Gone Home opens with "June 7, 1995, 1.15am". At this point in time, I am a mere 82 days old, without the capacity to comprehend or know that in 18 years I will play a game that will forever change me and eternally link me to this date.
Over the course of its roughly 90 minutes of gameplay, Gone Home managed to not just change the videogame industry, but change my life. It expanded my preconceived notions of what stories were told and what characters I could see portrayed in a game.
I can’t quite recall how exactly I came to play Gone Home soon after its launch in 2013, but in a year where I was obsessively playing The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V it still managed to spellbind me in a way few videogames have, before or since. I think its release coming in the same year as those AAA titles allowed it to have such a profound impact, juxtaposed against its peers and shining a light through the darkness.
By 2013 I don’t think I’d ever played a game with queer themes in it. In fact, as I avoided the truth about my own sexuality I would actively avoid viewing anything that could even be perceived as “gay”. Playing Gone Home really threw me for a loop at the time. Its story essentially plays out as a bait and switch where you keep expecting something sinister to happen, not simply because that’s how queer stories were (and are) often told, but the entire gameplay and design actively leads you to expect the worst at all times.
Amidst the constant rain, constant mentions of the supernatural and past trauma there’s a simple truth to Gone Home: it’s a love story. The dread you feel building up through the game is the same dread you feel as you begin to question and accept your sexuality. This game somehow distills that feeling so intensely and wraps it up in horror tropes that it was smuggled to players, in a way that wrought empathy and acceptance and helped usher in a new age of videogame styles and storytelling.
Playing the game again eight years later, allowing it to break my heart all over again, I felt overwhelmed not just by the game but by how far I have come personally since its release and how many more examples we now have of inclusive storytelling that allows us to feel represented in games, but to also expose us to the lives and experiences of others, especially in the intimate realm of videogames. To quote Gone Home, “that's pretty intimate right? It felt intimate”.
– Callan Webster, Visitor Services Officer