Gone Home is a 2013 interactive fiction game developed by the Fullbright Company. You play as Kaitlin "Katie" Greenbriar, a college student. On June 7th 1995, she returns to the States after travelling abroad for a year, during which time her family has moved to a new house. Katie took the midnight flight home, because it was the cheapest, and took the shuttle home so her mother wouldn't have to pick her up. But everything isn't like she expects. She arrives home to a locked door, an empty house, and has to figure out where everyone went and why they're gone.The game is more an exercise in narrative fiction than a game, heavily focused on exploration, and with few actual 'puzzles', but many hidden notes and tidbits easily missed if you don't scrutinize everything. Much like Dear Esther, a narrative unfolds as you explore the house, primarily chronicling Katie's younger sister Sam's life at home while Katie was abroad.
Gone Home contains examples of the following tropes:
The Alcoholic: Terry Greenbriar has a whiskey bottle hidden on top of a bookshelf in his office.
Arc Number: 1963. It's the year of the Kennedy assassination, which serves as the central event of Terry's novels. It's also the combination to Oscar's safe in the basement, and heavily implied to be the year when Oscar abused Terry as a child.
Beautiful Void: While the home is interesting, detailed, and populated by bric-a-brac, there's nary a sign of life present. Even most of the house's cabinets and shelves are empty, the family having only partially finished unpacking after their move.
Big "NO!": Drawn by Lonnienote at the prospect of living with her mother, The Fundamentalist, in Florida, complete with a dead face on the O, knives flying overhead, and gravestones in the background.
Big Screwed-Up Family: The bulk of the game consists of finding out just how much of one the Greenbriars are.
Bittersweet Ending: The ending is cautiously optimistic for everyone involved. Sam and Lonnie leave town to be together in a new life, and Terry's found acceptance as a writer, a new publisher and inspiration for a new novel that's not just a retread of his first two. However Sam's family is likely to be heartbroken by Sam's departure and Jan and Terry's marriage is already rocky, though it's implied that they're making an effort to put it back together — the reason they're not home is because they're at a marriage counseling retreat. Moreover, Sam stole everything of value before leaving.
When Katie finds a diary entry from Sam that starts discussing her sex life, the note auto-closes after a few seconds and refuses to open again. Because what older sister wants to read about that?
At one point, Katie finds a self-help guide on how to improve one's married sex life. The overlay text for this item is simply "Ugh".
Kate isn't exactly thrilled to find a condom when she searches her parents' bedroom dressers, either.
Brick Joke: When Katie finds her Dad's Porn Stash, her reply is "Gosh Dad." When she finds her sister's Porn Stash (the same magazine brand), her reply is "Gosh Sam."
Butch Lesbian: Lonnie, Sam's girlfriend, is a member of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, an organization for youths who wish to train to join the army before they are of legal age. Her primary ambition in life is to join the military as soon as she turns 18.
But Not Too Gay: One of the criticisms of Sam and Lonnie is that they could have been any gender or the opposite orientation, and it wouldn't have much of a bearing on the plot.
But Now I Must Go: Lonnie signs up for basic training in the Army as soon as she turns 18, forcing her to break up with Sam due to the impracticality of maintaining a relationship with her, both from a logistical standpoint and because she would need to hide the relationship due to U.S. military regulations at the time forbidding non-heterosexual people form serving. This is subverted when she quits it and tearfully calls Sam to come get her at a Salem bus stop, leading to them both running away.
Coming of Age Story: Through Sam's journal entries, more of her travels through adolescence, shifting interests, shifting friendships, finding out who she is, social ostracism, all while dealing with multiple life changes, we see her growth over the year that Katie was gone.
Coming-Out Story: The core storyline revolves around Sam coming out as a lesbian.
Creepy Uncle: The reclusive uncle Oscar's mansion is so spooky it has gained reputation as the "psycho house" throughout the community. More darkly, several clues suggest that Oscar abused his nephew — Sam and Katie's father, Terry — as a young boy. A full, spoiler-filled analysis can be found ; the analysis was later confirmed by Word of God on Twitter.
Decoy Protagonist: The story is about Katie, her family, and those around them. But it's more about Sam and Lonnie than anyone else. Katie herself receives less characterization than any of the other characters though, including minor characters like Richard and Carol.
Part of the reason that Terry and Jan's marriage is falling apart is because Terry refused to join Jan in couples bowling and ballroom dancing in favor of her learning cooking, as well as more feminine pursuits such as painting and sewing.
Sam finds the military's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"note A former armed forces policy in the United States — it prohibited people from inquiring about sexuality ("Don't Ask"), but also prohibited openly non-heterosexual people from serving ("Don't Tell"). (which ended in 2011) ridiculous. Also, she's infuriated when her parents can't accept her sexuality, who chalk it up as a "phase" and refuse to discuss it further with her.
