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  1. #1
    Moderator QuantaCat's Avatar
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    [s.EXE] Gone Home

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014...exe-gone-home/

    and here for users that arent paying premium:

    Quentin Tarantino has a monologue about Top Gun in the little-known Hollywood metamovie Sleep With Me. In it, Tarantino discusses in his typical teenage terminology how Top Gun, as well as being a romantic Cold War macho-off, is a film about the main character coming to terms with his own homosexuality. Tarantino names this subtextual narrative ‘fucking great’ and ‘subversive’. But it would probably have been much more subversive had it actually been text and not subtext. In game terms, that narrative probably would have been The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home. Yeah I said it. Gone Home is a more explicit Top Gun.

    GONE HOME SPOILERS FROM HERE ON~

    Well, that’s a bit of an extraordinary claim. You can forgive me for wanting to bust through the door drunk, nudge a bystander and declare ‘YOU KNOW, GONE HOME IS THE TOP GUN OF VIDEO GAMES’, and then proceed to grandstand and pontificate about the State Of The Industry, because, well, what douchey game critic wouldn’t want to do that? What game critic wouldn’t want to slur their opinions whilst connecting two pop culture icons to each other, understanding that tomorrow this won’t all make sense? It’s the joy of our gif-patched world, our Youtube-collaged, multicoloured, icon-studded existence to compare one medium’s icon to another to see what shows up in the kaleidoscope.

    Gone Home has more subtlety than Top Gun, and no smirking Val Kilmer, just a smirking family portrait. And no one talks about riding anyone’s tail (or even being anyone’s wingman). Maybe you could get DLC Tim Robbins. But the largely ultra-conservative big budget first person game genre is comparable to the ultra-conservative big budget action movie genre. They both love gun violence, the spatter of blood across a carefully-textured wall, the big gestures, the shouts and gesticulating and loud noises. And I love all those goddamn things. I love Top Gun with a sweaty up-all-night passion.

    I feel the need. The need for TEEN GIRL MAKEOUTS

    But The Fullbright Company, a company whose co-founders possess the old school AAA machine-gun pedigree, removed those guns and put in a narrative that is explicitly about self-acceptance and self-discovery. Gone Home is about inner lives. It is about coming to terms with your own role, and your role in other people’s happiness. It is about belonging, just like Top Gun is in a sort of schlocky, silly way. Both are about coming to terms with who you are, and who you love, only Gone Home thought that trying to tie that around shooty-bang might be less interesting than realising the profundity of suburban lives.

    Gone Home felt like a game bigger than me. The room was crowded with other critics who were sitting around pontificating whether a queer girl’s coming-of-age story was the thing that was being praised because it hadn’t been approached in this way by a game before. Ian Bogost complained that he was not impressed enough by the underwritten ‘young adult’ narrative, citing Woolf’s Orlando as the bar, and Merritt Kopas, whom I interviewed earlier in this series, said that a story about queer girls in love in video games, in this manner, was notable because it was exceptional.

    This is all true. There are ways in which Gone Home’s narrative is simplistic, not literary enough: the leaving of notes around the house is gaudily contrived (just like the audio logs in Bioshock) and the house feels hollow and empty in ways that after re-examination can feel jarringly spartan. On Twitter we used to joke about the sheer number of 3-ring binders in the house, and whether the Greenbriar family had a penchant for filing.

    Having spoken to the developers several times throughout the development process I know the reasons for this, but that doesn’t change the criticisms. It’s a game that has suffered not from the lack of vision on the developers’ part, but from the actual spartan landscape of storytelling in 3D games currently – it’s hard to make a game that traverses unexplored territory. When you set out, no one believes you can do it, and there’s no proof that it can be done, and consequently, there’s no budget for explorers who don’t even know if they’re coming back. Making any game these days is hard: making one that comes out on time and on budget is even harder. For Fullbright they left big budget games with some savings in a pocket and kicked that gamedevmobile into overdrive so they could survive another day. But you try to do all that without compromising your creative vision, and I think they succeeded. They did well enough. They made something actually new. I think they made what they set out to make and I admire it.

