Is a game a game when it has no gameplay? 

That question stayed in my mind while playing Gone Home, an indie PC title. You play as a twentysomething woman named Katie who comes home after a trip to Europe. She finds the house deserted and her family missing. 

The player navigates the house, exploring different rooms and examining notes to figure out what's happened to her family. There are a few very basic puzzles. Other than that, the game is walking and pointing and clicking. Nothing else. 

The plot and characterization in Gone Home are brilliant, but that doesn't answer the game question. Is this thing even a game? 

The developer thinks otherwise. Its website calls Gone Home "an interactive exploration simulator." Gamers agree, too. I remember reading one snarky commenter poo-pooing the game, saying, "I like my games to have gameplay."

But then look at the game's reception. It gets reviewed in gaming press, by gaming journalists, on gaming magazines. It was Polygon's Game of the Year. 

Look at how it's distributed. It sells on Steam. It lists minimum specs. It has save files and custom controls and everything we expect from games. It sure looks and acts like a game. 

I would have to side with calling Gone Home a game. You wander the house in an undirected environment and try to puzzle together the plot. It's non-linear and requires critical thinking to uncover every element of the story. It takes some small amount of skill to operate, even if that skill is less than other games. 

Gone Home is one of those rare gems that subordinates the gameplay to the plot with no exceptions. The protagonist Katie doesn't get guns or any kind of weapons. There are no contrived reasons for "gamey" additions. 

She walks. She explores. She learns. 

This makes Gone Home the best kind of game, in my opinion. It's one that prizes story above all. It abandons every artificial trapping of gaminess to tell the tale of a family trying to figure itself out. The gameplay becomes a vessel for the plot instead of vice versa. 

Gone Home fascinates me. I could write endlessly about this game, but I'll limit myself to considering whether it's a game in this blog.

It is a game. A strange, barren sort of game that still qualifies as a video game. 

Has anybody else played Gone Home? Do you think it counts as a "game"?

(image credits)