krellen says:

      I’m pretty sure I remember the derogatory “tool” usage before Beavis and Butthead, but Mike Judge is from Albuquerque, so he probably got it from the same place I did.

  8. Rick says:

    I actually love the idea of walking around and examining things. My problem with Gone Home is that it isn't nearly as smart as it thinks it is. Everything Gone Home says has been said to death already. It may have been interesting 20-30 years ago, but just because it takes place in 1995, doesn't mean it gets to act like it was written then. If Gone Home's narrative was released in any other form of media nowadays, it wouldn't get a second look.

    I also have to take issue with the idea that Gone Home only works for people born in the 80's. Media is supposed to be timeless. Yes there are demographics, but those are about someone's age at the time of consumption, not the age they were born. A millennial isn't going to get more out of Gone Home in 20-30 years, when they are the same age as Shamus when he played it.

    Those two points don't actually contradict each other. Good media should be enjoyable regardless of when it is read, but writers have to consider what's been written in the past. There's only so much you could talk about a single subject, and older pieces of media get priority. To illustrate what I'm talking about, let's take for example, Citizen Cane. What makes Citizen Cane regarded as greatly as it is, is not only its narrative, but how it pushed the envelope of cinematography. Viewers can still enjoy it today by seeing how it revolutionized what we take for granted, but if it came out today (and something else pushed cinematography in Citizen Cane's place) then it wouldn't be nearly as well received, because it had already been done.

    All of that being said, this article did help me understand how someone could personally enjoy Gone Home, but I don't think that makes it “good.”

    1. Felblood says:

      Actually, I don’t think Citizen Kane is nearly impressive now as it must have been back in the day.

      “Timelessness” (or more correctly, an essential humanity with allows a work to connect with human audiences across generations and eras) is certainly a useful and marketable quality in a work, but it’s not really fair to throw out all works that don’t tie all their appeal to the broadest possible audience (Aren’t there enough comedic Romeo and Juliet Knockoffs?).

      There is room in the world for art that not everyone is going to like, or even care about.

      1. Rick says:

        Oh, I absolutely agree with you. There are plenty of things I personally enjoy, despite acknowledging that they aren't of particularly high quality. However, I would never recommend them to people, unless they were asking for something extremely particular or I knew for a fact that they have an affinity for what the piece of media provides; and even then I would warn them.

        Obscenity aside, I believe that all pieces of media have a right to exist. But the idea that something that will only be enjoyable for people born in a specific decade, is also one of the best games of the year, is ludicrous.

      2. I can testify to this. Watched “Citizen Kane” one time to see what all the fuss was about. And you know, I often like old movies. Found “Citizen Kane” boring. Slow, didn’t care about the characters, didn’t find the political angles that well handled . . . blah. Didn’t end up giving a damn who “Rosebud” was. So in the end the only reason to watch it would have been for a purely technical “Oh, so before this movie nobody did this with the screen? Go figure.”

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      See, I disagree with the “timelessness” angle. There were a lot of works that were created for a much narrower audience (whether temporally, socially or spatially) and that had great influence on, or at least resonated really strongly with, that particular group. Anyone who has studied the background of some cultural group, a direction of art or historical perio will probably be able to point to a number of examples that were relevant for that particular period/group/art direction but that did not carry over to the group awareness. There is a great difference between being intellectually aware of the importance of a work and being able to relate to the work to the same extent as the target audience (and in many cases very little).

      Now, I’m not saying that Gone Home is some kind of groundbreaking piece of media, I just don’t think we should be trying to hold it up to a standard of realising goals it never really set in front of itself in the first place.

      Edit: Since you answered the above post in the time it took me to write this one I’ll mention that the GOTY status is a topic much more open to debate.

    3. Ardis Meade says:

      “Media is supposed to be timeless” I find that to be a weak premise on which to base your argument. It is simply an untrue statement that seeks to limit media for no better reason than to support your thesis. Whether or not a work should aim for timelessness is dependent on what it is trying to be. If something is trying to speak eternal truths for all time than timelessness is a must. Gone Home has more humble ambitions. It was trying to evoke a sense of being in a specific place and time. Timelessness would have hurt it here. You may not be able to sympathize with that, but many critics could. They saw a game that aimed at a different target than other works and hit it with a precision most games don’t achieve. That’s why many felt it was game of the year. It did what it wanted to do and did it well.

      1. Rick says:

        You're right in that “media is supposed to be timeless” was weak. I should have written “media is timeless.” See, regardless of intention, all media is inevitably timeless; because it is born anew each time it is consumed. It's why we refer to it in the present tense, despite the fact that if you are talking about it, it was probably created in the past. (The alternative being that you are talking about a work in progress.)

        “Evok[ing] a sense of being in a specific place and time” is fine, great even. I love when a good book brings me into a different time and place, whether that be the 80's, a time before I was born, or even into a hypothetical future on a different plant. A game trying to use the exploration of space to help convey this feeling is admirable. However, that's not what I'm talking about.

        I'm talking about the idea that “if you’re not part of the narrow age band that this game is dealing with, then none of this will mean anything to you.” This feels like an excuse. It is similar to saying “if you weren't born in the 80's, then your argument is invalid.” (Though I feel like I know Shamus well enough to know that's not what he intended.) If Gone Home did its job, then it wouldn't matter when you were born, you'd still have that strong sense of presents in different time.

        Edit: I also question if a game can be held up by “Evok[ing] a sense of being in a specific place and time” alone. That's usually a spice used to reinforce or juxtapose something else in the narrative.

        1. So, what’s your take on topical political satire?
          I mean, it’s possible to do that in such a way that people will “get it” even if they’re not from the relevant time and don’t know the relevant politics, but it’s pretty uncommon. And trying can really hurt the work in other ways–make you drag in exposition that kills the pace and the comedy to tell people stuff that the audience when you made the thing already know.
          Even the great satirists (Swift and all that) tend to be very hard to read because if you just pick the thing up you don’t have any of the context that makes it funny. But that doesn’t mean they were writing crap. They were just writing stuff that was punchy and clever for people in that moment.

    4. RandomInternetCommenter says:

      “I actually love the idea of walking around and examining things. My problem with Gone Home is that it isn't nearly as smart as it thinks it is.”

      Pretty much this.

      My own issue with these games, which is perhaps as much an issue with the commentary around these games, is the underlying notion you need to strip away all gameplay to have a meaningful contemplative experience. Plenty of action games have rich backgrounds worth immersing yourself into. I find even Minecraft to be more powerful than Gone Home in that regard; stones, even randomly generated ones, tell stories far more interesting than something constrained and human-centric.

      On another level, the noise around these “walking simulators” is reminiscent of discussions around strategy games as a whole, namely the divide between real-time and turn-based. There is a group of people who look at anything turn-based as inherently superior and more high brow, shunning real-time strategy as a mere test of reflexes. Yet when you pit RTS fans against turn-based fans in a turn-based game, the former group tends to win.

      It’s a common tendency for people who aren’t good at something to dismiss that particular something and make up different rules. It’s more than just win conditions here. The actual content of video games lauded for their mature storytelling and tackling of serious issues should be embarrassing to anyone with knowledge and experience.

      It seems lately video games are filled with people who want to believe they’re smart, but don’t want to go through the effort of validating those beliefs in more restricted, structured, and frankly, more legitimate settings.

      So we get games with no gameplay much like we get art galleries with no technical skill, and so far in itself this is arguably justifiable; but then we also get games with no gameplay and immature stories much like we get art galleries with no technical skill and no meaning, a few people speak up to exclaim this is a masterpiece and the crowd suddenly nods in agreement, each individual afraid he might be seen as too dumb to pick up on whatever is going on if he disagrees (or if he doesn’t agree vigorously enough).

      Now you could argue gamers get what they deserve, that if they don’t point out those stories for being senseless drivel artificially promoted through peer pressure, it might be because they’re not bright enough to see that themselves. But I think a sizable portion of the silent majority is pretty smart. They just don’t care to the extent of making a fuzz about it. Especially as any criticism is deflected on the basis of the speaker not being progressive enough, if not worse imaginary character flaws; or an actually nasty comment from one person is paraded as a boogeyman to qualify an entire unhomogeneous group.

      Bottomline, your character having a firearm and pointing it at other people does not make a game inherently stupid; even when it is essentially the only form of explicit interaction you can have with the environment. You can still stop and take a look. You’re still allowed to think for yourself.

      1. “stones, even randomly generated ones, tell stories far more interesting than something constrained and human-centric.”
        Yeah, I want all my novels to be about randomly generated rocks.

        “Yet when you pit RTS fans against turn-based fans in a turn-based game, the former group tends to win.”
        I’m sure we have gobs of carefully-controlled studies of this.

        I don’t find this persuasive. Sure, it’s possible to have a good story in a game with frequent violence. But I don’t see how this actually makes more “structured” games (quibble: I know what you mean, but near as I can make out this game does have structure, it just doesn’t have some of the particular kinds of structure you expect) “more legitimate”. And there’s a question of emphasis. There’s a distinction between a story existing and the experience of story. If you sit down in front of a computer and spend ten minutes mowing down enemies and for every 15 seconds looking at a plot element in between watching for the next enemy, the emotional impact is going to be a tad different from if you spend most of your time interacting with plot elements. And, sorry, it really does matter if a firearm is the only form of explicit interaction you can have with the environment. There is a difference between the experience of picking up a cassette tape and having the case flop open, and the experience of looking at a cassette tape and shooting it.