    Now that I have some distance on the game, I can reappraise it. I still find it wonderful and surprising. The game not only brought me gently in to explore familiar teenage territory, but it also ended up saying something to me about the state of games, the state of where and who we are. It examines belonging and the relationships between women with the most subtle of tricks.

    Want your high love and emotion

    —-

    I never liked other girls, growing up. I was a misogynist. We all were.

    The girls were the cruelest. Where boys would do something as simple as call you ugly, unfuckable or just threaten physical violence, the girls could enact sustained, planned psychological warfare on you. This was longer and more agonising. Where boys had short attention spans and would forget any beef with you the next day, girlfeuds would never end in apology and would never melt away. Girls would whisper spitefully to each other when they knew you were looking. They would steal homework from your bag and copy your best ideas, so it looked like you had plagiarised it from them, and you would be punished for it.

    They would grab your most prized possession and file it down in technical class and put it neatly back in your bag. They would choose fine details of your face and personality to deconstruct and make nicknames up for you comprised of these painful details you knew were ugly. They would deliberately make it known that you were not invited to things. They would point out that you had never been kissed and never would be. They would tell you that you would die a virgin. They would tell you that they are glad that you have no boyfriend and the reason that you have no boyfriend is that no one wants you, and no one ever will.

    This is when the boys would join in, dumbly copying, not yet socially smart enough to think of insults that were half as incisive, laceratingly hurtful. It was like being in a Saw movie, but the torture traps were made of passed notes, whispers, ugly half-caught thoughts from across-room stares, watching the cold hatred of someone you had never so much as wished ill towards brutally batter your inner self until you lay in bed every night with a wet face under the latest Pratchett novel. You were unaware that you could be admired, wanted, or loved by other women.

    One girl picked up my notebook once, looked at a story I was writing (I think I was reading Anne Rice at the time so it was probably long, flowery sentences about aloof men I was yet to meet and fall in love with) and she scored it all out and wrote ‘GROSS’ on it, whereby another psychological terrorism campaign was probably launched. It took me eight years of constant secret writing after that to show anyone what I’d written ever again. I still write long, flowery sentences about men, only now people seek me out and pay me for the privilege of publishing them. If no one had ever acted this way towards me, I would have published stories at seventeen. If I’d had an ounce of confidence left by the time I left school, I’d have at least shown an adult something I had written.

    All of these psychological tortures are tortures that society itself still enacts upon women as fully grown adults. The bullies become everyone – advertising, randos on the internet, and media especially – apart from the people who can see the Matrix, those who sometimes deign to make a kind effort to pull you out of it and show you the code. Once upon a time it was probably put in place by an accidental patriarchy, but now this machine just rumbles on by itself, and women as well as men enforce the idea that a woman’s appearance is fair game to constantly police, that her sexual status is incredibly important (Mrs vs Miss until Ms) to speculate on and ridicule her about, to use it to undermine her ability to be thought a professional at any stage. Some women are still trapped in the high school maliciousness of competition, so much so that they might always hate those women who are content with themselves.

    I never liked girls growing up. I had a little brother and no sisters, my brother was my best friend, and the girls at school treated me with contempt. I wanted to be a boy, because everyone admired boys, and everyone let them do what they liked. I had to learn to inhabit my body and like it. I had to learn to forgive women. I had to learn to forgive myself for being born a woman.

    —–

    Gone Home opens with a girl’s voice. You quickly come to understand that you are inhabiting Katie Greenbriar’s body, and from the note on the front door, you are home and your sister is missing.

    You find the key and open the door, and as you start to rumble about the house, mouse-clicking to pick up things and investigate them to find out where everyone has gone, it becomes apparent to you that you are ‘putting back’ the objects you are looking at.

    The ‘put back’ option in Gone Home is a function The Fullbright Company told me that they implemented, because early players said that they felt wrong dropping objects on the floor in the house. They said they wanted to put objects back where they found them.

    Why? Because this is Katie’s own house. She is not an impostor. She is not an investigator. She belongs here. It’s her house.

    Katie belongs in the house. She would put back the objects that she had picked up.

