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Thread: It's Valentine's, So Go Home

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    It's Valentine's, So Go Home

    We're nearing Valentine's Day. That always puts me in the mood to replay one of my all-time favorite games (I'd say it's my second favorite of all-time all in all): Gone Home, so I did so again last night. If you're like me and you really take your time playing through to really soak in all the details, it'll take you probably four or five hours to complete, so I did so overnight, which I've found to be the most ambient setting in which to play this particular title, being as it takes place at night.

    I've mentioned Gone Home a number of times over the years, so maybe by now you're wondering what's so special about it to me? (You're probably not wondering that at all, but this thread is predicated on the notion that you are, so just roll with it.) Well let's set up the basics for you:

    The false set-up

    You play as a 21-year-old young woman named Katie Greenbriar who is returning home from spending a year vacationing in Europe. In the interim, her parents have moved into a large new house in Oregon's fictional Boon County. Arriving at the new house in the wee hours of the morning on a dark and stormy night in June of 1995, you find a note on the door from your younger sister, Samantha, warning you against searching the house for her. It all leads one inevitably to the conclusion that what one will be experiencing is a relatively conventional survival-horror type game built on a modified (modified in the sense that you play as a female character) damsel-in-distress scenario. The first time I played, that was my supposition reading the note on the door. I rolled my eyes that first time I read that note, honestly, and then unlocked the door and went inside to discover something much, much different from what I expected.

    To spoil the crux of it for you, there is no danger in Gone Home whatsoever. I started to figure that out about 20 minutes into my first playthrough. There are no enemies to combat, no puzzles to solve, no platforms to jump, no (traditional) collectibles to amass, none of that. This is a very unconventional, straightforward game that's designed to be about as realistic and life-like as possible. And it's a very earnest game. One gets that sense very quickly. It consists of the player, as Katie, searching the house for Sam and discovering some of the backstory of each of the Greenbriars through notes, letters, pictures, and other context clues in the process in order to try and locate her, which collectively tell of what life in the new community has been like for dad (Terrance, or Terry for short), mom (Janice), and Sam, as well as the postcards that Katie mailed on her European trip that help bring out some of the player character's personality. Although Sam's backstory, which revolves around her falling in love with a girl named Yolanda DeSoto (or Lonnie for short) who attends her high school forms the heart of the game's story (I did say this was a title appropriate for Valentine's, did I not?), all of the interwoven backstories are just so wonderfully human and believable that I think it worth describing the basics of what each entails for you so you can maybe more fully understand why I love this game so much.

    Terry's (a.k.a. dad's) backstory

    Terry is a failed author who makes a living reviewing home electronics. Early on in the game, the player learns that he inherited this house from his uncle, Oscar Masan. As you play through the game, if you investigate the details carefully, you'll discover that Oscar had molested Terry on Thanksgiving Day of 1963, which reveals to the player the significance of the fact that Terry's fiction novels, written in the 1970s, revolved around the JFK assassination, as the two events occurred within the same week. Writing fictional accounts about the JFK assassination had for a long time been Terry's metaphorical way of processing his feelings about that experience. That the corresponding book series failed commercially, in turn, serves as a metaphor for how the world tends to receive survivors of sexual abuse.

    A sincerely repentant Oscar gifted his home to Terry in his will as part of a larger, desperate bid to compensate for the wrong he had done before. (As a larger part of that repentance, Oscar had essentially cut himself off from the outside world and spent the last two decades of his life rarely leaving his house "to avoid temptation".) Unbeknownst to his wife and daughters, whom he doesn't appear to have told about this aspect of his life, Terry is being re-traumatized by having to live in the house where this horrible thing occurred. His writing is going off the rails and he faces the threat of termination by the magazine that publishes his reviews as a result. His marriage is suffering as well because, as his wife is mystified by why he seems so emotionally distant anymore and as to why he won't share what's going on. In this sense, there really is indeed a haunting in this story. It's just not a literal one like the player might have expected.

    Terry's personality comes out in pages of the literature he has written that we are privy to, and also in letters written to him by various people over the course of his life, sticky notes written in the game's "dad zones", and in the combination of films that he's recorded on VHS tape. He's a fun-loving but stern father who seems to be falling away from his Christian faith a bit in his adulthood and overcompensating for it with the presence of Bibles in many rooms of the house, as to give visitors a superficial impression of deep-going religiosity.

