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Significant spoilers for Gone Home

Butch:

Ok, done with Gone Home.

Man, where to begin? I got three lines of bloggage. I guess I’ll begin at the end.

Well, game or not, that was a hell of a story and a hell of a way to experience a story. Whatever it was, it was really good. Moving, effective.

I think I came up with another reason it’s in 1995: When it was becoming clearer and clearer that she was going to leave with Lonnie, I thought “Happy ending.” When I got that last journal (by the way, I didn’t get the trophy for all of them either….I missed one….), “I said Yes,” I was silently cheering. “You GO girl! Follow love! Live the dream!” I was thrilled for them. HAPPY ending.

Which isn’t exactly what I would think today.

In 1995, we were young, weren’t we? Carefree. When we were listening to that music and watching those movies we were the kind of people who WOULD think “Love to live, live to love.” (Weren’t we? I like to think we were.) But now…

We’re parents. Five kids between us. If one of our kids decided, spur of the moment, to run away, turn his back on a college scholarship, and disappear, we would NOT be happy. We would be scared, concerned, slightly angry and sad.

And yet here I was, watching a kid run away from her parents, disappear, and I was cheering.

Weird.

But as for those parents….

The wedding invitation on the fridge was one of the best single items in the game. Because what it said was “Well, they aren’t having an affair….now.” Now she’s cool enough to go to the wedding, take her husband, etc. But it left whether they WERE having an affair completely hanging. Is this something they’ve gotten past? Is this some other ghost they’ll have to exorcise (don’t go there today, that’s another of the three things I’ve got in my head), or was there never an affair at all? We’ll never know.

But we’re left with the parents….not better…but GETTING better. The father is writing again. He hasn’t convinced them to publish something new…yet…but he’s trying. They’re going to counseling. Will they end up a-ok? Who knows? But they’re moving that way. Telling the last room where their story happens is a greenhouse. Without lights (more on that later).

It’s funny: The moment in the game that I found really emotionally devastating was the moment you find the old story with the kid’s drawing, and the story of Daniel pops. It’s right after we learn the parents weren’t supportive. Then we get Daniel, the kind boy who brings over this artifact of an old friendship. He, like the parents, is being left behind. But he understands. He hugs her. He knows he’s losing her. He knows the kids in the story he brought are long gone. He’s grown in his ways, too. But he still shows love, and support, even when it’s hard for him. I felt for Daniel a lot. Maybe because that, that juxtaposition of the parent’s reaction and Daniel’s, was the chance the game was giving us, the old target audience, to reflect on the now, how we’d react not as our old selves, but as the parents we are now. Daniel was us. Sad that the little kid who drew that picture and played Street Fighter was gone, but always here to listen, and to hug, and to care.

Ok, that was more than I meant to type. Your turn.

Feminina:

Ah, 1995. A more innocent time. A time when we too were young, and would have walked away from our military commitments for the sake of love.

Also a time when it was less outright horrible for parents to be uncool with their daughters falling in love with other girls. Not that some parents aren’t still uncool about it (and some were fine then, obviously), but the mainstream presentation has definitely shifted from “whether or not this is just a phase is a legitimate concern,” towards “not accepting this is the wrong answer.” We’re not supposed to think that her parents are actively cruel, awful people, I don’t think, and so it being 1995 excuses their unhelpful response as being representative of the time.

And it’s certainly true the perspective of a parent on a kid’s running off to be with someone they love, abandoning all the nice plans for the future, is less positive than the perspective of the kid. We would worry about our kid if he took off to be with someone, very true. I would hope that we wouldn’t make our kids feel they had to run off to be with another boy (in our case), but there’s probably someone we’d strongly disapprove of (a dedicated member of the Trump Youth Junior Deportation Squad or something), and yeah, if he ran away from home to be with someone I thought was bad for him, I’d worry and think it was a bad idea.

But isn’t that more or less true for every story of young love, if you take the parents’ perspective? Juliet’s parents would be absolutely right to say that if she’d just stayed away from Romeo, everything would have been fine. (In the sense that she would be alive, anyway. Spiritually dying in a loveless marriage to some old guy, maybe, but hey…)

Of course, we’re not left with the sense that Sam and Lonnie are going to end up that badly: we wish them well, in fact, and hope that they’re now happily legally married somewhere in 2016 (if they value marriage as an institution).