    When I said before that Gone Home is about belonging, it is about belonging in many ways. In a way Sam belongs to the house, which is why you are searching for her. The objects in the house belong to the house, so you put them back. Katie belongs to the house, so she Goes Home.

    Just hold on, we're goin' home



    I never had a sister, and there never was a feeling, when I was a teenager, that any other girl could have moved me or made me sympathetic towards them. Girls didn’t like games, and I liked games. Therefore I was not like other girls. I was a better sort of girl. I was special to the nerd boys. I liked cool stuff. I liked Street Fighter II and I could beat everyone with Chun Li and boys whooped and cheered when I did it. They admired me. That’s who I was. That was my identity.

    But Katie and Sam in Gone Home like each other. They are young women who like each other. Katie sends a silly postcard from Paris home; it is warm, funny.

    Slowly you understand that Sam is falling in love with a girl called Lonnie. She talks about the intimacy of having another woman touch her hair when she is dying it. She writes about her uncertainties that Lonnie feels the same way as her. It is obvious, by the end of the game, that Sam is deeply in love with Lonnie, and that Lonnie returns her feelings.

    And the thing about the young women that inhabit this house: they are just like I used to be, only they aren’t alone. There’s a whole essay Sam wrote about periods, the ovulation process, that is just an elaborate troll, a deliberate attempt to mess with the dry tone of science essays. Sam talks about going to see Pulp Fiction, the family has VHS tapes full of cult movies I used to watch. Sam talks about these things with Lonnie.

    The characters go to see girl bands, the sort I never knew existed. Riot Grrl music populates the house in tape form: you put a tape into the tape player and Heavens To Betsy drifts through the house, glances off 3-ring binders.

    Women’s voices are the only voices you hear in the Gone Home house. Isn’t that unusual? I mean yes, for a video game. But when is the last time you watched a film or saw a TV show where the only voices in it are women’s?

    When I was growing up I never knew women could be in punk rock bands. I thought women were uncool. And I didn’t know about ‘sisterhood’. I disliked other girls. I didn’t trust them. But the Gone Home house feels safe. A space that exists in which women love and appreciate each other.

    Sam trusts Katie. Notes are left to that effect all through the house. Sam likes Katie and is in love with Lonnie.

    When it came to the end and Sam makes the decision to elope with Lonnie I felt relief and sadness. I cried a little, but it wasn’t because they were in love. It was because Sam knew who she was, and she was happy about it. Sam loves women, and teenage me did not. Sam never gave herself a reason to hate herself, and she never gave herself a reason to hate other women either.

    In the Gone Home house, the only evidence of ‘patriarchy’ existing is in her stories about Allegra she leaves around the house, and the calls from the boy next door-type threatening to come over.

    In a way this is the fantasy house I always wanted to inhabit. The Gone Home house is a place where it’s okay, maybe even normal, even cool, to be a girl.

    Ian Bogost notices that this is written like a ‘young adult’ novel. But this is an almost utopian vision of sisterhood: this an adult vision of what teenage girldom was like in the 90s. It is still high fantasy, there are just less elves.

    Gone Home offers me a girlhood I never had, and it recognises I am an adult woman who needs that fantasy too.



    Is it possible that the Greenbriar’s house is just a museum of girlhood? Objects in the house demonstrate ways that girls are funny, silly, interesting. It displays a version of girlhood that people conveniently ignore because it is assumed it isn’t interesting. I walk through the Greenbriar house and I know that a version of the film Stand By Me would be possible with just girls.

    I don’t think I’d ever seen a bottle of nail polish in a video game until Gone Home. I stared at it for a good five minutes when I saw it, wondering about all the open world environments I’d traversed, all the fancy worlds, all the adventure games I’d played where the elements of being a woman were strangely absent in the environment. I had the same experience looking at a discarded bra on the floor of a woman’s bedroom in Dishonored. I looked at that discarded bra shocked, and thought, yes. I’d leave my bra on the floor if I lived in this room. Someone who has seen this happen before made this game.

    It is almost as if women are not invisible. They might be leaving a trail of their existence.



