In reference to game play and structure, Dear Esther, Gone Home, and The Stanley Parable are comparably unlike any videogame that I have played or am used to playing. These games involve heavily saturated plots and storylines, with basically not character to character interaction. This type of game play provided an interesting sense of discomfort, such that I was missing an important part of the game, or that something was going to pop out at me at any moment. The point that these games try to emphasize is in the actual story that the game is unfolding. The game is the book and we have to turn the pages, but what is important is the story in the text. In all of these games, you could keep flipping pages until the end but end up taking away nothing from the story. Specifically, in Gone Home, there are a million different ways to get to the end of the game, some faster than others. But the way the game is set up makes it entirely pointless to finish the game in fifteen minutes. The story won’t make any sense, and since that is the only fuel source of the game it is a waste to play it this way.
In Gone Home, there is a specific type of gameplay in which different interactions unlock different story plots, which give you further insight into the game. Sometimes these interactions are with notes that let you read something important about Sam’s character and other times they are seemly unimportant objects around the house. From the gamer’s perspective, what was most interesting about the way in which the game was set up allowed to pick things up and examine them in hope that you might get another reading from Sam’s Journal. Once this reading had been accessed, I know that I would stop whatever I had been doing so that I could focus on what she was saying, as if her message meant more than any interaction I was going to have with the objects in the house.
One time in the beginning of playing the game, I did end up interacting with an object while Sam was speaking and the game had completely overridden that journal entry and set me to the next one. In this makeup of the game, it had been programmed to move past parts of the story’s narrative in order to keep with whatever the gamer was doing while the narrative was being unfolded. This sort of battle between operator and machine can also be seen in when the game refuses the gamer to be able to read the one personal letter Sam has left. This could be looked at as punishment to the gamer to allow the focus to be on the story instead of exploring as much as you can, because the story is primarily based on Sam’s Journal. I would argue instead that is s the programming of the game’s narrative coming into competition with the game’s nature of being explorative.
Gone Home is mechanically set up in such a way that it emphasizes exploring as much as you can with as little information as you have. The gamer does not know what will happen or what information they need and what they do not. In this way, the game almost predicts we will pick up everything and look at everything to gather as much information about the narrative as we can, even though the narrative is mostly condensed in Sam’s Journals. The fact that the interaction between game’s programming and gamer input can be overridden in such a way that parts of the narrative explains what the gamer should be focusing on and what will give most insight into the narrative. The point is not to pick up all of the objects, but the right objects, and then listen to Sam’s story. The game has this kind of random exploration set up that it is impossible to obtain all of the information provided unless you know where to look, which puts the focus back on the story that the game wants you to hear. And when you move past a specific point that the game is not ready for you to get to yet, the narrative skips ahead too, just like skipping chapters in a book.