And that their parents have come around, and everyone gets along, and dad found someone to publish his wacky books and mom is fulfilled in her job and whether or not there was ever an affair, it’s all behind them.

And that Katie has…unpacked her room, I guess. We don’t really know enough about her to support any specific dreams or goals.

I did feel bad for Daniel, but also glad they talked and that it wasn’t just left as “that loser kid I used to know.” There was a lot of depth to the characters here, considering we never actually meet any of them. It was nicely done.

Butch:

True about the parents. One did get the sense that they were more in denial than they were judging or being cruel. But then, it was slightly telling that one of their “repair your relationship” books was all Christian, written by a minister. But I agree: the game wasn’t trying to get you to hate the parents, or be mad.

Young love is an age old tale, it is. But then, I’m still not that sympathetic to Romeo and Juliet. Silly kids. I wish I remembered how I felt the first time I read that, in high school. Probably “I don’t have time to read 35 pages tonight! Fuck this!” I’ll rephrase: I wish I remembered how I would have reacted to it had I been a more dedicated student. Would I have been all “That is SO romantic!” Perhaps.

But old me here thinks Romeo and Juliet are dumbasses. I do. Dudes….suicide? Dudes. That ain’t cool. Had they run off to Syracuse or some shit to make it on their own? Maybe it’d be different.

But, as I said, this is, if not a happy ending outright, a hopeful ending. We’re left thinking “These people are headed in the right direction.” We don’t know if they got there, but they’re going. And they’re “better off” (I use quotes as, like, no time has passed) at the end of the story than we thought they were at the beginning. We start off thinking these people are a mess. Dad’s study, the “affair,” even the crying message (that was creepy). But they’re NOT a mess. Maybe they WERE a mess, but they aren’t. They’re going in the right direction.

Again, there’s no way ending in a greenhouse is a mistake. A place where things…well….grow. A place designed to make things thrive.

And we don’t know enough about Katie to wish anything for her. Which is interesting, because here we are focusing in on whether this was happy for Sam or the parents, we’ve forgotten about the, you know, lead character. Because, at some level, she is. The game starts with KATIE’S voice.

I think it gets into the whole is “gone” a verb or an adjective question. Is she coming home to find her home gone? All those little secrets hidden away, clearing the way for her to be good and correct and her trophies? Or is she returning to a place where those secrets are finally dealt with, where people are free of the lies and failures of the past, where they’re finally growing, safe and sound? Does she have less of a place or more of place in this new normal?

I think it may be the former. It’s interesting that we find, late, that the favorite thing Sam got from Lonnie when Lonnie was in Mexico was that skull, the skull you find right as the game is beginning. That skull, if you recall, was between Katie’s trophies, the place the most important trophy usually goes. It stood out. IT had the place of honor. It was in the place where the most important trophy goes.

I don’t know why, but MAN that Daniel bit kicked me in the feels. Maybe because my oldest is older than your oldest and I’m getting precariously close to that moment he doesn’t want to draw and play kid games. Maybe the shock of that picture at the end (kid pictures in games, man. Story of Ish. I’ll say no more). But DAMN.

It was really amazingly done.

This way of telling stories was so unique. It’s sort of hard to discuss. Nothing to compare it to, really.

Feminina:

Speaking of kid/parent perspectives and kids getting older, I was thinking that maybe the way the game plays with us, making us expect horror when really it’s a sweet love story, is kind of speaking to the way that parents expect horror/think it’s horror when their kids are growing up, but it’s actually just kids growing up.

Which IS a kind of horror–my baby! my adorable precious baby is now this big galumphing rude beast with opinions and terrible taste in music/fashion/movies/whatever!–but is also just what happens. But back again to horror, is also genuinely scary to parents because we don’t understand everything they say or know what they’re doing or thinking or feeling or who they’re hanging out with or what trouble they’re getting into…and so there’s this sense of an alien presence in your house. Spooky, man.

Our expectations from the story initially kind of mirror a parent’s expectations from their ‘wild’ kid: something scary! Weird! Possibly dangerous! And then it turns out that we read way too much into it. There’s no ghost, there’s nothing weird going on, it’s just…what happens. Human drama, not some supernatural mystery. Your kid is just being a kid, not even really getting into trouble.