        The one thing I agree with you about is the art world. I abhor “art” which is basically a physical working-out of the conceit described in the artist statement. The best description of that kind of art I ever saw was that it’s like a joke, rather than a novel: Once you know the punchline, that’s it. There’s no point in actually experiencing it any further–or, if someone tells you what the deal is before you go see it, there’s no point actually bothering to go in person. So, things like “Piss Christ”, or dresses made of meat (which was a thing in an art gallery before Lady Gaga ever did it); the problem isn’t that they’re controversial or sacrilegious, the problem is that once you hear what it is, there’s no more to it. Yawn, whatever, or at best “that was clever, move on”. Contrariwise, art made with craftsmanship has a certain thickness of experience; it can repay a second look, and a third–actually, since your memory of it is never a full rendition of the experience of it, it may always be worth looking at some more.

        But I don’t think it holds as an analogy to this game. The game clearly has craftsmanship. Shamus’ review is dripping with descriptions of the craft involved. It just isn’t craftsmanship of a type you happen to like or appreciate, but that doesn’t make the game like “modern art”, it makes you a person saying “I hate needlework so it’s not real art”.

        1. Classic says:

          I feel like this betrays an unwillingness to study art in ways that aren’t easy or spoon-fed to you. Or worse, that you feel like art that is participatory, and therefore much more dependent upon the person “experiencing” that art, is less valuable.

          Now that I’ve alienated you, let me try and explain that sentiment.

          It’s trivial that different art touches people in different ways, and it’s equally trivial that you’ll examine and invest in experiencing art that manages to speak to you. I posit this: The “craftsmanship” you find in art is at least as much a product of your engagement with that art as it is the artist’s engagement with that art.

          The reason you don’t find craftsmanship in a meat dress is because you don’t revisit and examine its ideas, not because those ideas aren’t present or there to be found. You can just as easily criticize (and decline to study) orchestral pieces for their lack of lyric content as you can Star Wars for not having enough show-stopping song-and-dance numbers. All art is at least a little bit dependent on the perspective of the audience and the values they bring to criticizing it.

          The difference in prestige, as far as I can tell, between “modern” art (in scare quotes, because my artistic education ended with “post-modern” and ogod classifying art is confusing) is caused by the lack of a formation of a solid canon of fine works (which can be problematic, but this has already gotten rambly) and the lack of elder status amongst those who would carve out that canon. In short, the more aged, more respected art critics aren’t usually as invested in new art and the future aged, respected art critics haven’t finished separating (opinions blatantly stolen from talkclassical.com) “The Ride of the Valkyries”s from the “American Centennial”s, which is still somewhat noteworthy because it at least remains remembered.

          tl;dr: I’m also asking you to be more critical of your own assumptions. You could almost read your own comment back at yourself with a few nouns swapped to try and defend modern art and impugn FPSes.

          1. Heh. IMO you have your arguments pretty much backwards. For instance, I’m actually to some extent complaining about the easy, spoon-fed nature of much fashionable art. I think it’s shallow. It’s actually the kind of stuff I’m very well equipped to fiddle with if I wanted to play the game. But that’s the thing–I think the world of modern, fashionable, abstract art is mainly a social game.

            You talk about the difference in prestige between modern and classic art, but you get it backwards. You talk as if I’m making a fuss about dead painters and devaluing living ones, but the point is what gets valued if you produce it now. And the thing is, nowadays nonrepresentational art gets, not just more respect than more classical approaches, it’s to the point where doing representational work isn’t acknowledged at all–which presumably is what led you to discuss critics of representational work entirely in terms of their attitude to stuff done in the past. People can have an amazing natural gift, spend ages learning technique, do an amazing job with showing light, doing composition, making you feel the “spirit of place” as it were, even be making some kind of statement & etc etc, and they can barely get into a gallery if they’re doing anything approaching a naturalistic image. Those paintings sell for (cost of materials + very low hourly wage for artist’s time), but a critic of any stripe would never even think of looking at them. And yet people keep on doing them for similar reasons to why people keep on doing poetry that has rhythm and rhyme.

            The distinction I’m drawing isn’t even really between “abstract” and “representational” approaches, although that’s part of it. The point for me is that, if you look at someone like Picasso, he had craftsmanship. He knew how to do representational art and was pretty good at it, and then he started doing other stuff which to be honest I don’t mostly like as much–but I do respect it, and I can look at it and take some interest, and then look again and maybe see something I didn’t see before. Because there was craftsmanship and effort in it–there was something specific to it. You could not just sum his stuff up in a quick canned description. But much currently fashionable art has little or no specificity–it’s just an instantiation of a concept, and the important part really is the concept; the thing itself adds very little.

            I would like to propose the following experiment: Someone who already has contacts and so forth in the art world comes up with some interesting concepts. They then hold an art show where they put up little plaques explaining what the art piece there would be, if it were there, but don’t actually make any art at all. They explain that the point of the show has to do with issues of presence and absence, or making the audience participate at the imaginative level by building an image in their mind and thus getting really involved in the art, or, I dunno, that only wise and hip people can see the art while fools cannot. I put it to you that it would likely be a success, and only a couple of kids who don’t know any better would complain “But there’s nothing there!”

            The thing is that a lot of modern art wouldn’t actually lose anything by not being there, as long as you had an explanation of what it was supposed to be. Any discussions we have about the implications of the meat dress–and OK, we can have those discussions (although to be honest I’ve probably discussed all the issues the meat dress invokes before the meat dress was produced and I don’t feel it adds a whole lot to those discussions beyond being a trigger to discuss them) don’t require the meat dress itself. There is no real difference between the response evoked by a brief description of the meat dress and the thing itself–or, at most, it may matter slightly that *a* meat dress be present so it can, I dunno, smell bad and decompose and inspire some revulsion, but it doesn’t matter that any *particular* meat dress be present. There are plenty of other pieces, less gross, less successfully controversial, but similar in that the specific piece is basically just a place-holder, an example. Fashionable modern artists in a certain sense aren’t actually artists–they’re art critics or art theorists. In some cases doubtless pretty good art critics. Much of the time pretty flippin’ bad art critics. This is a very different issue from all the “but different genres are different” stuff you’re talking about.

            And OK, I know Shamus doesn’t like people being accused of being pretentious–but while I don’t come from an art background I do come from an English Lit academic background, and it was before the Business departments had finished taking over the world. I know from pretentious, it’s a real thing that exists. Fashionable modern art is all about coming up with stuff outre enough that people can preen about “getting it”, whether there’s anything to get or not. And I feel strongly that by and large, nobody is really responding to most of this stuff at any fundamental level. I really get Shamus’ description of how game and/or film critics respond differently to things than, particularly younger, fans due to familiarity issues and so on; tastes do become more sophisticated. But I do think there’s a line somewhere between sophisticated and jaded, between genuine response to deeper layers of meaning and willingness to “respond” to things even if there’s no “there” there because there are games of keeping up and one-upmanship going on. The fashionable art scene has for some time been mainly on the far side of that division. I might add that for all its attempts to be hip and bohemian, the process is to a fair degree driven by money–not the money of mass markets, but the money of emperors who want to be told their clothes are awesome.

            1. Classic says:

              I feel like I better understand your sentiments, but I also feel like you’ve completely side-stepped mine. Or worse, didn’t find the ideas interesting enough to comment on. In that case, my offense is dire.

              Ideas I feel obligated to reiterate:
              1) The “canon of fine art” for the current century of artists is still being defined and pruned. That there are disposable or unremarkable pieces getting play in galleries is a by-product of the wheat being separated from the chaff. It is an irrelevant criticism of “modern” art, when compared to more prestigious, established “fine art”.

              2) I didn’t think I was suggesting a battle between visual arts striving for mimesis/simulacrum and abstraction. The latter term, in my mind, is a synonym for “representational”. I think I understood you in spite of my hang-ups?

              3) It’s not so much that “different genres are different” and more, “different people appreciate different genres”. The points of engagement are what draw people to genres, but it’s the people who are doing the genre-defining.
              … That sounds stupid, let me try again:
              I feel like you’re modeling taste/genre/engagement the wrong way. RTSes don’t attract RTS geeks. RTS geeks are attracted to RTSes. I think we can both agree that RTSes have different points of engagement than visual novels, and I think we can both agree that they’re both art and we owe it to the people who like each not to invalidate their reasons for liking either by ignoring the possibility that we simply don’t engage with those points of engagement that they value.

              Ideas I responded to:

              1) “You talk as if I'm making a fuss about dead painters and devaluing living ones, but the point is what gets valued if you produce it now.”
              You kind of are, in spite of yourself?
              As I see it, you’re equal parts complaining that a “canon of fine works” for more recent art movements hasn’t shaken out (which is ostensibly why galleries and critics put effort into displaying these movements) and complaining that artists producing new work that would be classified as belonging to older movements as having to compete with a “canon of fine works”.
              Also and unfortunately, not every artist can be a rock star.
              I also feel like your complaints about the money-value of art of different styles is predicated on a prejudice against styles you don’t like. I can’t, you know, prove that, because I haven’t bothered to do or find a study about what the relative prices paid to an artist per hour for different styles of art are, nor how many words per piece are allocated to scholarly criticism. It does smack strongly of other objectively-wrong, emotionally-fueled opinions though. So I am leery of it.

