If you want to spark a flamewar on the Internet, all you have to do is broadcast to a large enough group of gamers that you’re a fan of a little game called Gone Home.
Which is weird because Gone Home is about as unassuming as games get. You play as a young woman visiting her family’s new house after spending a year traveling through Europe. No one’s home when you arrive, so you take it upon yourself to explore the new dwelling and find out what your family has been up to since you’ve been away.
There are no weapons or enemies, no power-ups, no experience points, and no leveling system. You don’t even encounter any characters, puzzles, or physical challenges in the game. You simply wander through the house, inspecting items, reading papers, and listening to journal entries to figure out what’s going on with each of your family members. So if you can call it a game at all, it’s something like a detective game, but for the most part it’s a low-key narrative experience that coalesces into a full, satisfying story by the end of the game.
So what’s the deal? For one thing, a lot of gamers seem to resent the fact that Gone Home is more a delivery device for a story than it is a traditional game. Since it doesn’t have obstacles for you to overcome, detractors often refer to it as a “walking simulator.”
Another reason a small subset of gamers complains about Gone Home requires a spoiler, so if you don’t want to know anything about it, skip the rest of this paragraph. Toward the end of the game, you learn that your character’s younger sister and her female friend fell in love and ran off together. Some commenters consider the same-sex relationship to be an illustration of developers inserting unwelcome progressive ideas into games. Apparently, they think games are supposed to offer nothing but power fantasies for adolescent boys.
There’s also a thread of complaints about this game wasting its potential. It takes place on a stormy night in an empty house, which would be a perfect setting for a horror game. And there is a creeping sense of dread as you try to figure out why your family isn’t there.
Other people’s complaints are based on a value judgement: They think a two-hour experience shouldn’t cost $20. To each their own.
Personally, I loved Gone Home. I found it to be a deeply touching narrative, and one of the best stories I’ve experienced in any game I’ve played. The lack of obstacles didn’t bother me. I finished the game feeling like I’d just read a satisfying book or watched a memorable movie.
Gone Home is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. If it sounds like something you might enjoy, check it out for yourself. Just try not to get too angry about it in your user review.