Gone Home is pretty coy.
I appreciate this sort of thing as someone who made a lot of jokes about speedruns and noscoping a game where the most difficult task is finding a light switch without peripheral vision. I think I’m a little happier having gone through the game knowing just enough about it to know there wouldn’t be any ghosts or murders, though it’s ideal I didn’t know the ending, because it surprised me by being a happy one.
That’s something I really can’t forgive or relate to; I relate a lot more to Merritt Kopas reacting to Gone Home than I do to Gone Home.
(Gone Home does a lot right, too. Sorry if this sounds harsh right now, but this one’s about me this time.)
I can’t disagree with Ian Bogost’s review of Gone Home—it’s melodrama, though charming melodrama, and the substance is thin, and I’m not going to let Sam get away with that just because she’s supposed to be a teen. Still, when Merritt says what she does about Gone Home, I feel that tug, and I can’t help it, oh no, this is going to hurt.
Which is terribly unfair because I also agree with Bogost that it doesn’t really deserve the reaction it is generating from me. Even Merritt knows she’s bringing all of her own stuff into the game and that’s why it’s doing what it does to her. I have read Jeanette Winterson, so why do I feel this way, why is this happening anyway, and why did I cry in the lap of someone I really care about while watching the season finale of Sailor Moon last week, tilting my head so they wouldn’t see?
The answer is probably there are a lot of problems in there. The other answer is that while Gone Home may be too neat, too melodramatic, just not quite full enough, it is an empty house, and you can fill it with what you bring to it. Gone Home allows for a certain kind of connection and a certain kind of experience to be brought in that could never, ever be brought in—to use a pertinent example—Bioshock.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m excusing their faults when I say video games are good vehicles for projection, but they are, like the threadbare melodrama of season two of Sailor Moon (about as nineties for me as Lisa Frank binders for me) a place where a lot of me comes to rest. That’s not exactly to Sailor Moon’s credit, or Gone Home, which I guess I am supposed to be talking about. Simply, Gone Home has room in it for us, and it can let Merritt in, and she wrote about it, and that let me in too, and I’m glad to be there even if I’m happy to be there more for what I brought in than what the designers left.
Not everyone, not even other queer women, feel like Gone Home lets them in, perhaps in the same way that most other games (and let’s face it, most everything else too) are, at some level, always trying to kick me out. Which has nothing at all to do with art. Hemingway doesn’t want me, even though I can read it and like it (love it). Access is different from craft. It’s structure rather than execution, and that’s not good because really good art is that which is executed at the highest possible level. It’s not the ideas and the themes, but how they’re realized, and I learned this in creative writing programs by heart.
They are right. To write like a writer, we read good writers, who wrote in a way I wanted to match about subjects I couldn’t relate to, feeling progressively more upset and alienated and possibly insane because even when it let me in, there was nothing there, and no room for me. Well now I know why and it’s really my fault for not doing anything about it earlier. But it is now impossible to ignore how much access matters even if execution is what actually takes us to the Real Thing. It’s also something I can credit to the work, when access feels more like something I should credit me or critics but now I’m not sure. “It shouldn’t be remarkable, but it is.” And it is.
Unlike Merritt who mourns her childhood, what’s lost to me is so dead I can’t even miss it. Or maybe I am wrong, and there is a house somewhere that will let me in, and I will be able to bring to it all the things I have missed. Here I am, after all, reading all this into a game I finished less than two hours ago, and this is all really happening and deserving doesn’t enter into the equation. Just can’t fucking help ourselves I guess.