              2) “There is no real difference between the response evoked by a brief description of the meat dress and the thing itself”“or, at most, it may matter slightly that *a* meat dress be present so it can, I dunno, smell bad and decompose and inspire some revulsion, but it doesn't matter that any *particular* meat dress be present.”
              If all you’re interested in or are able to appreciate are the “big ideas” of a piece, because its points of engagement don’t engage you (wrote my dumb ass into a corner there), then that’s fine. But I feel like you’re asserting an objective lack of points of engagement, or that all of the points of engagement are extrinsic to the pieces in question. This sentiment is not so far from “Seen one Blue Period, you’ve seen them all.”
              Of course, this is an imperfect analogy, because almost all of Picasso’s works have been firmly entered into the “canon of fine art”. The meat dress? Short a few decades. It might be one of the flop ideas, or a not-particularly-well-remembered precursor. But… not all Dada is a urinal in a museum. Do you follow?

              I guess at the end of the day, there’s this narrow band between saying, “I value this less than that,” and the more severe “This thing has less value than that.” I feel like you’re crossing that line to your own detriment.

              3) “I do think there's a line somewhere between sophisticated and jaded, between genuine response to deeper layers of meaning and willingness to “respond” to things even if there's no “there” there because there are games of keeping up and one-upmanship going on. The fashionable art scene has for some time been mainly on the far side of that division.”

              This is brushing against denying critical expertise. Obviously (and especially) where opinions include a large subjective component the inexpert critical opinions have value. However, I think we owe it to people in general to take them at their word that they’re sincere and thoughtful critics of media and not a pack of self-important Onanists coughing up obscure words to sound smart. At least until we have reason to suspect otherwise. Even if we’re no longer giving expertise the benefit of the doubt, we ought to try and understand it before discarding it outright.

              “genuine response to deeper layers of meaning and willingness to “respond” to things even if there's no “there” there because there are games of keeping up and one-upmanship going on”
              This brings me back to that third idea I wanted to reiterate. I think all art gets responded to because the audience is willing to look for something to respond to. In short: The author is dead. What’s there is what the art invokes in its audience.

              1. “If all you're interested in or are able to appreciate are the “big ideas” of a piece, because its points of engagement don't engage you (wrote my dumb ass into a corner there), then that's fine. But I feel like you're asserting an objective lack of points of engagement, or that all of the points of engagement are extrinsic to the pieces in question.”

                Yes. That’s precisely what I’m asserting. I’ve explained why. You haven’t given me any reason why I should believe otherwise.

                “This sentiment is not so far from “Seen one Blue Period, you've seen them all.””

                It is in fact very far from that. I’ve been quite precise in my explanation; many of these fashionable pieces, constituting a genre which doesn’t really have a name but is currently effectively dominant in the art world, are simply and precisely examples of some “big idea”, which do not actually have, are not really intended to have, specific individual natures to engage with. It’s different from saying a work of art evokes or is associated with a theme or ideas; these works are solely created as literal workings-out of some critical or theoretical point. So for instance the piece someone did which consisted of a frequency of radio waves being transmitted at a particular time in the gallery. Come in at noon, say, and look at the little plaque, and you would be intellectually aware that this frequency was being played–but there was no receiver, no sound, no visual effect, no way of apprehending with the senses that the “art piece” existed at all. Tell me, what are the intrinsic features of the piece that one is supposed to engage with, beyond any “big idea” being conveyed? OK, so in not being experienceable by the senses at all this piece is still a bit of an outlier, but the general thrust isn’t unusual. What’s currently most influential is an art that is entirely about the ideas associated, very often not intelligible even to a sophisticated critic without reading the artist’s statement first, where the thing sitting next to the statement is merely a generic exemplar of that statement, with few or no individual features beyond its nature as that exemplar. There would be nothing much weird about having the “artist” come up with the statements and hire minimum wage workers to make whatever actual thing is going to be sitting in the gallery.

                This isn’t even like modern dancers who are crap modern dancers because they never learned foundational skills first by taking ballet and such. I do think some semi-abstract art is just badly done because the artists never learned how to draw; that it’s hard for that kind of art to be good if you’re not abstracting from something that you could do if you chose. But what I’m talking about isn’t even that; I’m talking about stuff where there are no skills required or involved by design, because the theory is not just king, it’s more-or-less-intentionally all there is.

                None of these criticisms is remotely applicable to the “Blue Period”, or to a typical FPS for that matter.

                On the plus side, OK, I finally get your point about the “canon” problem. But I don’t know where that’s supposed to leave me–there’s nothing much I can do about it. The fact is that current tastes are so lopsided against representational art that I can’t really talk about whether the popularity or controversy surrounding top current representational artists is justified because there are no current representational artists which are popular and/or controversial. They don’t make the news. They don’t get talked about. They don’t get criticized. I’m really not willing to believe that there’s nobody in the world painting really good representational art (Wait, one exception–Robert Bateman’s famous; kind of sad that there’s exactly one famous representational artist I’m aware of and I think he’s overrated). And beyond representational art, I’m really not prepared to appreciate “art” that banishes the whole concept of technical skill, and even blocks out the specifics of the individual artwork.

                Now, you aren’t defending that kind of art. Rather you seem to be unwilling to believe that this category of art exists at all, much less that it’s influential–that I’m just imagining it, and all this stuff does have “thick” specifics which I’m not capable of perceiving (much like those radio waves). I claim it does exist and is influential. Imagine for a moment I’m right. Do you still embrace that stuff? Is it even possible for it to become “canonical” in the sense of there being something for people to get into once it is no longer either fashionable or controversial? I would argue that almost this entire genre of “bare concept” art must ultimately turn out to be chaff.

                1. Classic says:

                  “I finally get your point about the “canon” problem. But I don't know where that's supposed to leave me”“there's nothing much I can do about it.”
                  There’s a whole lot of stuff I can’t do anything about, but I believe I enjoy some advantage for understanding it. Though, you could start an art blog or store/gallery or something. Like a really narrowly focused Etsy, or whatever.
                  If there really is a dearth of critical voices talking about art styles that you like (I kind of doubt this, though I believe you haven’t found those voices in the numbers you’re looking for) you could try to start one.

                  “I'm really not prepared to appreciate “art” that banishes the whole concept of technical skill, and even blocks out the specifics of the individual artwork.”
                  But that’s a different sentiment than a statement that there’s nothing to appreciate. I don’t get it either, but we shouldn’t doubt the people who produce and appreciate this art (or at least, their sincerity) for this reason alone.

                  I’m of the opinion that an artist’s or curator’s statement is a part of the piece. Just one that I think has a bad habit of being used inexpertly. The artist is dead.
                  “Come in at noon, say, and look at the little plaque, and you would be intellectually aware that this frequency was being played”“but there was no receiver, no sound, no visual effect, no way of apprehending with the senses that the “art piece” existed at all.”
                  This illustrates the idea that art appreciation depends on what the audience brings with them. Someone who brought a radio with them could probably tune in to the piece in question. Assuming, you know, the artist’s statement was accurate. That the piece is not just some avant-garde thing calling me a tosser for having faith in artists and art critics (even though, in this overdrawn hypothetical, we seem to agree on how bullshit artist’s statements are).

                  Finally, I don’t think you’re “imagining” the existence of (ohere’sthatwordagain) pretentious art pieces. I take at face value the sincerity of the feelings that you’re expressing. I just don’t think they’re bolstered by statistics. e.g. Most Americans think (by a small~ish, but statistically significant majority) teen pregnancy is up, but in fact both pregnancies and abortions have been slowly falling (both per-capita and absolute).
                  I’m also suggesting that our confessed lack of education in art makes us poorly qualified to make assertions about what’s going to be remembered from this period’s artistic movements. Never mind that the significant movements of a period (and significant periods themselves) are usually defined/described retrospectively.

                  But let’s assume that you’re right, and the art world is currently masturbating over extra-pointless stuff. My support of that art has gone this far: I assume it should exist because it does not violate fairly narrow criteria; I assume those who appreciate it do have some articulable reason for appreciating that art. It’s a very lukewarm embrace.

                  That a lot of educated people feel foolish for expending so much energy on something that was ultimately a dead end or wrong has happened hundreds of times before. Unfortunately, we’ve seen what happens when people who don’t understand what they’re criticizing try to interject their opinions into a discussion. We’ve seen the great Roger Ebert struggle to understand video games even as he campaigned his whole life to improve the prestige of film. I’m just not interested in interjecting my opinions where I have no expertise and I’m not interested in pursuing expertise in art as a whole.

            2. NotDog says:

              I would like to propose the following experiment: Someone who already has contacts and so forth in the art world comes up with some interesting concepts. They then hold an art show where they put up little plaques explaining what the art piece there would be, if it were there, but don't actually make any art at all. They explain that the point of the show has to do with issues of presence and absence, or making the audience participate at the imaginative level by building an image in their mind and thus getting really involved in the art, or, I dunno, that only wise and hip people can see the art while fools cannot. I put it to you that it would likely be a success, and only a couple of kids who don't know any better would complain “But there's nothing there!

              This seems to be the idea behind Art Descriptions.

        2. Rick says:

          On the contrary, the reason for liking Gone Home is more in line with “I have the same name as the protagonist, therefore” and then you can go two ways with:

          A: “I personally like it.”
          Which is fine. No one is going to fight you on that.

          Or B: “it is really good.”
          Which is taking a very personal individual connection and applying that to an analytical statement.

          Gone Home's attention to detail isn't lost on people not born in the 80's. It helps build immersion. However, immersion is a means to an end, it is a tool. Gone Home uses that tool poorly, trying to beat a dead horse that's died, been buried, and has decomposed. After that, the only thing that is left to like is the equivalent of sharing the same name as the main character.

