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Mood Pieces: Gone Home – That Girl In The Psycho House

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This installment of Mood Pieces is about Gone Home, a beautiful, atmospheric story exploration game from The Fullbright Company, available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

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Gone Home has been sitting on my Steam library for months, waiting for the right moment. Today I was alone at home and a winter wind storm kept rattling the windows and banging the roof, and I finally picked it up. The moment couldn’t have been better.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the game, apart from the basic premise: the protagonist of the game is Kaitlin Greenbriar, age 20, who returns from a yearlong trip to Europe. While she has been traveling, her parents and little sister have moved to a new house inherited from her father’s relative. When Kaitlin returns on a midnight flight, she finds the home deserted. There’s a note from her little sister Sam on the door, imploring Kate not to try and come find her. A storm is raging and the house is empty and quiet in the early hours of the day.

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As a game, Gone Home is what’s sometimes called a walk’em up. There is no action, only some very light puzzles, and the story unfolds as the player explored the empty house. Soon it becomes clear that the story of the game is not the story of the player character, but the rest of the family, mainly Kaitlin’s little sister Sam.

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The storytelling of Gone Home is in one word elegant. This is a very  beautifully written game that dodges the self evident tropes of a lone girl exploring a house that’s called “the psycho house” by the locals. Nevertheless, playing the game alone at home with the real world storm rattling the windows was pleasantly unnerving at times. The game is set in 1995, the time of mix-tapes, landlines and post cards – the time when someone traveling around the world couldn’t just shoot an e-mail or a text message home. The soundtrack is mostly built into the game’s story and it involves music from such riot grrl bands as Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile – on C-cassettes, of course. The story is told through letters, items and notes passed in school, and although the method itself is starting to get a bit old and overused, with Gone Home it is done in such a vibrant, beautiful way that it simply works.

It’s really hard to describe the story without spoiling it, so without further ado, I won’t.

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Gone Home has won quite a few awards, and for a good reason. If it were a film, it would be a coming-of-age indie flick. As a game it’s an excellent example of the medium’s power as a storytelling tool. When the credits rolled, I was more than a little misty and melancholy, and I suspect the story will keep haunting me quite a while.

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