What makes a game a game? This is a question that is hotly debated, with countless answers and responses, but no well agreed upon answer, though certainly, some theories hold more support and merit than others. What many people agree upon, however, is that The Fulbright Company’s Gone Home is not a game. Of course some still argue that it is, and even of those who say it is not, they still often discuss Gone Home as creative, enjoyable, and worthwhile. Others, however, argue that it is indeed a game, before then wishing that it was more of a game. After all, Gone Home does not actually offer the player any real choices beyond the mere acts of whether or not to pick up mundane objects, or the simple choice between finishing the game or not. The ending is set in stone, and does not change no matter what choices the player makes. The ending has already happened, in fact, and is just waiting for the player, as Katie, to find it.
There are no puzzles or mini-games in which the player has a chance to fail, except for maybe the three locked items in the house, all of which are opened by seemingly random numbers strewn about the home. There’s even a fairly set structure for which the player moves about the house- while they can choose which rooms to enter first to some extent, some parts are off limits until certain things are discovered, and the progression of these discoveries and of the overall story never changes, remaining the same no matter how many times the game is played. By the definitions of many, this lack of impact the player has on the outcome of Gone Home means that it is not a game.
Indeed, by the rules presented by Jesper Juul, there are several requirements for games that Gone Home does not fill. The first of these is a variable and quantifiable outcome, which, of course, Gone Home does not have, as there is only one outcome possible at the end. Secondly, there is the idea of a valorization of outcomes, which would be that certain outcomes are preferable to others. This is not possible with Gone Home as, again, there is only one outcome available. Lastly is the concept of player effort, which involves the player investing effort to influence the outcome of the game. While the player of Gone Home does become invested, they have no ability to influence the outcome, and therefore, this rule too, is not fulfilled by Gone Home. As such, Gone Home is not a game. Many reviewers describe it as something of a story experience, which seems to fit better, as while the player can still take actions, the outcome of these actions is simple to gain more access to the incredibly rich intriguing story that plays out.
The player, no matter their own background, becomes attached to the story, feeling as if they are Katie Greenbriar. They care about Katie’s parents, and become concerned as they learn more and more about Terrence Greenbriar’s background. The player, as Katie, also becomes increasingly concerned about Sam Greenbriar as they progress through the story and gain access to more and more of her journals. Gone Home isn’t even a particularly long or complex story, though it can become more complex if the player pays more attention to background details offered by further exploration. Gone Home is an interactive story, and a great story at that, one that successfully garners the attention and empathy of any who interact with it. Despite being a story, Gone Home was released as a game, but it is understandable why. For now, it stands fairly alone in its newfound genre, and certainly, it could not have been released as a film or book like most other stories- sure, Gone Home could have been written as a novel, but it wasn’t.
It’s format is new and creative, a story even for those who don’t enjoy reading, but make no mistake, Gone Home is not a game. Gone Home is simply a story that is very good at drawing in its readers. It is a new genre, a new frontier; a new, interactive kind of story that utilizes modern technology to the best of its capabilities.