          1. I am always suspicious of arguments that a story is bad because the plot has been done before.
            I haven’t played the game–maybe this story is bad. But if it is, it probably isn’t because it’s been done before. There really aren’t that many basic plots; depending who you ask, those studying the question will claim anywhere between low-ish double digits right down to high single digits, like seven or nine. Everything else is combinations or modifications. And when people make strenuous efforts to find and use plots that are very different from all that has gone before, the result is generally crap because they end up with stuff that doesn’t resonate with people’s emotional experience.

            Good stories as a rule are not good because they are wildly different, they are good because of the smaller things–good prose, good pacing, interesting characters with some depth. And OK, not hewing directly to formula may be good too, but you can worry way too much about that kind of thing.
            Twilight wasn’t crap because it was a teen star-crossed love story, for instance, or even because it had vampires. My daughter was at the age at the time, so I read the damn thing so I’d get what she was into. It was crap because it had no sense of proportion, because everything was overdone, all the wish-fulfillment was too transparent, the angst too extreme, the love arrogating to itself the status of Greatest Love Ever In The World, and so on. You could do a good teen star-crossed love story about vampires–that just wasn’t it.

    5. Daimbert says:

      I also have to take issue with the idea that Gone Home only works for people born in the 80's. Media is supposed to be timeless. Yes there are demographics, but those are about someone's age at the time of consumption, not the age they were born. A millennial isn't going to get more out of Gone Home in 20-30 years, when they are the same age as Shamus when he played it.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tailoring a work towards a certain demographic, like, say, how “The Wonder Years” aimed for people who had grown up in that time. Ideally, for something that is aimed at the mass market it should also be entertaining for those who don’t have that background, but just have more for those who do. The issue with “Gone Home”, it seems to me from what people are saying, is that the thing that is the most interesting about it depends entirely on your background, and that to people who don’t have it you’ll be missing all the things that make it great. Even this isn’t a problem, necessarily, but then people who have that background and like that game have to be completely understanding when others who don’t — which might include people in the same age range — dislike the game and even dislike it strongly, finding it boring and a “Walking Simulator”. If someone isn’t getting the emotions that the game designers were trying to invoke, they aren’t going to like a game whose interest is based entirely on that.

      1. Geebs says:

        The 90s nostalgia angle is actually the main reason why I never bought Gone Home (the other is its genuinely horrid-looking SSAO implementation; it’s not a good reason but it’s my reason).

        The problem is: I absolutely can’t stand Riot Grrl, and Gone Home was heavily advertised as being a celebration of that sort of music. In my defence, I don’t imagine many people who hate Judas Priest bought Brà¼tal Legend, either.

        1. krellen says:

          Brutal Legend actually started my love affair with metal.

    6. “If Gone Home's narrative was released in any other form of media nowadays, it wouldn't get a second look.”
      But it wasn’t. For games, it’s pushing the envelope. And I think Shamus’ point that its form changes the impact is relevant.
      For that matter, you never know about the second look thing–many of the biggest-selling books and movies are telling unoriginal stories in unoriginal ways. The most you can really say is, if it was released in any other form of media nowadays, it would be in the crapshoot for popularity with all the others.

      1. harborpirate says:

        I agree with Purple Library Guy above; Gone Home is an important work, especially since it is in a medium that has so few works that bother to examine real issues or deeper meaning.

        However, I do think that if Gone Home’s narrative was released in another form, say a film, and contained the attention to detail and sense of mystery that the game does, it would still absolutely be an interesting piece.

        Would it be popular? Perhaps not. It might be an Art House film, critically praised while being largely ignored by the masses.

        The games industry is only starting to develop a healthy and active Art House arm. People are used to the set games that are critically praised having a large amount of overlap with the set of games that sell loads of copies.

        So I see the divisive split on opinions of Gone Home as a good thing. Art House movies aren’t for everyone. Heck, personally I’m not even an Art House movie fan; I see less than a dozen movies a year and I’m perfectly happy for virtually all of those to be popcorn munching explosion fests.

        Games on the other hand… I’ve been playing FacePersonShooter since I played Doom like 20 years ago. In the way that I’m sure movie critics tire of all the cliche popcorn munchers that they have to sit through and yearn for something that reaches for deeper meaning, I feel the same way about games. Unlike movies, however, very few of those games exist.

        So in that sense, I see Gone Home as another stepping stone to a more diverse and interesting games industry.

  9. Joe Informatico says:

    I remember reading one of those posts complaining about the overuse of orange and teal in every film, being especially pissed that the 80s teens portrayed in Hot Tub Time Machine were all wearing orange and teal. I wasn’t quite a teenager yet in the 1980s, but I don’t remember anyone wearing orange or teal.

    1. No one was. Denim, zebra print, hot pink, neon colors (especially green) and probably what I’d call “splashes of color” were more 80’s than anything else. Compared to colors in textiles available today, the colorful 80’s look pretty muted.

      Not that I’m defending Hot Tub Time Machine, but I think to invoke what people think of as an 80’s aesthetic, you’d have to really crank up the hue/saturation knob on the actual fashions to match what our aging memories think the era was like.

      1. Shamus says:

        Also, the movie was a really bad offender of the orange + cyan color booting. Now, I’ll defend orange & cyan as a valid stylistic choice in some cases, but using it in HTTM was like putting a chiptune soundtrack in a Victorian period drama. Idiotic and mindless.


        It might have been clever to use the orange & cyan on the modern-day parts of the movie, and leave the 80’s stuff natural. That might have been a cool touch.

        1. Someone needs to write a time-travel story that goofs off of “The Wizard of Oz” or “Shaolin Soccer,” as it uses film aesthetics and techniques from different eras as the tale progresses.

          BTW, one of the biggest signs I’m watching something that’s supposed to be from the 80’s-90’s these days? Monochrome displays and/or CRT’s. They really stick out like a sore thumb for me.

          I know the movie wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but look at things like the original Stargate dialing sequence and all those clunky old TV sets we used to think were high-tech looking. Seeing curved screens on spaceship sets that are meant to be far into the future also tend to make me guffaw nowadays.

          1. Not sci-fi, but Grand Budapest Hotel is a recent film that does a nice job of this as part of its nested-flashback narrative, with different periods getting appropriate aspect ratios, film stocks, SFX techniques, etc.

            Come to think of it, Wes Anderson’s aesthetic has a sort of “heightened nostalgia” to it that reminds me a bit of Gone Home‘s approach. Maybe that’s one reason both appeal so strongly to some, while seeming deeply niche/solipsistic/pretentious to others….

            1. Now I wish I could dig up an old article I read about a Hollywood prop company that specialized in “old” technology for movies. One that springs to mind is “Julie & Julia.” Even though it takes place in 2002, whoever the propmaster was really did an amazing job of finding chunky flip-style cell phones, that old cable box for the protagonist’s TV, etc.

  10. Volfram says:

    I’d like to point something out.

    “Back then, we didn’t quite ‘get’ homosexuality yet. We thought it was a kind of kink, like furries or people into BDSM.[…] The thinking at the time was that gay individuals were incredibly rare and very screwed up.”

    Shamus, you just implied that furries or members of BDSM culture are incredibly rare and very screwed up.

    1. Shamus says:


      I had a sentence in there saying it wasn’t okay to disdain those people either. You removed that line, by turning it into a […], and then asked me about this as if the text wasn’t there?

      I guess I said “make fun of”, but the point seems clear enough to me.

      1. Volfram says:

        You shouldn’t make fun of people even if they are incredibly rare and very screwed up. In fact it may be worse to make fun of people who are incredibly rare and very screwed up(like, say, people suffering from Autism or Down’s Syndrome*) than those who aren’t. The fact that you shouldn’t make fun of those people doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly rare and very screwed up.

        I didn’t feel that the “Don’t make fun of these people” disclaimer altered the written meaning of the statements enough for its presence to matter, and it distracted from the intended point of my comment.

        *Now that I’ve successfully offended every parent, friend, or relative of an Autistic or Down’s kid who reads this, I’d also like to mention that Autistic and Down’s kids are wonderful people who set an example for how we should all care about each other. This does not change the fact that Autism and Down’s are fairly severe brain disorders.

        1. Volfram says:

          Full disclosure: the fact that I do consider homosexuality to be a kink similar to members of the furry or BDSM communities* might have colored my perception a bit. Like a man who happens to be interested in women with large breasts or red hair, it’s just another fetish, and we don’t really have much control over what turns us on.(I’m not trying to start a fight or argument, just trying to state my views without any sort of moral judgment attached)

          *(Not that they’re rare or messed up, or even necessarily bad, but that it’s something which I may or may not understand and tend to chalk up to “human sexuality is weird.” Actually, Furries and BDSM fans are quite common and I have many friends who are one or both. In fact I’ve noticed a rather large overlap between the gay and furry communities.)

        2. Shamus says:

          “You shouldn't make fun of people even if they are incredibly rare and very screwed up.”

          I think you missed what I was saying, although I guess I could have been clearer: I wasn’t mocking anyone. I was saying “these people were treated badly, the way we treat these other people badly.” Like, it’s still socially acceptable to make fun of BDSM people today. (Depending on your environment, naturally.) The same was true of gays 20 years ago. We’ve (mostly) come around on the gays, but BDSM (or other things that are both titillating and strange to the average person) are still comedic targets. That’s not GOOD, but it made for a useful comparison for people born after the 80’s.


          1. Volfram says:


            One thing that always bothers me is that I’ve seen the most ardent gay rights activists turn around and treat furries as some sort of perverted freaks.(I actually had a lesbian call me a “furvert” once)

            Which is really weird, because as I said in my disclosure post above, I’ve noticed a rather significant overlap between LGBT and Furry communities.

