Gone Home is a game whose effectiveness comes from shutting down all of the expectations that it builds up. Before certain details in the game are revealed behind initially locked doors, the house paints a grim picture. On the narrative side, it leads the player to believe that the parents’ marriage is falling apart through a combination of the father’s unsuccessful writing and the mother’s alleged affair, and that Sam’s relationship is over and she will be forced to live with her parents’ expectation that her sexuality is just a phase. On the setting side, it constantly conveys the cliché of a horror game: the player is in a large, dark, abandoned mansion in the middle of a storm, in which a man died.
The main story of Gone Home is shown to reach a cliché “happily ever after” (at least, within the scope of the part of the story that is told), and similarly, the ghost story aspect of the game is shown to be completely baseless, it’s just the shenanigans of two teenagers. Thus, the expectation of something terrible catches the player off guard, and instead of steadily building an emotional reaction to events leading to the ending, the player is hit with the full effect of the denouement.
Therefore, revealing these expected outcomes to be entirely different than the real ending is a powerful tool, and revealing the truth about the house affects the emotional impact of the ending of Sam’s story. I’m surprised that no one mentioned this in class, but the assessment of the house by an electrical company (amusingly named Black Cat Electrical Co.) drastically changed my experience.
The form is located in Terrence’s study, and it states, in essence, that the house has strange wiring after being rewired over 100 years, and lights go out seemingly at random, which the assessor attributes to changes in pressure that affect circuitry. After this amusing and anticlimactic explanation for the house’s creepy flickering lights, the “ghost story” part of Gone Home was over for me. During the “jump scare” scene with the crucifix, I was just wondering which floorboard had the circuits and wires under it that made the lights go out. I understood that there was no ghost, and that maybe life could have a happy ending that doesn’t involve dead bodies. In this way, the player watches Sam’s ending with a different view, because shutting down the horror story part of the game earlier leaves the player in a different state. They’re more likely to accept the happy ending, because everything else is going right, why can’t the happy ending actually be a happy ending? As we discussed in class, the practical part of our minds tells us that these are two teenagers just out of high school with barely any money to speak of, so they will undoubtedly fail in living an independent life as a couple. However, I think the game wants you to believe in the best, to be a kid again and experience a happily ever after.
So, Gone Home’s conveyed message can be as simple “it gets better.” It doesn’t need a complex statement on life to create meaning, because the profundity of the message is in the contrast of the narrative.