And here we come along, as boring, normal, good-kid Katie…potential mediator of Sam’s story to her parents, now that she understands it? Maybe she’ll be the bridge between the wild kid and the conservative parents?

It’s true, though, Romeo and Juliet always struck me as more a tragedy of stupid errors than anything else. I read it at high school age, without a deadline, and the thing I remember being most struck by was the missed message telling Romeo about Juliet’s fake death. It’s a stupid communication failure! As for the overpowering love, to the point of suicide — they were kids, I was a kid (who had not experienced overpowering love and therefore perhaps didn’t take it as seriously as I might have), and I didn’t relate much to it.

On the other hand, who doesn’t relate to communication failures?

I missed that memo, didn’t hear that right, didn’t say that the way I meant to, never told that person…so many potential regrets. Romeo and Juliet isn’t really about love, it’s about communication.

Butch:

Dude… I’m getting to the horror. Jr. has started listening to pop music, caring about what he wears, etc. And I can tell myself “Normal” all I want, but still…. The first time he doesn’t want me to sing to him at night I’m going to kill a bottle of scotch.

We’ll talk on supernatural shit later on. I got two more lines to start here. This’ll take us through the week, methinks.

Maybe not. Maybe today and tomorrow.

And maybe Katie is the bridge, but I think Sam doubts it. Remember, the very first note we see, Sam writes “I don’t want mom and dad to know where I am,” crosses out Mom and Dad and writes “Anybody.” Now, really, there’s very few people in the story. Adding anybody to mom and dad pretty much leaves, well, Katie. She’s saying “don’t come after me.” She says “we’ll see each other again someday.” She wants no bridge.

Nope. Don’t relate to Romeo and Juliet. Silly kids. I wanted to smack them. Still do.

Communication…What? Sorry, I was making a sandwich.

Feminina:

And because you were making that sandwich at that exact moment, you missed my messenger who would have told you that Juliet still had the bottle of scotch and was bringing it to you, and thus, thinking you were out of scotch, you went and bought two more bottles.

Not all communication failure is BAD…

I don’t even want to think about pop music and fashion. It’s bad enough he likes TV shows I don’t want to watch.

It’s true, speaking of communication, that Sam doesn’t really seem to be wanting a mediator. (But then…stupid kids. Does that mean it wouldn’t be good if she had one?)

The materials that we find that talk about Katie suggest that Sam loves her, looked up to her, but by the end feels she’s kind of moved past her. “I still love you, but I don’t need anything from you right now–I’m taking my own path, and trying to be like you or hang out with you is not where it leads me right now.”

Katie went to Europe, and that’s great, but Sam’s got her own thing going on, and she doesn’t need or expect Katie to really understand. (Nobody ever does understand when you’re a kid: no one COULD EVER POSSIBLY understand. This is a sweet love story, but it’s also a story about a couple of kids whose hormones are raging. They’re not necessarily the best judges of what anyone will understand.)

Maybe we’re Katie because we DO understand (at least as much as we, the player, understand and sympathize: I’m sure some people–total heartless jerks obviously–could play this and not be moved). We couldn’t play Sam in this story, it would be too hard to make us actually feel her passion for Lonnie, but as a detached observer, we can understand it without sharing it.

Butch:

Our entire blog, and a vast amount of our friendship before the blog, was based on communication failures.

No, no, you really don’t want to think about pop music and fashion. You REALLY don’t.

The day you catch yourself humming a song you heard on the top 20 channel you played in the car for your kid is a horrifying day.

But no, playing Sam totally would not work.

As for us (the players) understanding, there’s a disconnect in terms of what we understand/are cool with and Katie. It’s interesting that the couple of times Katie IS faced with sex/adult things, the prompt that we’ve talked on gets all “OMG.” Finding the condom in the bedroom (though I kinda understand, as parents, eww). Or, more tellingly, finding the note where Sam kinda sorta talks about sex, and SHE puts it down. It just “poof” like you hit circle. YOU don’t get to put that down. And when you try to pick it back up, the prompt is all “um….no.” “Not reading any more of that.” We’re cool. We’re adults. But Katie? Throws it down like it’s a hot potato.