    It’s strange because games were such boys’ territory, and because it seemed like it was boys’ territory I had to pretend to be one of the boys. Or to be the girl the boys thought I should be. I always had to try and ‘prove’ myself to them by listing my pedigree. ‘What was your first game’ or ‘what is your favourite game’ or ‘what is your top five’. It wasn’t until Tomb Raider that I started to understand: you are not a boy and you never can be treated like a boy.

    Perhaps women can be characters in games. Perhaps they can be the only characters in some games.



    I chose to do a module in my degree called 20th Century Feminist Fictions. I chose it primarily because I was on an English Literature major and this module included film: Thelma and Louise, and the Alien Quadrilogy. I was always the first person to try and find a shortcut at university. I liked getting drunk and playing video games with my male friends more than studying. Getting away with watching a film instead of reading more books or poetry seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with feminism (I liked Medieval Total War and pints. PINTS.) but if these great movies were feminism, well, I’d coast along with their weird ‘agenda’ just to watch them.

    I left that module having read bell hooks and Adrienne Rich and Margaret Atwood. I watched a lot of Ridley Scott films. By the time I left that module, I liked women. I had argued constructively, amiably with other women. I had made friends with them. I wanted to be around women. I sought out more women. I understood why I hated myself. I understood why men acted the way they did towards me and I forgave them. I understood everything better. I was ready to have the relationship Katie and Sam have. I was ready to have sisters.

    I finally felt like I belonged.

    I was ready to be Top. Gun.

    —-

    Sometimes I think of games as a space where I want to exist. Sometimes that space is hostile to you: Sometimes that space is the Call of Duty battlefield, sometimes that space is Super Hexagon’s eternal spinning shapes waiting to trap your cursor. Sometimes they’re the narrow corridors of the murky, suffocating, malicious Teleglitch.

    Sometimes though, games are a space where you just… belong. Just hold on, we’re going home.
    - Tom De Roeck.

    verse publications & The Shopkeeper, an interactive short.

    "Quantacat's name is still recognised even if he watches on with detached eyes like Peter Molyneux over a cube in 3D space, staring at it with tears in his eyes, softly whispering... Someday they'll get it."

  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Grizzly's Avatar
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    and here for users that arent paying premium:
    Two notes:
    Comments are open!
    It's available to all?

  3. #3
    Lesser Hivemind Node Juan Carlo's Avatar
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    I think S.EXE, taken as a whole, is going to end up being a defining piece of games criticism in this era. So I think it's a shame that RPS closes and hides comments on half of them. It might be fascinating in 5 or 10 years, for example, after the whole series is published as a book to go back and see how individual pieces were received and the sorts of discussions they generated, good or bad. Some of the negative comments are annoying, but I nonetheless think they have value as a barometer of our current culture and times. But constantly closing and hiding the comments robs us of that bit of historical context.

    I don't have any problem with shutting down trolling and name calling, but beyond that, I personally wouldn't intervene in discussions, mostly for archival purposes. Like I said, I think these discussions, good or bad, have some cultural/historical value to them.

    But, it's also not my website. So, RPS can do what it wants, obviously.

    Plus, I tend to get to S.EXE articles late after the comments have already been closed/hidden, so maybe I'm just missing the really terrible stuff.
    Last edited by Juan Carlo; 27-09-2014 at 01:18 AM.

  4. #4
    Moderator QuantaCat's Avatar
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    Comments are open, and its obviously not a premium article. I r maek a funnay. Still though, discuss.
    - Tom De Roeck.

    verse publications & The Shopkeeper, an interactive short.

    "Quantacat's name is still recognised even if he watches on with detached eyes like Peter Molyneux over a cube in 3D space, staring at it with tears in his eyes, softly whispering... Someday they'll get it."

  5. #5
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    OK, I use this thread to brag about how ingame execution of Gone Home plot was one of the most boring thing I've ever played.

    Writing and audiologs voice acting were good, but they are things that are very disconnected from game's "right now".
    Have you ever had these days when you're home alone and your only contact with other people was few words you're always saying to grocery store clerk? It can be little underwhelming and bring some boredom no matter how good book or movie or game you have to have fun with. Now imagine that, but your only form of entertainment is wandering through house and looking at items. Ugh.