          2. Anonymous says:

            You were perfectly clear, this guy was just looking for something to get offended about.

            1. HiEv says:

              No, he was offended by something. I’m sure that’s hard for you to understand because it wasn’t you, but sometimes, when you really are constantly insulted, belittled, or otherwise treated as a lesser human being for years and years over a part of your character that harms no one else, you get a little sensitive about it. Of course, sometimes this sensitivity leads to false positives, where you feel insulted when it’s just a misunderstanding.

              So, perhaps you could be a bit understanding about the misunderstanding.

              You know, instead of being a jerk to someone who already has to put up with lots of other people being a jerk to him or her.

        3. Chamomile says:

          As someone who is actually autistic, not only are your “facts” more in contention than you let on, what actually offended me to the point where I actually had to post about it is that you addressed your clarification to literally everyone in my life except for me. We aren’t fucking dogs, we’re human beings who are also a part of society and read comments on blogs. I realize that’s not what you intended – that’s the point. Your comment demonstrates thoughtlessness to the point that you literally have failed to acknowledge me as human. If you are going to specifically talk about autism (and down’s, though I am not informed on that subject and am therefore going to do the smart thing and not talk about it), then for fuck’s sake be aware of the people you are actually talking about and not just the others around them who are more like you.

          1. Volfram says:

            You are entirely correct, and in many ways your response to me also makes my point to Shamus. As humans, we naturally tend to organize groups into “us” and “them,” and to top it all off, I’m terrible at social interaction and have been known to have entire conversations about people with those people in the room while directing every single comment to the person I’m talking to instead of about. I honestly don’t know what the social practice for having a conversation with two people at once when you’re talking about one of them is, and it always makes me uncomfortable when I try to deal with it.

            It’s not because you’re autistic, it’s because I’m a terrible conversationalist.

            Also, I don’t know as much about Autism as I do about Down’s(on account of having actually met a couple of people with Down’s. As I understand it, Autism is significantly less obvious), and I really don’t know much about either.

            In any case, thank-you for posting.

  11. Blake says:

    Born in the 80s, have a gay sister, I could relate to Gone Home, and thought it was brilliantly executed.

  12. nerdpride says:

    In before random game debate:

    You can get this on the Humble Bundle 12 going on right now for like 8$USD along with some other games.

    1. Sean Riley says:

      One of said ‘other games’ being Papers, Please, which is seriously my favourite indie game ever.

      1. Not to be completely mercenary about Humble Bundle #12, but it’s got more games I want and don’t have than any I’ve seen recently, and yet I want to wait until next Tuesday to see what other games they’re going to add!

  13. Zastrick says:

    With all the people I’ve spoken to about Gone Home, for the people that the story clicked with, there was an aspect of it that resonated with their personal lives. Me being gay and maybe 5 years younger than Sam made her story very relatable for me. I could see how someone who doesn’t have something that connects the game’s story to their personal experiences would make the game far less engaging.

    I have a far stronger inclination for suspension of disbelief, so I find it amusing that there’s something that bothered me that didn’t Shamus: the fact you stumble on story bites in perfect sequence. I think the game would’ve been much poorer for it if you got everything randomly and then spend the end of the game piecing everything together to make a cohesive story, but the tidiness of it made immersion difficult.

    1. karln says:

      ’79er bisexual male here

      Didn’t really get the nostalgia thing except for that list of Chun-Li’s special moves. Maybe because I’m from the UK and we didn’t have the same everyday artifacts here.

      The game overall worked amazingly well for me though. I always love exploring in games, so a game about nothing else is perfect. I never moved past an area in Silent Hill 2 until I was sure I’d found everything.

      Also, Sam Greenbriar is my hero. I was riveted by her story, furious with her parents (not inclined to be as forgiving as Shamus) and, at the end, kind of overwhelmed that she trusted me, her sister, with her whole story after the treatment she received from our parents. I was actually running through plans of action for morning: close up all the secret doors, get out before parents return leaving a *ahem* sternly-worded note, and go find Sam was in the lead as the game ended.

      I thought the writer also did a fantastic job of pacing and setting mood. In the early game it’s easy to be apprehensive and alert, wondering if this a horror game; later I was taken with Sam’s budding romance and elated for her when she got her girl; then melancholy when I heard about the ship date, and toward the end I got that moment of panic I expect many of us had after finding the exorcism room… and I’m sure almost all of this is totally as intended.

      Shamus likes the game, so I guess you don’t have to be gay to get this. But it probably helps. Also, growing up in the 90s, and being an exploration fan.

  14. MikhailBorg says:

    Amazing and emotional experience, for certain. I think part of it was the dread I felt… all the problems the dad was having, the echoes of older family problems, the isolation and bad weather, the hints of the occult: I did not expect to get what I did, and I loved that. Thank you, game, for fooling me!

  15. Sean Riley says:

    OK, first? I’ve blacklisted The Escapist, so I’ve not read Shamus’s article. So if he addresses this, my apologies.

    I will say this: For me, the game failed to connect its ludic language to its narrative nearly well enough. There were a few clever touches with it; I like that the era of secrecy and covering up the truth is sent through the basement. Sneaky. Clever. When the truth is outed, you return to the ground floor. That’s all very clever and I dig it.

    But for the most part, nothing in the story demanded that it be a game. It would have worked better as a straight prose piece, or a radio play, As a game, it just doesn’t do enough with its mechanics to justify its existence. I prefer stuff like Dys4ia that actually uses mechanics to connect directly with the emotions its trying to convey.

    1. krellen says:

      It had to be a game because the discovery was yours, the exploration was yours. The act of discovery is an integral part of the experience, and your belief that a passive delivery of the same would be superior is simply not true; without the interactivity allowing you, the player, to be the one doing the discovering, the personal resonance of the piece is lost. Following Katie with a camera as she uncovered these clues herself would not even remotely be the same experience, let alone a better one.

      1. Daimbert says:

        You could do it as a first-person perspective short film. The question is how much of the effect follows from you figuring out what to do or to do next, or in what order? If there’s little of that, then a game probably isn’t the best medium for it. Note that I haven’t played the game, so can’t comment on how well it does it.

        So the question indeed is: what does it NEED to be a game for? Why can’t we just discover it along with the character, or be placed as the character ourselves in a radio play/short film model?

        1. tmtvl says:

          If they want to reach an audience of any magnitude, an indie game will not only sell better then an indie film, it might also be cheaper to make (it might not, but then you’d have a terrible flick, though that never stopped anyone).

          1. Daimbert says:

            I’m not convinced of that, considering that there is a large market and even large festivals for indie films, and if you’re doing a first-person perspective movie inside one house and one set it won’t be that expensive AND you won’t have to actually develop anything like gameplay or go through a testing cycle on it.

            Considering that I buy games and only heard about Gone Home here, I think that the marketing for indie films is at least as good if not better …

        2. krellen says:

          “Following Katie with a camera” includes that camera being in her head. You do have to figure out what to do next, even if it’s a bit linear in that certain parts of the house are locked off until you’ve found the right clue to unlock them.

          1. Daimbert says:

            THAT you have to decide where to go next is indeed undeniably the difference between it being a game and it being something else. The question is if that actually improves the game experience or not. It’s possible to make a story interactive and not improve the experience. So, does it improve the experience to make it a game?

            As an example where I think it does … take Suikoden III. It weaves multiple stories in amongst themselves, but the emotional and even story context changes depending on what order to play the stories in, because you, the player, would know things that you wouldn’t know otherwise (including, in one case, that one character was misrepresenting what happened to you). I’m not saying that it doesn’t, but does Gone Home do something similar to that?

            Because, if not, having to decide what to do next can drop you out of the moment and frustrate you, and make you hate the game if things aren’t clear. This precise issue is what got me to stop playing Morrowind by attacking a guard.

        3. karln says:

          How would they decide how long to hold each item up to camera? And what order to go around each room in?  And when to put on and turn off music and when to revisit documents you showed earlier because a viewer wants to re-check some detail? How would you cater for the variation in which objects different audience members want to examine?

          All of this was very important to the experience, or at least to my experience. I wouldn’t feel I was really Katie Greenbriar exploring this old house if I weren’t making all these decisions myself.

          1. Daimbert says:

            I have to call you out on that last statement, because it seems to imply that you couldn’t feel like you were the character if you were watching a movie … when, in general, a lot of movies made much hay over doing exactly that. Also, in response to your first comments, they might have actually done it better for, at least, a general audience by doing that. And it is far easier to make you feel like you’re watching someone else’s story by having access to a first-person PoV and hearing their thoughts, than in simply pushing you into playing the role as yourself.

            I’m not saying that the interactivity didn’t, at least, improve the experience for at least some people. But to do what they wanted to do, was the interactivity necessary? And for what most people are saying are the best parts of it, non-interactive media had already done it reasonably well before.

            1. karln says:

              Welp. I can’t remember any time watching a movie when I felt as much like the character ‘was’ me as when I was James Sunderland or Katie Greenbriar. Characters in movies don’t do what I want to do – I can feel sympathy with them I guess, but never identity. And if I weren’t in the mindset of ‘being’ Katie at the end, I wouldn’t have had those wonderful experiences of starting to plan out tomorrow in my head, or feeling so warm and grateful to my sister for trusting me, personally, with her secrets.

              (‘Being’ James had a different payoff, but was certainly no less necessary.)

              On a (spoiler-free) related topic, I had some trouble inhabiting Clementine in TWD2 just recently, I think largely because too much of that series was cutscenes and quicktime events. Far too often the course of action I wanted to take was simply not on the table. Movies are naturally even worse for this, being nothing but cutscenes.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      I’ve never played Gone Home, but I agree with the general principle that there are a lot of games made these days which would be better served by being rendered in a different medium.

