find no one home. Over the course of the night, you explore your new house, full of things you remember, and try to piece together how your family has changed in the year you’ve been gone.
That’s the plot of a new PC game from the Fullbright Company, and what I’m going to hijack my music blog about right now. Because there are many things Gone Home does wonderfully, and music is most definitely one of them.
Let me first say that if you have any, and I mean any, interest in playing this game, you should probably turn off the internet and go do it. It’s a 2 hour (or so) experience and well worth your money and time. I don’t think what I’m discussing ruins the game, but honestly going in cold was a godsend.
The story you learn the most about in this game is your 17 year old sister Samantha. Through reading letters, school report cards and summer college program acceptance letters you get a sense of her and what she cares about. But then, you find your first cassette tape. Put it in the player. And then you hear Bratmobile, and later, Heavens To Betsy. Two of the early “Riot Grrrl” bands. You learn more about your sister through the artifacts she left behind- ‘zines and set lists and plans to steal away to the city to catch punk shows.
The only thing I have in common with any of that is that I was 20 years old in 1995 and vaguely knew of Heavens to Betsy. The lead singer, Corin Tucker, later formed Sleater-Kinney. I’m not going to pretend I knew that before I read this post on Fullbright’s website though. My “Riot Grrrl” experience is that I thought L7 was alright. Is that enough? Probably not.
But what the music did for me in this game is set it in a place I can understand. A time I remember quite well. A time where VHS tapes of movies recorded on HBO are in your cabinet. Of when you checked your answering machine. Of when you still had tapes because they were easy to record and nobody had a CD player in their car. A time when nobody had a cell phone, so when you arrive late at night there’s no way of calling to find out where everybody is.
There’s a moment in the game when you pick up the cassette case of a copy of Heavens To Betsy’s “Calculated” album. Fullbright modeled the case so that when you spin it, it flops open and folds over onto itself. I was filled with delight watching that. That kind of detail should tell you what you need to know about the care that went into telling a story like this.
Licensed music isn’t the only thing playing in Gone Home. An excellent original score by Chris Remo surrounds the more dramatic moments of the game. I believe they will release this separately and I can see it being an excellent ambient playlist if you are into that sort of thing.
So go play it if you have the means. Its quality is getting noticed by places like the New York Times which is a pretty good accomplishment for four people in Portland, Oregon who decided to make a game that does not feature a single headshot or running back. I thoroughly enjoy shooting virtual people, but I am so glad that this sort of game exists. In the tradition of every video game website ever, I’m going to give it a score.