Driven to Suicide: Subverted; many of Sam's later letters seem to hint that she's locked herself in the attic and killed herself as a consequence of Lonnie leaving for basic training, but in fact she's just left the house in the middle of the night to be with Lonnie.
DVD Commentary: A commentary mode was added to the game through a patch. It features the developers as well as the lead singer of Heaven to Betsy, one of the bands in the game.
Easter Egg: There's a Nerf basketball hoop on the back of Sam's bedroom door. In the garage, on the rafter near the door, there's a small purple Nerf basketball. You know you can throw things, right?
Eating the Eye Candy: Carol, Jan's former room mate, makes a few references in her letters to Jan ogling her coworker Richard, and gleefully encourages her.
Epistolary Novel: Has a great deal in common with the genre - most of the story is conveyed via letters, notes, journal entries etc.
Erotic Literature: It's implied that Katie and Sam's mother is having an affair (or wants to have one) with a colleague, emphasized when Katie finds an erotic novel about a forest ranger.
Faux Horror Film: More in terms of presentation than plot content. Dark, spooky, mysteriously abandoned house? Check. Stormy night outside? Check. Ghosts and the suggestion that the house might be haunted? Check. Suggestions of child abuse many years previous? Check. It's actually a tender Coming-Out Story, with the mysterious gothic elements used more as a device to draw the player into the narrative.
Follow the Leader: Regardless of its own merits, comparisons to Dear Esther have proven inevitable, as they have very similar presentations.
Gender Bender: In one of the various documents that can be found, The First Mate from Heaven at the Edge of the World is magically changed from male to female in the last draft of Heaven at the Edge of the World, mirroring Sam coming to terms with her sexuality, it being the last chronological revision of the story.
Genre Shift: Invoked intentionally. You'd be forgiven for thinking the story is a psychological horror, given the dead of night, extreme weather, and the frantic messages left on the telephone, but it's actually a love/coming-out story.
Grey and Grey Morality: All of the characters, with the possible exception of Katie, have done questionable things, but they're all just ordinary people trying to find happiness and even the worst of them all, Uncle Oscar, at least tried to make amends for what he'd done.
It Will Never Catch On: One of Sam and Lonnie's shared notes has them poke fun at other students' using their pagers to signal each other, and how it's no match for passing handwritten notes (because who could ever send their friends a picture via hand-held personal electronics?).
Jump Scare: The closest you'll come to this trope is when Katie is descending the stairs to the basement and happens upon a wooden cross. Upon picking it up, the lightbulb above her head suddenly goes out.
Lampshade Hanging: At one stage Katie finds a post-it from her parents addressed to Sam, addressing the player's predictable habit of not cleaning up behind them as they explore the house:
"Sam: Stop leaving every damn light in the house on! You're as bad as your sister!"
Lipstick Lesbian: Sam, the player character's sister, does not fit into any particular stereotype with regards to her sexuality.
Most Writers Are Writers: Three generations of Greenbriars have been writers or aspire to be such at the start of the story, from Dr. Richard Greenbriar to Terry and Sam.
No Antagonist: After previous games like Slender or Amnesia, you'd expect to run into a few jump scares from a horrifying monster or something. You are, after all, exploring a dark house all by yourself in a thunderstorm... Nah, there is nothing trying to kill you at all.
Nothing Is Scarier: A natural choice, considering this game originally started as a mod for Amnesia: The Dark Descent. After all, there's something very suspenseful about an empty house, on a dark and stormy night, after midnight, with nothing to keep you company but the sound of rain, thunder, and the creaking floorboards of an old house. It does keep you on your toes, especially when you find a bathtub full of "blood" (actually red hair dye), or when the only lightbulb in a secret hallway burns out right as you pick up a creepy crucifix.
One Steve Limit: Averted with the two Richards in the story; Dr. Richard Greenbriar, Terry's father, and Richard "Rick" Patermach, Jan's coworker.
Ouija Board: Sam has one, with which she and Lonnie attempt to communicate with the "ghost" of Oscar they think is haunting the house.
Period Piece: The game takes place in 1995, and the details are very accurate to the era. Cassette players (CD players were just starting to catch on, and not everybody had them), Super NES cartridges that are themed after actual game genres that were popular at the time (including ones very strongly resembling Out of this World and Bubsy), posters and music that was popular at the time are all over the place. Not everyone owned a PC, and typewriters were still used along with handwritten letters.
Poor Communication Kills: If any of the missing family members had left a note for Katie that wasn't vague and unclear, the story would have been over much more quickly. Sam ran away without her girlfriend, while Sam and Katie's parents are at a Couples Counseling getaway. Justified in that Katie came home significantly earlier than she was supposed to, so her parents weren't expecting her, and Sam didn't want to leave any clues for her parents to find.