      1. I also wish Gears of War would find its true home on Broadway as the musical it was always meant to be.

        1. NotDog says:

          Clearly the Metal Gear franchise should be a Ghost-In-The-Shell-style anime.

    3. Sleeping Dragon says:

      We really need to do something about the whole video game definition, which I know is a topic that’s been done to death. At this point the whole, for lack of better term, “interactive virtual experience” medium has grown so much at this point it’s almost like people expecting everything in print to be an adventure book (I do not mean this as ridicule of your point, more of a broad statement on the problem).

      Gone Home takes advantage of the interactivity of the medium, to the point where the story as is would be difficult to convey through a non-interactive form, there is no better justification for it to be presented in this way. Similar themes could, obviously, be communicated through other means but we do not discard war movies merely because there exist paintings or written records of battles.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I somewhat agree with you.Nothing in the MAIN story required it to be a game,but the side stories were perfect for a game.In fact,I wish that it delivered sams story in the same fashion as mom and dad,instead of very conncted voice overs.

    5. Chamomile says:

      Shamus does cover this in his article, albeit briefly. A prose description of the main character examining all the items just wouldn’t work nearly as well. Gone Home is the foundation for an entirely new genre of game about investigation and exploration. It doesn’t stick the landing, but innovative works rarely do. It takes iteration for people to figure out exactly what we can do with these mechanics – which may or may not include the introduction of loss states or an end goal of some kind.

      I can understand why you might want to avoid certain websites, but if you’re not going to read the article, then frankly you should be willing to accept that you won’t be able to intelligently discuss it, either.

    6. From the article:
      “The interactivity in this game was integral to the experience. Gone Home couldn’t work in any other medium. It would be torture to read page after page of detailed item descriptions, and even the best description couldn’t evoke the flood of memories the way Gone Home does when you pick up a random item and turn it over to see some forgotten detail on the base. All of that magic would be lost if you moved it to a passive media, for the same reason that watching vacation slideshows isn’t as stimulating as going on the vacation.”
      So, he did address this and I’m sure he accepts your apologies ;)

  16. A Gould says:

    First time I’ve had to bail on an article due to spoilers. Because the latest Humble Bundle has Gone Home in it, I’ve just bought it, so I suppose I oughta play it first. :)

    1. A Gould says:

      Back, now I’ve finished the game (twice, actually – once honestly, once with dev commentary on).

      A couple things that struck me:
      – I’m a child of the 90s (if I’m doing the math right, I’m right in Sam/Lonnie’s age), so walking through the house circa 1995 definitely triggered the Nostalgia Vibe for me. On the other hand, my seven-year-old daughter sat with me through the entire playthrough (and then sat with me for the commentary!), so that’s at least one datapoint in the “you don’t have to be thirty-mumble years old to get it” column.

      – After starting the voracious reading of reviews, it’s kinda amusing that everyone talks about the simple story, but they don’t tend to agree on the details (especially for the supporting cast), because your take on the story depends not only on what items you found, but on the order you find them in. Which to me makes this game all the more fascinating, because they’ve built a story that mutates solely on the actions of the player.

      So, thank you Shamus for giving me the final poke to grabbing this game. :)

  17. Phantos says:

    It’s one thing to play Gone Home and not like it based on its’ own merits. But to question its’ legitimacy as a video game just because it wasn’t a completely different genre?

    That’s the kind of mouth-breathing stupidity only a [INSERT POPULAR VIDEO GAME HERE] fan could produce.

    1. Sean Riley says:

      And yet to be honest? The smallest group when it came out (to my mind) were those criticising it as a bad game. There were those who loved it, and those who refused to acknowledge it.

  18. MadTinkerer says:

    “It was common for people to think the homosexuality was a condition that needed to be treated with therapy.”

    I can’t find a reference to it on the web, but I do have a book here somewhere that mentions that at least as recently as 1965 (when the book I read, which i don’t think was DSM itself, was published), the DSM did officially classify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

    I don’t know when the change was made official, but one thing that everyone probably should keep in mind about the issue is that less than fifty years ago homosexuality was still officially considered a mental disorder. Regardless of one’s position on the subject, fifty years ago and earlier there was a significant amount of reasonable cause for non-doctor people to think that homosexuality was wrong, not just for religious reasons, but that it was officially considered a type of insanity. By doctors.

    It wasn’t just a common misconception, it was what the smart people believed was true. It’s important to remember this, because no one seems to recall the reasons why the (now very old) smart people changed their minds. Without this fact, it’s easy to misconstrue the “well-meaning people who were confused, frustrated, and uninformed” as being ignorant. It wasn’t just a matter of cultural taboos or not wanting to be open about sexuality. Doctors really did actually say those people were crazy.

    One does have to wonder why the assumption of insanity has shifted from homosexuals to “homophobes” (not a real disease), and regardless of who is right about practicing homosexuality… why is there such misunderstanding regarding the views of people of the past on this matter?

    Doctors currently don’t say homosexuals are crazy. But if doctors change their minds again, are we, in this time, all suddenly retroactively “homophiliacs” (a future fictional mental illness invented to criticize those who support homosexuals) according to the people of the future? “Retard” is considered crass because there are real people with mental retardation. If “homophobia” was a real illness, shouldn’t the term not be used so lightly?

    Treating this as a pure social issue about social norms as seen by average folks is ignoring an important side of the issue. Why, indeed, regardless of how we see it now, was homosexuality officially considered a mental illness? I don’t know! But it’s important to understand that doctors changed their minds. Less than fifty years ago. A lot has happened in that time…

    1. Shamus says:

      Possibly related: Doctors used to think that asthma – a condition whereby your airways swell up until air can’t get through and you suffocate – was caused by “anxiety”. Fifty years ago, a doctor wrote my grandmother a prescription for cigarettes, to help with her asthma, because it was thought that smoking would relax her and thus stops all those silly nerves that were making her be dumb and not breathe properly.

      She eventually died of an attack, some years before I was born.

      I guess my point is that it’s kind of amazing what doctors didn’t know.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        What I find amazing is not how little professionals know (which, being a professional myself, is all too familiar). What shocks me is how large the gap is between what professionals will tell a layman that they know, and what has actually been proven. I realize that “Wow, that’s so strange… good luck with that!” is terrible medical advice, but at lot of the time something closer to “We’re not sure why this happens. Maybe try this and let me know if it helps.” is called for.

        Laymen don’t help the situation either of course, and the unjustified blind faith in professionals by the masses is almost as offensive as the arrogant blindness it incubates.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Doctor: – I have a good news for you and a bad news.Which one do you want to hear first?
          Patient: – Tell me the good news first.
          Doctor: – We will name the disease after you.

          And another one:
          Patient: – Doctor,have you figured out what is wrong with me?
          Doctor: – No,but we shall find out for sure tomorrow.
          Patient: – Really?What test will you conduct tomorrow?
          Doctor: – Your autopsy.

          1. MadTinkerer says:

            I have a friend who is a prison doctor. He has a great sense of humor and willingness to share true stories. At the dinner table.

        2. Agreed. And indeed, nowadays this combination of actual lack of knowledge with official stances of knowing it all seems to be enough to spawn industries worth billions of dollars. Look at antidepressants.

      2. Blackbird71 says:

        Correction: it’s amazing what doctors don’t know.

        Speaking as someone who has experienced a number of unexplained medical conditions, both personally and those of family members, if you spend any sort of time around doctors you begin to understand how much of medicine is guess work and trial and error. Yes, there are conditions which are believed to be better understood now than they were 50 years ago, but for every one of those conditions that they figure out, there are many more that keep them scratching their heads.

        You can also expand that thought beyond medicine to encompass all of science as a whole. If you examine the history of science, it’s amazing how often some idea that was treated as established fact later came to be proven absolutely wrong. For all that we as a species have learned about the universe we live in, there is still so much more that we don’t understand, and much that we only think we understand. We make our best guess, and come up with the best explanation that we have at the time, which works until some new information comes out and turns everything on its head. It’s really something to consider the next time you hear someone claiming something as “scientific fact.”

        Actually, in my experience, scientists and doctors have often been the first to admit how little they actually know and understand. It’s usually others citing the ideas of these people and claiming them as absolutes who don’t really get the uncertain nature of these fields.

    2. Timelady says:

      “But it's important to understand that doctors changed their minds.”

      Yes? Doctors tend to do that. It’s called progress. Fifty years ago homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Seventy-five years ago, smoking was supposed to be good for you. A hundred years ago, they treated asthma with arsenic cigarettes, bronchitis with belladonna (but only in children!), and diabetes with opium (6-12 grains per day!). 150 years ago, right before the American Civil War, they were bleeding people.

      Honest to God, if we used the argument that something was once routine practice to give things weight on a regular basis, I’d be scared to death.

      1. Bryan says:

        Yeah, just think of all the things we believe now that people in 50 years are going to look back on and think “what on *EARTH* were they *thinking*?”…

        Not that I can say what any of them would be, of course…

      2. MadTinkerer says:

        “It's called progress.”

        I’m not saying it’s not. I’m just saying that people need to keep certain facts in mind when discussing exactly how things have progressed or they’ll end up with a skewed view of past culture.

        Like, say, kids laughing at people in the 1980s for being too dumb to look up facts on Wikipedia on their smartphones. A quick fact-check shows that ARPAnet and portable phones were around then, and even if those things weren’t quite as good, Apple IIs and PETs were certainly around then, so clearly everyone in the 1980s are illiterate dummies for not thinking to use their computers as encyclopedias.