    Gone Home was exactly like that for me, but condensed into ~2 hours.
    It would be much better game if it had some other people in the house. Some life. Parents returning at some point. Would you ask your mother why she have an affair or just stay silent? Hell, it could even turn into little Thief. With parents at home you couldn't just go into their room and start searching. They could eventually go out to call the police or something (remember, phone lines are broken so they can't just make a call) so you could spy again a little.

    12 Angry Men wouldn't be as good if it was about one guy sitting in the room, reading police raports (Sam's diaries) and thinking if that kid really commited crime.

  6. #6
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    Er... Isn't the first paragraph a major spoiler then? I haven't played it yet, so I wouldn't know.

  7. #7
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    Sort of.

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  8. #8
    Network Hub Donjo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BillButNotBen View Post
    Er... Isn't the first paragraph a major spoiler then? I haven't played it yet, so I wouldn't know.
    This paragraph?

    "Quentin Tarantino has a monologue about Top Gun in the little-known Hollywood metamovie Sleep With Me. In it, Tarantino discusses in his typical teenage terminology how Top Gun, as well as being a romantic Cold War macho-off, is a film about the main character coming to terms with his own homosexuality. Tarantino names this subtextual narrative ‘fucking great’ and ‘subversive’. But it would probably have been much more subversive had it actually been text and not subtext. In game terms, that narrative probably would have been The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home. Yeah I said it. Gone Home is a more explicit Top Gun."


    I don't see any spoilers....

  9. #9
    Sam being a lesbian is no more a 'reveal' than Isaac from Dead Space being a straight dude, so, nope, no spoiler.

  10. #10
    Network Hub Donjo's Avatar
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    Ah ok... yeah, that's not really a spoiler, it becomes pretty obvious quite early in the game. The narrative isn't really about reveals or surprises, more an exploration of space and relationships.

  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus soldant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juan Carlo View Post
    I think S.EXE, taken as a whole, is going to end up being a defining piece of games criticism in this era.
    I might have agreed with you early on, but lately S.EXE is more of a personal blog than games criticism, and it isn't saying very much that we don't already know.


    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    OK, I use this thread to brag about how ingame execution of Gone Home plot was one of the most boring thing I've ever played.
    This is the thing that I hate the most about Gone Home. I don't particularly like the main plot (it's very soap opera-ish with its writing) but its delivery is borderline ham-fisted. It's almost hilarious how it forms a neat paper trail to the final plot point - a point we could see coming from the start. If it wasn't a teenage lesbian love drama, it probably wouldn't have gotten so much attention.

    But that the story is largely pedestrian is irrelevant to the reason why I hate the delivery the most. The part that confuses the hell out of me is that they successfully inserted a subtle, far more interesting story into the game. The lives of the other family members, particularly the relationship between the father and his uncle, was excellent. Digging through the debris of daily 1990s life was well executed, and they managed to embed a few plot points in there without resorting to disembodied voice audio logs. If they managed to do that, then they probably could have thought out their main story a bit better. The breadcrumb trail adds an artificial progression that doesn't make much sense - it's like Sam deliberately set up a stupid easter egg hunt before she leaves.
    Nalano's Law - As an online gaming discussion regarding restrictions grows longer, the probability of a post likening the topic to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea approaches one.
    Soldant's Law - A person will happily suspend their moral values if they can express moral outrage by doing so.

  12. #12
    You focus on the part you liked the least (the Sam plot), then assume that's the only thing everyone else liked. Why assume you're the only one who noticed or enjoyed the part of the game that was putting together the pieces about all the family members' lives? Without that, the game wouldn't have been nearly as good, and without Sam's story (which you are careful to point out is 'lesbian,' even though that has no bearing on the progression of the game), there wouldn't have been any narrative framing to justify wandering around the house poking into things. Sam's story was more bittersweet because of the context of her family's stories, and vice versa. It was clearly never meant to be some baffling mystery.