    Toward the end of Terry's character arc, he receives a letter from a new, small-time publisher that wants to re-release his JFK series. This unanticipated, renewed interest in his work (metaphorically, a sign that someone does indeed care about his trauma), in turn, inspires Terry to author a new, final entry in the series that reflects on the flaws of its protagonist and renders him more fully human and real, while also delivering the sci-fi action that his readers expect. We learn near the end of the game as well where dad is now: he's not home because he's at marriage counseling with mom for the week, so he's implicitly finally deciding to talk about the trauma he's been experiencing and why with his wife. It's a heart-warming conclusion that seems to remind the player that there is hope for Terry, and for all of us going through that kind of pain; that there are those who want to listen and care, despite how uncaring the world may often seem. I'm a survivor myself. This meant a lot to me. It's rare for a game to explore the emotional depths of that type of experience so extensively and compassionately and the way in which you unearth the details is incredibly rewarding.

    Janice's (a.k.a. mom's) backstory

    Janice is a senior wildlife conservationist. Through a delightful, witty back-and-forth written rapport with a college roommate of her's named Carol, alongside various posters and VHS tapes in "mom zones", we learn of her personality and troubles. Janice is more or less traditionally feminine, a bit more deeply Christian than her husband, and loves romance-themed media. Her family life is a major concern for her though, as her commute to and from work is a full hour both ways, which has left Sam feeling neglected and, as mentioned before, she's likewise having difficulty understanding her husband's sudden emotional distance from her. Context clues reveal that Terry normally cooks the meals and that Janice is just learning to cook, and also that, over time, more and more couples activities (couples bowling, ballroom dancing classes, etc.) are being scratched off her weekly schedules until her solo cooking classes become the sole remaining extracurricular on the docket.

    Janice experiences temptation (a theme of this game, as you may be noticing) at work when a handsome new aid is sent in to help out with a controlled burn procedure. In her senior position, she has him permanently reassured to her work site and we are left to speculate whether her motives are indeed entirely due to the quality of his job performance or not. This temptation grows when the new recruit invites her to an Earth, Wind and Fire concert after his out-of-town girlfriend opted out and provides her with a poetry collection by Walt Whitman (known for its erotic content). Among the funnier clues of her attraction to this guy, named Rick (and humorously nicknamed "Ranger Rick" in a note from Carol ) is a cheesy romance novel hidden away in a "mom zone" called Wildfire revolving around a handsome young park ranger. Anyway, she speculates her writings to Carol that Rick isn't serious about his out-of-town girlfriend and that there's an opportunity to fill a void in her life here. The situation comes to a head when Janice receives a promotion opportunity at work that would shift her to a new work site just minutes from home...and away from Rick. Does she take the promotion work in closer proximity to her family...or does she stay where she is and try and indulge this temptation? Her decision seems to take a long time to judge by the dates that are indicated on various notes in the house.

    Being a good friend, Carol encourages her former roomie to take the promotion and gently discourages an affair with Rick. Fear of alienating such a good friend as Carol gets Janice's head on straight again and she makes the both pragmatic and moral choice to take the promotion and Rick ultimately marries his girlfriend, we learn, and invites Janice to the wedding, which she politely declines because it's scheduled for the same week as her marriage counseling. And therein lies the game's answer to temptation: friends. Real friends who know you and genuinely care about you and know what's good for you even when you don't yourself anymore. There is hope for Janice like there is hope for Terry.

    Sam and Lonnie's backstory

    The move to a new house and the absence of her older sister (you, Katie) has had the usual disorienting effect that such developments do on younger people in particular. She decides to cope by writing journal entries to share with you upon your return. Unlike all of the other notes in the house, these journal entries are read audibly by a voice actor (Sarah Grayson) on discovery, indicating that they are of special significance. As much makes sense, being as you're searching for her, after all. There are also many other clues about Sam's personality in the game. Her character arc is the most fleshed out of all.

    Shortly after starting the new school year (her junior year) at her new high school, Sam discovers a punkish senior and ROTC cadet who goes by Lonnie whom she's immediately attracted to. Sam is a little on the snarky, rebellious side herself, but is also shy and not used to hanging around other girls, so she struggles to work up the courage to introduce herself to Lonnie. When she discovers that Lonnie and her friends play Street Fighter II at the local 711 after school every day, she decides to use that as her introductory vehicle and borrows a Street Fighter II Super NES cartridge from her childhood friend Daniel when he comes over to visit in order to practice. (It is relayed that she's become increasingly weirded out by how Daniel has changed in the course of growing up and that to acquire the Street Fighter II cartridge had been Sam's sole reason for inviting Daniel over.)

    Ultimately, Sam enters the 711 and asks for a turn one day, but gets destroyed at it by Lonnie. Her attempt to impress has failed. But then, as she and her friends go outside to smoke, Lonnie inquires "You're that psycho-house girl, right?" and relays that she's always wanted to visit that house. And thus it begins. The two become good friends immediately, finding that they have essentially everything in common. Lonnie introduces Sam to riot grrrl punk rock, among other things.