        You know people are going to think that.

      3. Hal says:

        I get what you’re saying, but it’s not terribly satisfying. If you try to answer that question (i.e. why the DSM designation changed), the answers seem to be either, “Because the LGBTs have great PR” or “Because we’re enlightented now, you troglodyte.” Neither really enlightens, and stuck in the middle of these groups are the rest of us, trying to figure out how to talk about these things without getting yelled at.

  19. RCN says:

    I tried the game, but it seems that USA 95 is very, very different from Brazil 95. Even though I grew in the 90s, not much in the game really brought me back to it (maybe to the movies from the 90s, but certainly not to MY 90s).

    There are thousands of subtle differences. For instance, wallpapers are NOT a thing here. VHS players are the closest it actually gets to my childhood (my family had a VHS player and we built quite a library of portuguese-dubbed movies with it, but we got rid of it almost immediately with the rise of DVDs).

  20. Jsor says:

    “I suspect this will go the way of all debates about this game, but you never know. Maybe the stars will line up and one person will see the game from a different angle.”

    FWIW, the Spoiler Warnings on The Walking Dead totally turned my perspective on the game around. I liked it well enough before I watched them, but I didn’t really consider it a “game” because I was expecting Sam and Max instead of what we got. You turned my opinion on that around completely and since then I’ve been a lot more on the side of games like Gone Home.

    So keep that optimism.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “Hot tube time machine”?Is that the porn parody?

    1. Shamus says:

      I can’t believe that slipped past me and both of my editors.

      1. You list your left eye and right eye as employees on your tax forms, too? :)

  22. ve4grm says:

    With regards to “tool” in the context you’re mentioning:


    According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, tool has several meanings. In the current context it would probably mean “a stupid, useless or socially inept person”. The first citation for this dates from 1656.


    So, yeah, it was around. :-)

    As someone born in ’83, I was 12 in ’94, and I can confirm, the usage of that word was alive and well in my Junior High days.

    1. evileeyore says:


      So all of us who thought we were being all edgy and cool in high school using it were just being hopelessly dated and retro?

      I… I may need a bit of a lie down.

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        Edgy and cool is usually actually dated and retro.

        Like that video game controller you play with your hands like a baby’s toy. ;)

      2. For a while, my wife taught 6th grade in a public school. She was always amazed that the kids didn’t know that many “new” songs they loved on the radio were remixes, covers, or sampled from ones she’d listened to when she’d been a teen.

        Slang gets recycled as well, though not all of it, thank goodness. That just wouldn’t be the bee’s knees, you dig?

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Im thigh.

    2. Chuk says:

      I got a note in 1980 calling me a ‘tool’, so it was around well before the time the game was set. (I have it installed but haven’t finished yet.)

  23. Arven says:

    You know, one thing I’ve always find odd in the whole ‘this is not a game’ debate is that adventure games seems to have a free pass. I mean, aren’t they basically a worse variant of walking simulator where the pacing is butchered by stupid non-sense puzzles?
    I’d be happy if someone can shed a light on this matter.

    1. Chamomile says:

      Gone Home appealed to a niche audience (you had to be born at around a very specific time). People outside that audience were irritated with the love being heaped upon it by people inside that audience and, as the internet do, lashed out to find any reason to dismiss the game and the people who liked it.

      But while Gone Home didn’t resonate with me, personally, I do think it’s a good look at what could replace the adventure game genre. Adventure games have always tried to sell themselves as narrative-driven games (or at least, have ever since stronger gameplay became the norm back in like the late 80s or something), but things like Gone Home are much better at saying “here is a narrative, go and explore it.”

      Although it is possible to get the narrative in the wrong order. Take the Stanley Parable, for example. The Escape ending is clearly one that makes sense as one of, if not the, final endings. It relies on you being familiar with the dynamic between Stanley and the Narrator and the way they struggle for control with one another, but it’s the first ending I got, because the mind control facility looked menacing and I’d been uncertain about this whole Narrator fellow from the very beginning. Now if the Escape ending had been something a bit more obscure like the Meaningful Choices ending(s), that might’ve been avoided – although my younger brother got that ending his first time through just because he did everything in his power to ignore the Narrator, but it didn’t occur to him to walk off the lift onto the catwalk in the loading bay.

    2. Disc says:

      We could definitely use more defining categories for all these virtual art installations with the occasional interaction masquerading as gameplay.

    3. Timelady says:

      Aren’t first-person shooters just a worse variant of walking simulator where the pacing is butchered by various enemies coming at you out of nowhere and chest-high walls that you have to stop and hide behind until they stop trying to make you die?

      It’s what you get out of the game, and what you want to get out of it. Some people find shooting fun. Some people find puzzles fun. That’s the great thing about games. There’s room for both extremes in the same medium. Sometimes even within the same game.

      I don’t know about adventure games having a free pass? What I do know is that basically every few months between about 1995 and 2001 would be another article about how “Adventure games are dead! No, for real this time!” and that people still seem fascinated–in the sort of attention that you’d give a weird bug on your window–that they’re still around in some form. And I think we’re now getting to the point where they’re starting to get positive attention again, in the form of “…actually, that’s kind of cool, what they’re trying to do over there. Huh.” Which is…kind of cool, actually. In my opinion.

  24. kdansky says:

    People get the “it’s not a game” discussion wrong. It should not be about dismissing a product, but about proper descriptions. The thing is, we have words for puzzle, and competition, and simulation, and a few more, but we use “game” to mean pretty much anything from Starcraft to Gone Home, and I feel this is actively harmful. One, because you need a vocabulary to communicate (and you need to communicate to improve the discipline), and two, because it leads to utterly pointless arguments where insults like Walking Simulator get used. It’s not a simulator either! It’s about as far from simulation as you can get!

    So this is my point: Gone Home is not a game in the sense that Starcraft is. It is in the area of visual novels / audio books, except it’s a bit more interactive. I like Keith Burgun’s categories, that have a very clear definition for “game” (which does not include most of current PC games, for example Skyrim, because they are not winnable, and there is no measure of skill). I really like Gone Home, and I think it’s a hugely important piece of work, but we need to stop muddling up our terminology in a stupid turf-war.

    It’s actually the best way of doing story in interactive media, because it does not get bogged down by game-play hurdles, and can be focused purely on its story. It’s brilliant, but if we call it a game, then game as a term is completely useless, because it includes all interactive media (from Starcraft to pornography).

    1. I like Keith Burgun's categories, that have a very clear definition for “game” (which does not include most of current PC games, for example Skyrim, because they are not winnable, and there is no measure of skill).

      I’m thinking that categories for defining games that do not include most games are not a set of categories I’d find useful.

      1. kdansky says:

        That’s not how it works. We don’t call Apollo 13 an action movie, even if there is a lot of action in it. We don’t call Star Trek Fantasy, despite Q and other powerful beings being clearly capable of magic. We should not call all digital interactive media *games*, because not all are games (and this makes intuitive sense to many people, that is why we have this discussion in the first place).

        Or we could just call them all games, but then the word loses all meaning, because it includes pretty much every single program ever written. We also need to make up even more words to fill the gaps. We still haven’t solved the issue that Gone Home isn’t anything like Chess.

        Skyrim and Tetris are farther from each other than Skyrim and Gone Home. Skyrim just has much worse writing, less focus, a bigger budget and some mediocre combat, but they are both about exploring a world.

        1. Should we not call Apollo 13 a movie, because the differences between it and Citizen Kane are so numerous as to make the term meaningless?

          The problem suggested in your second paragraph is solved by your first paragraph. Action movies, and fantasy movies, are subcategories or genres of the filmic medium; we call them all movies.

          “Games” is no more meaningless a term than “movies.” The descriptive terminology works the same way in both cases, with room for both formal taxonomy and informal folksonomy (“interactive story exploration game” versus “walking simulator,” for example).

          1. NotDog says:

            All movies are the same as far as they’re moving pictures on a screen. Same with books; words printed on paper.

            Hmm, the definitions of movies and books are more about their medium than their content. Maybe instead of “games” we should just use the word “applications.”

  25. silver Harloe says:

    There’s a lot of talk about Gone Home is only appealing to a niche audience, but it also serves a different purpose, one which is harder to appreciate because the 90s are so *near* in time. Namely that someday this game may(*) be used by anthropologists to explore part of what it was like to live in the 90s in US suburbia. It serves as a kind of time capsule. It may make a poor time capsule because it’s missing x, y, and z, but keep in mind that anthropologists try to envision societies of the past with much, much, much less to go on. (Also, for the person who mentioned timelessness, there it is).

    Also, that time when people want to explore that life may come sooner than “centuries from now for anthropologists.” There may be people who are very young right now who hope to learn something about their parents life a few years or 10 years from now. There may be people in other countries who are curious about US life (albeit US life from 20 years ago).

    (*) MAY be used because it’s also possible the media will be lost, of course.

  26. Thank you Shamus for at least mentioning one aspect that I think gets unfairly overlooked:

    “The interactivity in this game was integral to the experience. Gone Home couldn’t work in any other medium. It would be torture to read page after page of detailed item descriptions, and even the best description couldn’t evoke the flood of memories the way Gone Home does when you pick up a random item and turn it over to see some forgotten detail on the base.”