  13. #13
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    I'm a little from column A, a little from column B, really. It was an awkwardly designed game which never really managed to dodge its lack of budget and the difficulty of marrying playing through a linear narrative to a more conventional gaming structure. Far too much of the art was mediocre or deeply unmemorable, there wasn't really any sense the map was anything more than "LOOK I HAEV BILT MI HOWSE IN HALFLIEF TOO", and yeah, the "game" part was pretty much a poorly-concealed breadcrumb trail. It was patently obvious that oh, this is boring filler, this is another clue. And if it wasn't for the dearth of stories in videogames featuring regular folks working through regular problems (not necessarily homosexuality and domestic /marital difficulties, but anything other than saving the world), it certainly wouldn't be worth OH MY GOD GAME OF THE YEAR WHO ORDERED A REVOLUTION.

    On the other hand, if you think it had bad writing, you've either got pretty poor taste in storytelling, IMO, or not much of a clue what qualifies something as bad writing, technically speaking. Perhaps both. It was hardly the best writing I've ever seen but it was a decent piece of work all the same - intelligent, thoughtful, very heartfelt and convincing enough for me. (Technically it was miles better than To The Moon, which has a lot of terrible, terrible writing no-one ever seems to pick up on - it is a good story, but it's not very well written.) The family felt like different, separate characters, each with their own voice, their own perspective on what was going on, they all felt like real people and I cared about them enough I wanted a happy ending, or some measure of closure, and as I said on the front page I was pretty much paralysed with fear going up the steps at the end.

    Not to mention, as I saw on Twitter after the game came out, if you think the ending's too sugary you're arguably not paying attention - two girls that age running away from home with hardly any money, no qualifications, no possessions to speak of etc., etc.? One of them Latino, too? They're fucked, realistically.
    Last edited by Eight Rooks; 28-09-2014 at 04:56 PM.

  14. #14
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    But Sam's audiologs are huge part of this game and most visible thing from all.

    You can't just say "but that's here only to make contrast to some obscure stuff in background!". If 3/4 of your work is just barely necessary boring smokescreen then you're probably doing it wrong.
    And as I said - I don't have problems with story but only how it's delivered to player. Mostly using storytelling devices that were interesting maybe when System Shock was around, which was like 15 years ago.

    The biggest problem is that Gone Home is constructed in a way that limits its own storytelling devices to notes/audiologs, photos and clues from environment which leads you into some sort of middle ground between visual novel (BTW, most of visual novels have more life than GH) and walking simulator.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    But Sam's audiologs are huge part of this game and most visible thing from all.

    You can't just say "but that's here only to make contrast to some obscure stuff in background!". If 3/4 of your work is just barely necessary boring smokescreen then you're probably doing it wrong.
    And as I said - I don't have problems with story but only how it's delivered to player. Mostly using storytelling devices that were interesting maybe when System Shock was around, which was like 15 years ago.
    Not sure you get what I'm saying. I don't mind audiologs, but I wouldn't call the way Gone Home delivers its story innovative or especially exciting or anything like that. I said it was clearly struggling to mix being a game and a story and I'd agree using audiologs is one of the most obvious ways that's true. All of those audiologs, the bits of text you find, they're all well written, though. It is technically a pretty good use of the English language and in terms of character development, pacing, realism, not just pandering to the audience...

    The biggest problem is that Gone Home is constructed in a way that limits its own storytelling devices to notes/audiologs, photos and clues from environment which leads you into some sort of middle ground between visual novel (BTW, most of visual novels have more life than GH) and walking simulator.
    Ha! Ha, ha, ha! No.

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    The only criticism I had for Gone Home once I finished playing it was:

    What? That's all? I only took 2 hours to finish it.

    However, after some thought, I felt that it was worth the $5 USD to me. It gave me a good story, a good place to explore and peek into 1980s culture and lifestyle and the best part of all, the characters, although I never met them, not even in the game, were real and believable to me. I could empathise with them all. I finished the game with slightly teary eyes.
    To me, Gone Home is a modern literature video game. It packed literature worth a novel and executed it beautifully into a game, condensed into a 2 hour experience.

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