Many of us — arguably all of us — are familiar with the feeling of being "different" or "odd," especially in the societal hell that is high school. When you're known as the girl who just moved into her crazy late uncle's mansion at the end of the road, it only makes things that much worse. In Gone Home, the first hit developed by the relatively new group, The Fullbright Company, you play Kaitlin, a 21-year-old girl coming home from a trip overseas to her parents' new house, gifted to them by her father's uncle upon his death. The entire game is set in the year 1995 and played first-person, examining notes, letters, and listening to tapes while exploring this house that is new to both you as the player as well as Kaitlin. Upon exploration, you're able to learn a bit about your great uncle through news articles: he was a hermit with some mental instabilities. In addition, you may learn about your father (a failed author who now resorts to writing reviews for electronics) and your mother (a nature conservationist who might have had an affair with one of her subordinates).
However, the main storyline revolves around Sam, Kaitlin's 17-year-old sister, who has left Kaitlin notes in the form of diary pages throughout the house. These pages start off detailing a pretty typical teenage girl's life: she feels distant from everyone at this new school, though doesn't feel attached to her old friend Daniel anymore either, and she is struggling to find a place where she belongs. Then, in walks Yolanda ("Lonnie") Desoto, and suddenly Sam's letters seem much more upbeat and cheerful. Lonnie is a JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) member with pink hair, and she and Sam hit it off immediately, bonding over Street Fighter, punk music, and grunge style. It doesn't take long before we find out that this friendship between Sam and Lonnie is a little bit more than just a friendship, and they share their first kiss at a concert Sam sneaks out to.
As is probably obvious, however, this relationship is not without its backlash. It was a genius decision to set this story 20 years ago to show the stark differences that have arisen in LGBT rights since the mid-90s. I am sure the story would have just as much depth to it were it to take place in the present day, but I believe the added stigma attached to homosexuality in 1995 gave the whole story an added drama (that seemed rather prevalent in the 90s; though perhaps that's simply because I was younger then) that could not exist otherwise. On top of that, the side stories involving the rest of the family, the storm that's raging outside, and the loneliness of the dark and empty house lead to a horror game feel without the actual horror. Though there are no "jump scares" or actual terror moments in the game, there were many times I found my heart racing while playing, simply because of the atmosphere.
All in all, this game does what I have always believed video games could do: tell a story in a way no other medium could utilize. The feeling of immersion in this fully fleshed out environment, and the player's personal involvement in the story makes this one of the most beautifully written stories in the last year. Simplistic, relatable, and touching, this game will have you remembering how young love feels, regardless of age, gender, or orientation.
Quality: 9/10 Queerness: 4/6