    I couldn’t agree more – I think the story (or more accurately, stories) of Gone Home works because it’s presented in a game. As Roger Ebert used to say – it doesn’t really matter what the story is about but how it is about it. The process of discovery and investigation sold me on the stories of Gone Home much more convincingly than if I had say seen them in a film. Moreover, you couldn’t do the same kind of storytelling in a film – you couldn’t present the details of what happened to dad, for instance, without making it terribly obvious and heavy-handed. But in a game, the player can take as much time as they want examining the details of the clues and knit together a story of what happened in their own time.

  27. Basilios says:

    The way Gone Home lets the player explore the story reminds me a bit – a tiny bit – of an old game on Commodore 64 – Portal. Not the one from Valve! Here’s a wiki link.

    In Portal, the player is an astronaut that returned to Earth and found everybody gone. He finds a working terminal, logs in and starts to explore the story. It is sci-fi but it does contain its share of interpersonal drama, as well as exploration of some interesting ideas.

  28. tmtvl says:

    I’ve seen the story done to death, so it didn’t really affect me the way it might’ve affected other people, but I’d much rather kids nowadays play games like these rather then AAA junk.

  29. Majromax says:

    Timely article: Gone Home is part of the beat-the-average tier of the new and ongoing Humble Indie Bundle.

  30. Mornegroth says:

    If what made Gone Home powerful was its take on 90s american society and the way that affected views on homossexuality then wouldn’t you say that it ultimately failed to even begin to approach that topic, since only those who lived in that time period, and in the US (or analogous countries,) will get what the story is about?

    Not to say that those themes couldn’t be approached, but a game is not powerful if its story is incapable of reaching out to anyone but those who already know what it’s talking about. It can be powerful to that specific group, but then I don’t see the point.

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      Accuracy feels more real.

      When I watch Anime (or live action Japanese movies) set in Japan, the buildings are all different, the food is mostly different, even the gestures are all different, and everything is so very Japanese that subs and dubs don’t matter. But after a while it doesn’t feel so “weird” because regardless of whether space aliens exist or there’s a portal to a specific Japanese historical era in the main character’s back yard, when you’re in present day animated Japan everyone sleeps on mats and eats with chopsticks and uses those now-familiar gestures and phrases.

      I haven’t been to Japan yet. But I expect the real people there will act at least somewhat like how the supposed-to-be-realistic characters act.

    2. Zukhramm says:

      I’m slightly too young and on the wrong part of the planet but I think I got most of the game just fine. I think we can count on most players having the ability to realize there might be other experiences than their own and that given some time with the game they’d figure out how things work in that specific area and place.

    3. Alan says:

      I didn’t think the story was opaque to someone who didn’t live through the 1990s in the US. It may require some effort to appreciate, but it reminds me of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or the Little House on the Prairie books. That said, I did live through the 1990s in the US, so I may be a poor judge.

  31. Jeannette says:

    Not every story needs to try to “explain” an era to you. After all, huge swathes of deeply respected literature, considered timeless by critics, still comes with footnotes. Where you pitch a book or film or game in terms of how much you are recreating an era or explaining an era is up to an artist and I do feel both choices are valid. That a game or book or movie can create resonance is an achievement, even if it is with a specific group of people. That still has value. I mean, I can even flippantly say that in the hundreds of years after the death of Shakespeare, for all his “timelessness”, people have changed their minds substantially over which of his plays are “best” and “worst.”

    Also this “done to death” argument against the story is a little confusing to me. So many other video games with lauded stories, action games at that, are stories “done to death.” Spec-ops: the Line is in a long tradition of tales dating back to Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad). And needless to say we’ve all seen “save your wife/girlfriend” a thousand and one times. Especially if we include “their soul from hell” as variants. Arguably Gone Home has only it’s story going for it, but really it seems to only highlight for me that this story didn’t resonate because it seemed ubiquitous rather than the fact that all stories require complete originalty to be highly regarded. You’d think “man atones for dark/violent past makes good whilst protecting an innocent” is done to death in video games as well, but nope. This isn’t to criticise all games as hackneyed, merely to point out that repetition is commonly and legitimately embraced.

    That and I am a little suspicious that the feeling that the story is unoriginal doesn’t necessarily come from a surfeit of games or even movies with the same plot. We have plenty of stories that we just don’t like. Or that *feel* old to us even before we have encountered even one true example of it. And yet some other stories that despite repetition we love hearing again and again. And that’s largely okay.

  32. “Hey Beavis. Huh-huh-huh. Check it out. He spelled your name wrong.”
    “Yeah, yeah. Heh-heh. Um… Hey, you can spell?”

  33. Alan says:

    The idea that Gone Home is only meaningful to people of a particular age seems silly to me. It’s like complaining that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is pointless because slavery and that level of racism are long in the past. One of the things that a piece of art can do is provide a window into another era. The 90s were my teenaged years and even I had forgotten how awfully unfair society was to homosexual people; Gone Home had many moments of “Oh, yeah, wow, just 20 years ago.”)

    The idea that Gone Home just repeats things that have been already said in other mediums is similarly silly. We don’t criticize a movie for taking on a topic covered in novels. We don’t declare topics off limits because there has been good coverage of them. Each artist has their own take, each medium reveals different aspects. And if there is a glut of any modern, reasonably mainstream media about the personal aspects of homosexuality in the 1990s, I appear to have missed it.

    Also silly, the idea that being a game (or at least interactive) doesn’t add anything. Culpability and personal investment are something games provide much more strongly than other medium. Everyone knows the story that Brenda Romero’s Train is connected to, but making it a game creates a stronger connection to th story at a deeper level. (Sorry for the awkward phrasing; I’m trying to avoid spoilers.) Gone Home, at least for some people, feels uncomfortable in a way that even the best horror games don’t. You are directly responsible for an invasion of privacy, it can give a sense of personal investment and responsibility not present in a more passively consumed medium.

    The idea that Gone Home isn’t a game is usually silly. If someone is engaging in academic analysis, has a formal definition, and is prepared to label a lot of very popular “games” as not games, sure. But for practical purposes, it is a game. It has a goal: figure out what happened. It has obstacles to achieving that goal: there are a few traditional locked door puzzles, but more importantly if you fail to find details, or fail to interpret them correctly, you won’t achieve the goal.

    Finally, the trigger that lead to Shamus’s article in the first place, the idea that game journalists liking games that many gamers dislike is some how a problem is self-evidently laughable.

    1. Geebs says:

      I confess that I find Brenda Romero’s ‘Train’ deeply irritating. It’s about as profound as a joy buzzer, but tries lend itself importance through its subject matter. It’s the hole-in-the-bottom-of-the-box-of-popcorn of games.

      Which reminds me, I really should grab a copy of Papers, Please.

      1. Packbat says:

        Obligatory Humble Indie Bundle 12 link.

        (I already had Gone Home and Papers, Please – I bought it for Prison Architect, primarily.)

  34. Starker says:

    For me, Gone Home was pretty underwhelming, even though I did experience the 90s. I tend to agree with Ian Bogost in asking, “Is that really the best we can do?

    But I would never think of saying that it’s not a game. When I think of games that are bordering on the very edge, I think of things like Twine games, FMV games and gamebooks (just replayed Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! and it was glorious). I think of zero-player games and experimental indie games with extremely minimal gameplay bordering on non-existing. Games like 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness.

    Gone Home, on the other hand, has what are clearly and undeniably gameplay mechanics — you can manipulate objects, you have an inventory, a map, you collect keys and codes to proceed, etc. It is informed by game culture and is steeped in video game conventions, taking inspiration from both the immersive sim and first person adventure game genres.

    I’m not opposed to calling it a walking simulator, however. I think it could be a useful genre distinction. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something negative either — even a game like Morrowind can be a walking simulator. Personally, I think that when a game is crafted so well that you can just walk around and admire the game world, it should be a compliment.

  35. Dragomok says:

    So, the second sentence of the article

    Depending on who you ask, it was either an amazing and emotional experience, or a walking simulator.

    caught my attention, because I have recently ran into a person (Kazerad of PREQUEL: Or Making Cat Cry: The Adventure fame) that represents a third group, which thinks that Gone Home‘s story was horrible.

    […] just really confused about how Gone Home can get a 9/10 for its artistic value despite having less literary depth than a mediocre fanfic.

    The quote cames this post, and is also briefly mentioned in an older one.

  36. Mephane says:

    Okay, I may be late to the party, the game has been sitting in my Steam library for a long time and I always, always thought “I ought to play this soon, best do it in a single session” and always somehow postponed it. Finally got around to it yesterday, quite spontaneously actually, and then remembered Shamus had written an article about it where he warned of spoilers and which I therefore never read. So here I am.

    I loved the game, from start to finish, but especially the ending. How the game made be expect some Romeo&Juliet double suicide scene in the attic. And how it not only subverted my expectation of this trope, but replaced it with the best happy ending it could have achieved without suddenly throwing all the build-up around the characters over board; of course the parents wouldn’t suddenly change their minds and accept Sam for who she is, that would have been rather unrealistic – Sam & Lonny running away, is basically the answer to every single story where a forbidden love ends with the couple separated, often at least one of them dead (either by suicide, or some tragic accident that just had to happen…) and I tend to be, simultaneously, sad about the ending and angry at the author(s) for writing that ending. (It’s not that I want all endings to be happy endings… but sad or tragic endings in love stories really, really drag me down).

    In a sense, by playing it only now, this game’s unexpected happy ending has also been my personal catharsis after Blue Is The Warmest Color, which struck me completely unexpected with its sad ending.

    1. Jokerman says:

      Same, i have never felt just pure relief at an ending before, it’s like the opposite of Firewatch, where i expected something big, and was disappointed… this game i expect something terribly and crept through the last section at a snails pace, worried at what i might find…. sooo relieved by the ending.

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