L. Rhodes on Gone Home

If, then, you are receptive to it, the videogames’ interactions do more than just lead you through a linear series of events that might have been communicated as effectively (if not more so) as a prose novella. Similar to the way that Gaston Bachelard wrote of a “poetics of space,” playing Gone Home encourages you to explore a narratology of space. Over the conventional meanings of the representational spaces found in the eponymous home, the incremental unspooling of the story superimposes additional significance, gradually guiding the player toward the increasingly secretive spaces where the most momentous decisions were made. The kitchen is not just a room outfitted for the usual functions of a food storage and preparation; it’s also freighted with the memory of a young woman’s changing relationship to a childhood friend. The dining room is not only where the family eats, but also where her parents refused to come to terms with the person she had discovered herself to be.

Thus, each of the discrete interactions required to play one’s way through the videogame—explore, examine, read, listen—point the player to a more significant set of underlying behaviors. The house becomes a spatial pattern, and the detective work of uncovering clues serves as an inducement to shape the narrative according to that pattern. While the narrative elements are placed before the player more or less linearly, the effect of play is to arrange them into a 3-dimensional skein congruent to the space where they were told or took place. “Home” ends up being something more than “house.” The difference is in how we imbue the structure with interpersonal meanings no architect could have anticipated.

– L. Rhodes, “Phantom Interaction

What an amazing piece — please more essays that take seriously the genealogy of Gone Home out of first-person shooters into immersive sims and then whatever we have now.

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