    I found both Sam and Lonnie to be highly relatable characters. I have a lot in common with both characters (and I did even more so at that age and historical time frame). Overall, Lonnie is sort of the character in this story who I feel is perhaps the most like me at the end of the day though. Lonnie comes from a highly repressive family background and, as a result, is more openly rebellious and "boyish" than Sam, and it's kind of funny to see the ways. To give you a flavor for what Lonnie's personality is like, here are the written contents a postcard that she writes to Sam at a certain point in the backstory:

    Hey Sam,

    I'm writing to you from Multnomah Falls! I'm here on a stupid class trip which is stupid because it's March and I don't know if anyone running this school has been to Oregon but it's cold and rainy as $#@! in March!

    Wish you were here! OH WAIT YOU ARE HERE because I'm writing this to you in the gift shop oh $#@! here you come

    I actually did something like that back in high school: wrote someone a card while standing about 20 feet from them and handed if off (purchased later).

    Sam's is more subtle and reserved, but not the model child that you (Katie) are playing as. Her personality is well-concentrated in how the does a sex ed school assignment. Below I will provide the text of the dorky assignment instructions (which, according to the optional commentary mode, is a copy of an actual sex ed assignment from around that time frame), followed by Sam's amusing version of their completion.

    The assignment:

    DESCRIPTION: Below are two stories. The events are all out of order. Get a sheet of lined paper. Write "Reproductive System Worksheet #6" at the top. Then choose ONE of the two stories (A or B) and rewrite it. Begin with the title and your name. Find a topic sentence to begin your paragraph. Put the sentences in chronological order. Make sure the last sentence is a good concluding statement.

    A) The Menstrual Cycle
    It travels through the fallopian tube.
    The ovary releases the ovum.
    About two weeks later, since the lining of the uterus is not needed for a pregnancy, it comes out through the vagina.
    It is incredible how the female body knows how to prepare for pregnancy!
    If the egg doesn't meet a sperm, it dissolves.
    While the ovum is developing, the lining of the uterus is getting thick and soft.
    Another ovum starts to develop in one of the ovaries and the process begins again.
    An ovum starts to develop.

    B) I am produced in the testicles.
    I go from the vas deferens to the urethra.
    The Life of a Sperm Cell
    I go through the cervix and the uterus and into the fallopian tubes, in search of an egg cell.
    I develop for two or three months in the epididymis
    When the penis becomes erect, I leave the epididymis and travel up into the body through the vas deferens.
    As I pass the prostate gland, the seminal vesicles, and the Cowper's glands, fluids are added so that I can live longer and swim more easily.
    Without me, an egg cell couldn't begin the amazing process of reproduction.
    The urethra carries me (along with about 200 million other sperm) out of the penis in a process called ejaculation.
    If I find the ovum before the other sperm do, I will be the winner: part of a fertilized egg!
    Sam's paper:

    The Menstrual Cycle: A Novella

    The early morning of September 1, 1939. Essa Glatz stares out the window of the train as it travels from Vienna back to her home village of Weilun in Poland. As the train rumbles along and the sun rises over the countryside, she can only think of her dear Borislav, the boy she is engaged to wed. Essa's train approaches its destination. Her heart races. The lining of the uterus is getting thick and soft.

    As Essa steps off the train, her eyes dart quickly across the gathered crowd. Then, there! Her dear Boris. Still in his baker's smock, he must have dropped his early morning duties at his father's shop to come meet her. Her heart skips a beat. The ovary releases the ovum. It travels through the fallopian tube.

    Over the wheezing of the steam engines, a deep hum grows. It's coming from the sky. Dark shadows pass over the station. A whistling sound. Essa, her thoughts only a second faster than the bombs, reaches out toward her dear Boris across the crowd. Their eyes lock and the moment freezes. The flash and smoke envelopes him instantly.

    In the assault by German forces, almost 75% of the people of her hometown are killed. The rest, including Essa and, for a time, Borislav, huddle in a half-destroyed church. He is blind, his legs are missing, bandaged with torn bedsheets. Essa's egg will not be meeting a sperm. It dissolves.

    About two weeks later, Boris loses his grip on life. Essa has given up her rations to keep Boris alive, but in the end nothing can save him. Since the lining of the uterus is not needed for a pregnancy, it comes out through the vagina.

    Essa vows to survive. She sets off to join the Polish resistance as a daring spy and saboteur. Another ovum starts to develop in the ovaries and the process begins again. It is incredible how the female body knows how to prepare for pregnancy!

    See me! <-- teacher's note
    Positioned right next to this completed assignment is Sam's history book, indicating that her spin thereon had been inspired by the fact that she'd just been studying history.

    I'll finish this tomorrow.
    Last edited by IMPress Polly; 02-10-2019 at 10:15 AM.

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