Am Playing: Gone Home.
In the mornings, I have to actively stop myself from thinking too much. Or, given that you can’t actually stop yourself from thinking, I have to train myself to tune out of my thoughts. Every spring this happens (did you know March is one of the hardest months for people? You’d think bleak February, or, hah, cruel April, but it’s actually March). It’s trendy to blame DST for all sorts of stuff now and I’m on board with that, throwing your internal clock out of order isn’t great, but it’s more than that, it’s just this last grip of winter into spring and the monochrome Cape and the changing light. Once I get some caffeine into me my mood levels out, bounces back and then it’s ok again, I’m back to normal. It’s just the waking -> caffeine moments when my thoughts are just black and cranky and if I’m not careful I’ll talk myself out of anything positive I have planned for the day. Of course, at 10 pm my mood is sky high and I feel like i can do anything: this is the curse of night owls. My coping mechanism is to seriously not even think about what I’m thinking about (first, second and third thoughts!) until I’m already on the road, halfway to work. That’s the point at which I’m mostly awake and the mood flows away.
I was going to make a belabored segue into the meat of this post, about the 90s and my childhood and I read what I was writing while I wrote and thought, perhaps not.
I finished Gone Home this weekend. I had to take a couple of days to let it sink in, and this is going to be full of spoilers. The game actually scared the bejeezus out of me, even with the general sense about half way through that the ending was probably going to be un-sinister. Remember when Blair Witch came out and one of the things that people praised was how it relied heavily on your own imagination to fill in the fear? Gone Home does that too. There are legitimate explanations of pretty much everything you see or hear. The lights are flickering? Well, you did find that electrician’s report explaining that old wiring means the lights aren’t stable. Red stains in the bathtub? Hair dye. Your parents aren’t there? Your sister left a note on your bedroom door explaining that they didn’t have time to set it up before they left, and a note on a calendar marks it as their anniversary (they didn’t even know you were coming home). Dad looks like a crazy conspiracy theorist not quite in touch with reality? Well, actually, he’s writing alternate history fiction. Your sister keeps a ghost journal? For every possible sighting she lists a legitimate cause. You, as Katie, don’t even seem to be very alarmed by their absence — the only comments you make are things like: “aw, mittens,” about a cat collar, or “Ugh, gross” on finding a condom in your parents’ dresser. So the players fear is all self generated.
The arithmetic is simple: embedded cultural clues and cliches (mansion in the woods, flickering lights, empty house, hidden passageways) equal fear. It’s the way that your own house can be terrifying at 3 am when you hear a strange noise, or you wake up from a nightmare. Your brain does all the work to create a nonexistent threat.
Well, up until the end, anyway. I was pretty sure that by the time I climbed the ladder to the attic, I was going to find Sam dead, a suicide. THAT is what I was terrified of at the end. And I’ll admit that my own teenage years made me roll my eyes at the ouija board, at the pentacle and the picture of Oscar. Those idiotic teenage girls. I did the same thing (minus the apparent exorcism, we weren’t that stupid). Oscar and Terry’s story is absolutely heartbreaking, by the bye. I’m glad I found the combination to the safe and it made Terry so much more sympathetic as a character to me. The story was jam packed with nuance, and aside from Sam’s story, most of it isn’t handed to you on a platter. It’s piecemeal, and the more you explore, the more you learn, and the heavier the game feels. It’s not without horror, it’s just actual horror, not supernatural.
When it first came out, a friend was disappointed. “But I wasn’t a girl in the 90s,” he said. “My girlfriend loved it.” I don’t think it’s really a gender thing (he wasn’t saying that, either) but I do admit that the female driven story tuned into some part of my psyche. I do have some 90s nostalgia. I was 13 in 1995. The TrapperKeeper (lisa frank design!), the tv shows they have recorded (x-files!), the cassette tape players, the pictures on Sam’s locker (Jodie Foster!): these are all part of my teen years, too. The NOTES Sam and Lonnie write each other are the kind of notes I wrote my friends, minus the falling in love bit. So, yeah, I was charmed by all of that. In 1995, I was still young and unaware of any true heartbreak. My mom was still alive. I had amazing friends in Christine and Elaine, which made being the weird kid at an awful school a little bit more bearable. So I guess I connected with the story pretty deeply, immersed myself into it because I remember when my life was kind of like that.
I didn’t take screen shots while I played, because I was too focused. I picked up EVERYTHING, read everything, examined everything. There was so much to interact with. The pizza boxes opened (they were all empty). The cans of soda. The school reports. The books (turning them over, reading the backs). Notes in the trash, marks on a calendar, a daily planner, the badges on pictures. Turning on fans and lights and faucets. Reading the tape decks, twisting them to see the inner spine note.
It was quick, though — I played for 70 minutes, and that included a few minutes of standing under the attic, trying to convince myself to go up (early on! it was locked, which was a bit of a let down for how psyched up I got). Worth the cost. I liked Fullbright before I even played the game, because they made the call to pull out of PAX during one of the many meltdowns that the Penny Arcade guys have caused. That was a gutsy move — PAX gets lots of attention and Penny Arcade fans tend to be rabid and poorly behaved when there are questions about Gabe & Mike’s behavior. Anyway, continuing my “playing this very late” line, this was a great game that I’m glad I didn’t miss.
Tonight i’m diving into Broken Age, which I’m not quite as far behind the curve on. Maybe someday I’ll be current and not an anti-hipster. Gosh.