Pushing the Boundaries of a Medium

The definition of a video game is a subjective term just like any other creative medium. What defines a game, compared to a movie? A book? Art? Though definitions may vary of what constitutes a video game, there are certain elements that define a video game rather than any other medium. What largely sets any game off from other mediums is interactivity. There are other elements that are subjective depending on the game like goals, enjoyment, and player motivation.

In this analysis, I was required to look at games that question whether they are games or not. I decided to dust off a game that has been sitting in my Steam library since the summer sale of 2014: “Gone Home.” I had seen mixed reviews about it; some calling it just a walking simulator, short, and disappointing. Others were praising this game, and its artistic value. Looking at the Steam Store page, the game has mixed reviews from players in the community. “Gone Home” has been heralded with accolades, nominations, and positive reviews as an indie game from numerous sources like Entertainment Weekly, IGN, The New York Times and BAFTA.

I’ve always been interested in more indie type of games since they can be artistic and the potential to challenge and explore the medium. “Gone Home” seemed to have all the things that appeal to me: mystery, “BioShock” series veterans (one of my favorite series), good art, atmosphere and exploration, and tons of references to the 90’s like riot grrrl music, “The X-Files,” and one of my favorites “Twin Peaks.” Seeing that the game was on sale super cheap then, I decided to purchase it. I’ve been wanting to play it for a long time, but never got around it to it (school, work, finishing at least three different Netflix shows, and playing the MGS series took up my time), but for this assignment it gave me the perfect excuse to finally play.

“Gone Home” is an explorative narrative journey following the female protagonist Kaitlin Greenbriar on June 7, 1995. After a year abroad, Kaitlin returns to her Portland, Oregon home expecting to see her family but the house is empty. You, as Kaitlin, explore the Greenbriar home, examining objects to piece together the story. The player figures out who these people are based on what they’ve left behind.  The game’s site cites it as a “story exploration game.”

The family portrait in the foyer hallway.

“Gone Home” is an independent game developed by The Fullbright Company and released in 2013. There is no combat and there are no puzzles. The game technically doesn’t have a set “goal,” in a direct sense, the goal is to essentially explore and piece together what has happened. In a way, this makes the game a whole puzzle since we must find clues. The clues, in turn, could be viewed as little goals or items to collect in order to complete the game. Though these elements are not clearly defined, but rather inferred, the game does apply to the definitions of a game.

Personally, I generally play games as a completionist when I can. I like to explore everything and do everything as much as possible. With a game like this, I fully explored the house. Since I had to piece together the story, knowing as much as possible is beneficial. It was fun to explore the house and what kind of people they were. I loved seeing all the references to the 90s, especially from a teenaged girl’s perspective. At the start of the game, I was curious after reading a note that said that I shouldn’t investigate where everyone was from my sister. As I moved along throughout the house, I wanted to

The letter taped to our front door at the beginning of the game.

know more and more about who these people were.

There are goals, interactivity and player motivation which are key aspects to playing a video game. Picking up any object and looking at it from all angles in interactive. I can go to any room, look at anything and decide what and what not to do which all interactive. I can choose to move forward or backwards, just like you can in any game regardless of genre. The player interacts with environment.There were the classic staples of a map, journal and inventory in the game that the user could look at it. Sometimes when I would look at things and it would trigger a diary reading. These reading’s provided insight into the story. The open-ended plot provides the player with a motivation to play and figure out the story. The challenges that criticize this game as not being a game lie in the fact that nothing is bluntly stated. The lack of combat and puzzles can easily allow people to categorize this as a walking simulator, but the degree of interactivity allow the user to explore a narrative from a first-person perspective ultimately deciding what this character, and the player, to know about the story.

On Google, people who search for “Gone Home” look at “Dear Esther,” “Life is Strange,” “Firewatch” and “The Stanley Parable.” All of these games are considered to push the boundary of a game and the medium of video games. “Dear Esther” shares similarities to the criticisms of “Gone Home:” a walking simulator in which the player looks at stuff, listens and hopefully solves the mystery of the story. Unlike “Dear Esther,” “Gone Home” features interactivity which makes it more of a game. Since the player has to look at things in order to piece together the clues of the plot’s puzzle this is more interactive and goal-oriented rather than just experiencing the environment like “Dear Esther.” “Life is Strange,” an episodic game that I’m currently playing, is very interactive and I know that “The Stanley Parable” pushes the boundaries on rules in games in a unique way. “Firewatch,” from what I have heard, pushes the boundaries of a game. “

Gone Home” is up on this list with these creative games because it pushes what the medium of video games can do. The immediate picture people get in their heads about video games is generally Mario or other Nintendo games or FPS like the Call of Duty series or Modern Warfare. Video games don’t always have to be so straightforward just like any other medium. Creators will always challenge the confines and definitions of a medium.  Movies, music, art and even games will continue to challenge what is that medium and the ways we can express and create through them.




1 Comment

  1. This was a great post and I agree 100%. As the medium grows up and evolves, games will find new and creative ways to push the boundaries of what a video games can be. Gone Home was great, and I recently finished payed Everybody’s Gone to Rapture which was also brilliant. I welcome these games that strive to stretch the definition of what gaming can and should be. 😀


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