With one exception………you didn’t open the safe in the basement, did you? If you did, we’ll save that for tomorrow. If you didn’t….we’ll save that for tomorrow.

Cuz I did. We’ll talk. Later.

Feminina:

That’s a good point, Katie does seem a bit squeamish about sexual stuff. Maybe she’s totally freaked out by the idea of her sister with a girl, and just too dumbstruck with horror (the horror! There IS horror!) to even give us a prompt-note about it.

Although I kind of read that “um…no” as an “I won’t invade her privacy” thing when I was playing…almost directed at ME the player, like “hey, this is not about your prurient amusement!”

Definitely, though, the disconnect between us and Katie is…both undefined, and potentially enormous. Maybe she’s as likely to be a wall between Sam and their parents as a bridge. Maybe she’s going to run to her parents as soon as they get back, all “I found out why she left, and it’s immoral and disgusting, and we have to track her down and send her to a reparative therapy camp ASAP!!!! Or whatever they call those camps in 1995!!!!”

We aren’t Katie. We’re not invited to be Katie by making any “option A/B” exclusive choices that would define her character in the narrative. We’re just riding along with Katie, and the conclusions we reach may be quite different from hers.

And…oh yeah. The safe! I meant to go back to it, and forgot. So no, I didn’t open it. You talk.

Although I don’t know why you ASSUME I would have forgotten about it. I’m suddenly deeply offended. Communication failure!

Butch:

Nope. Trophy. I got a trophy for it. I didn’t see you get it. Boom.

Notes…really? Directed at the player? I sort of heard that as her thoughts. If it was directed at us, it would be the only time it was.

As for her reaction, yeah, it could go either way, and that’s part of the quality of the game. I think it would have been intrusive if we saw her thoughts on the matter.

I think that what we DO know is that….wait…shit….stopped to have a cracker and had a thought.

What I was going to say before the cracker was that by having that last book be “Letters to Katie” it mirrored the postcards Katie herself sent home. In that way, Sam has become the one that’s gone.

And I thought that, and thought, again, of the title.

We’ve talked on what part of speech “gone” is, but what if another twist is who?

Has Katie come home, only to find a series of postcards Sam has sent from abroad? Or is Katie still “gone” and it’s Sam that’s “gone home?”

Ah, man, I do love me some good title.

Feminina:

Ah, the trophy. Once again, you bothered to look at the trophy list and I did not. All right, I withdraw my deep offense.

Well, I didn’t mean it was ACTIVELY directed at us–it was definitely her thoughts, but in an almost “hey you” way. I mean, all her thoughts are written ‘at us’ to tell us the story, so I suppose there’s not really a conflict anyway, but…like, her thinking “my trophy,” tells us that…she won a trophy. And her thinking “um, no, not reading that” tells us that we’re not reading that either.

I’m not clarifying well, but basically what I meant is, I read it as her thoughts but a rather pointed bit of writing OF her thoughts that kind of told us the reader to calm down, there’s no porn here, or whatever. ‘Cause, hey, she put it down, and we both tried to pick it up again. We’re filthy-minded pervs and wanted hot sexy teen girl action! And she’s saying “no, I don’t want that,” and by implication also saying, “you’re not getting that either.” The implication does not specifically add “you filthy-minded minded perv,” but you know implications…ha.

Butch:

Ah. So it wasn’t “her” scolding “us.”

Actually, I thought it was a bug. Which I had reason to do, cuz I DID encounter a bug. Somewhere in that junk room there was, like, a hatbox or something, and, upon opening it, couldn’t move. Could turn the camera, but couldn’t walk. Then, right after that, this happened.

You’re the perv.

Feminina:

It’s true, she did set it down abruptly in a possible-bug fashion. I think I thought sort of “did I set that down by accident? I was in the middle of reading” and went to pick it up automatically…and also I’m a total perv, I mean, I won’t try to deny that. I’m on record as repeatedly agitating for more male nudity, after all.

MALE NUDITY NOW. We’ll close with that. (One might argue that this isn’t really the game for it, but there could have been a pin up on her mom’s wall or something. They could have made it work.)

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