Gone Home is not a game you can be good or bad at. It’s not a game that will test your twitch reflexes or resource management strategizing or tactical adaptiveness or even really your puzzle-solving abilities. For a small subset of capital-G-gamers, it’s not even a game – not a “real” game, at least. (And if you’ve ever been to a comments section, you’ve met these people.) Gone Home and other games like it have been dubbed “walking simulators,” a term intended as a pejorative by those who think these aren’t “real” games and embraced by those who enjoy them. But the discussion (such as it is) of how to classify Gone Home misses the point of such games, which is ultimately the point of all games: the experience of playing them, whether or not you want to call it “play” or call them “games.”
By now, two-and-a-half years since the game first appeared on PCs, many people are familiar with the essentials of Gone Home: you play as Katie, a 21-year-old just returning home from a year in Europe to the unfamiliar house her family moved to in her absence, only to discover that, though it’s the middle of the night, everyone – Mom, Dad, and sister Sam – is gone. To figure out what has happened, you wander through the house, picking up objects and reading documents, trying to piece together a year’s worth of family drama. And that’s it.
To some, the “that’s it” is a criticism: what the game is missing is the need to defend yourself from hordes of attacking werewolves using the increasingly sophisticated arsenal of weapons you find around the house, an adventure for which the family drama is context and backdrop. To others, the “that’s it” is grand praise, as in: that’s all developer Fullbright needed to make an engrossing game. I find myself squarely in the latter camp.