Porn Stash: Both Sam and her father have erotic magazines hidden in the house — and they're the same men's magazine.
Reality Is Unrealistic: It's perfectly conceivable that all the events of the game would have happened they way they do. The house on the hill, the stormy night, the sister's (rather common) fascination with the supernatural, are all plausible, normal, boring coincidences, yet many players complain that they are Red Herrings or at worst, disappointingly averted Chekhovs Guns. But Real Life is like that.
Oscar ends up having very little to do with the plot, and is quietly "exorcised" near the end. Whether his ghost was present or not is left unanswered.
All the mysteriously missing electronics are just that, mysteriously missing and nothing else. Sam leaves a note asking Katie to tell her parents about the things that were stolen, presumably to help her and Lonnie start a new life somewhere.
The electrician's note about lights turning off when certain areas of the floor have pressure put on them doesn't come up after being introduced. Though it would explain why the light went out after you pick up the crucifix. You were standing on the right spot.
Jan's a naturalized US citizen, having been born in Canada. This isn't brought up before or after being briefly mentioned in the basement.
There's no significance to Terry's father and Jan's colleague both being named Richard.
Riot Grrrl: The game contains music by Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile, two major riot grrrl bands from the era, that you can listen to by playing Sam's cassettes.
Room Full of Crazy: Terrence's study. Played with in that the copious notes about the Kennedy assassination and time travel are just for a book he's writing, but the stuff about his Daddy Issues in the middle of the noteboard still qualifies.
Rule-Abiding Rebel: In-universe in a journal entry, Sam is quick to point out that, for all of Lonnie's anti-authoritarian attitudes and shenanigans, she's still precise and obedient when it comes to her military training. Especially so considering she doesn't even kicking up a fuss about their "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which Sam finds obnoxious. Subverted when she absconds from basic training in favour of being with Sam.
Secret Passage: There are several throughout the house, some of them pretty creepy.
Sequence Breaking: It's possible to complete the game in about two minutes. It's possible for a thorough player get close to that time, as the (hidden) door leading to the penultimate note is not locked.
In keeping with the period-appropriate setting, the game features references from everything from Twin Peaks to The X-Files. Simply looking at the TV Guide in the living room and seeing what shows were on the air on Fridays in 1995 is its own trip down memory lane all by itself, from cherished classics like Homicide Lifeonthe Street and Boy Meets World to long forgotten stuff like Hangin' With Mr. Cooper.
One of the SNES game cartridges you can find in Sam's room is Super Spitfire, which references a minigame called Spitfire in Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den, which the developers of Gone Home previously worked on.
Sam's story, Heaven at the Edge of the World, thematically resembles Sleater-Kinney's song "The End of You", with it's Wooden Ships and Iron Men metaphor for relationships. Sleater-Kinney is, of course, the band that Heavens to Betsy eventually became.
Shown Their Work: Prescribed burns are a real technique, and began to be used around the time of the story. They can be very dangerous as well, hence the request for additional personnel.
Also, Reed College, the school that Sam gets a writing scholarship to, is a real, highly regarded liberal arts college in Portland, OR.
Show Within a Show: Heaven at the Edge of the World is a story Sam's been writing since first grade about Captain Allegra and her best friend/lover, the First Mate. The player can find several revisions Sam's made over the years.
Story Breadcrumbs: As you progress through the house, notes, and occasional journals from your sister fill in what happened while you were gone.In the more literal sense, while Sam's story is the main thread, you can also learn about Terry and Jan (Katie and Sam's parents), and their personal struggles, by reading letters, as well as their greatuncle Oscar, who possibly haunts the house still.
Sam's fiction is generally rather poor, as most of the excerpts were authored by her during various parts of her childhood.
Terry's novels are cookie-cutter action-thriller sci-fi stories, and review and sell poorly as a result. The one he's recently begun writing, however, is implied to be of a higher quality, as it is implied he is using it to work through the abuse suffered at his uncle Oscar's hands as a child.
Transparent Closet: Sam admits she's in one, saying she and Katie have "known since She-ra". She briefly mentions too that it's pretty apparent to other students, and Lonnie apparently picked up on it quickly.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: Dr. Greenbriar, the grandfather of the family, writes a very dismissive letter to his son Terry about the latter's recently published book, implying that Terry sought some kind of validation from him. Terry Greenbriar seems to have had two reactions to it: on the one hand, a defaced portrait of Dr. Greenbriar can be found near the letter, but on the other, the words "You can do better", with which in the letter ended, are posted on the wall of his study.
You Bastard: Katie's refusal to re-open Sam's diary entry describing having sex with Lonnie no matter how many times you try has shades of this, considering the two kinds of people most likely to be playing the game are geeky teenage boys who think it's going to be a trashy horror story or lesbians who've already heard about it.