In the narrative based video games we have played in class, all use the “first-person shooter” perspective. While this perspective is used in action driven games like “Call of Duty” to incorporate the gamer into the game’s world, these narrative video games also use first person to distance the gamer from its world. The developers of these video games were faced with the task of creating a compelling and coherent narrative, while at the same time adding enough gamic elements that would make the play enjoyable to the gamer. These video games, “Gone Home” in particular, rely on the first person perspective to balance these two aspects.
While “Call of Duty” uses the “first-person shooter” to create the best visual and tangible simulation of combat as possible, “Gone Home” seeks to withdraw the gamer from the gameplay experience using the first person perspective. The absence of a pixelated character makes the narrative feel like a film, where the story is unfolded, rather than a video game where narrative is controlled by the gamer. These narrative games need to have this distance from the video game culture they associate with. If these games became too involved with gameplay actions, then the gamer’s focus will divert to executing these actions and important parts of the narrative will be overlooked.
The first person perspective allows for more effective ways of communicating the narrative. For instance, the absence of physical characters in “Gone Home” makes room for the great voiceover work to tell the story. Sarah Grayson, who did the voice for Sam, was especially effective in expressing the emotions of anger and sadness that would come with Sam’s situation. The voiceover work is much richer and realistic than I’ve seen in other games. Perhaps this is because the developers did not have to worry about matching up the voice with mouth movements, something that most video games fail at anyways. The reflection of Sam’s emotions in Grayson’s work is the game element that best builds Sam’s character and for me at least enhanced the appeal of the narrative.
Yet the video game still must intrigue the gamer and be exciting enough for multiple playthroughs. This is where “Gone Home” reverts back to the traditional use of the first person perspective. As we talked about in class, “Gone Home” has two different levels on which the narrative unfolds. There is Katie who is learning about the new changes in her family and there is the gamer who has no prior knowledge of the family and gathers all their information through the clues in the game. The first person perspective intensifies the gamer level of the narrative. No matter what, the gamer always wants to feel like they are actively participating in the gameplay. The video game accomplishes this by throwing the gamer into the role of the detective. While some of the narrative is automatically given through voiceovers, the other half has to be revealed through exploring the house and its artifacts. The first person allows us to close inspect objects and make sense of the narrative ourselves. If the game was designed in third person, it would most likely feel like the gamer is doing all the work for Katie and would therefore find it unrewarding.
The first person perspective is a balancing act that allows the gamer to dive in and out of the narrative. The absence of a physical characters gives the gamer the space to sit back and investigate a room, or listen to one of Sam’s journals closely. Then the gamer can come right back in by interacting with all the different papers and objects. “Gone Home” combines the excellent voiceover work for Sam’s characters as well her different notes and stories uncovered by the personal detective work of the gamer to create a comprehensive character and narrative.