The lights are on
Gone Home is not a horror game, but it does a good job of building an atmosphere of tension and unfamiliarity. These elements make sense, since you’re exploring a large, ominous mansion (which you know nothing about) while a storm rages outside. The environment got the best of me a number of different times while playing Gone Home, but the most anxious I felt was right at the end when approaching the attic.
Warning: this article contains major spoilers for Gone Home.
Gone Home puts players in control of Sarah, but her sister Sam takes on the lead role by being the focus of the many notes Sarah finds throughout the mansion. This makes players privy to private moments from Sam’s life, especially her relationship with a woman named Lonnie. These clues paint a picture of Sam as a high school student in the ‘90s coming to terms with her sexuality and dealing with the social stigmas of the time.
Gone Home hints toward a tragic ending at several points throughout the game. A storm is traditional foreshadowing found in literature to signal a bad forthcoming event. Additionally, there are two moments where Sam writes in her diary to Katie that hints that things will not turn out well. In their last 48 hours together, she says that she can’t live without Lonnie. And in the next entry, Lonnie tells Sam life will eventually move on, but Sam says she doesn’t want her life to keep moving without her. The two cry and fall asleep together, but when Sam wakes up, Lonnie is gone, having departed for basic training.
Near the end, after Lonnie leaves, Sam, sounding depressed and weary, says in one of her diary logs that she’s going to go up into the attic to rest. This line instantly conjured up a memory of The Children’s Hour – a movie released in 1961 based on a 1934 stage play starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner. The movie ends with a LGBTQ character stating she wants to go to sleep. When another character checks on her, we learn that she has taken her own life. It’s an incredibly emotional scene, and I was afraid that Gone Home was going to parallel this moment.
I crept up the attic stairs as slowly as possible, frightened of what I was going to find once I got there. I gradually rounded corners, not sure I wanted to see what was coming next, but Gone Home surprised me. Instead of ending with a heartbreaking loss, we learn in a final diary from Sam that Lonnie couldn’t go through with joining the military, and she and Sam ran away together. The payoff is huge, and a big twist considering that the signs were pointing to tragedy.
I’m glad Gone Home didn’t add to that particular trend, which is common in LGBTQ fiction. Either ending would have been powerful and emotionally impactful, but it would have taken away too much from its themes of young love and Sam’s coming-of-age.
Email the author Isaac Federspiel, or follow on Game Informer.