Gone Home: Video Games as Artistic Valuation

The great misconception in both the general public and symposium among critics, columnists, and the outspoken media is that interactive entertainment, specifically video games, cannot be a form of art or serious representative in the entertainment world. The generalization is a commonality: every game is trigger happy like that of Call of Duty or a time waster such as Angry Birds or the recently infamous Flappy Bird on iOS. The fallacy most believe is that games cannot have narrative articulateness and are a substanceless activity.

However, this false notation is changing, slowly. If we travel back to 1981 with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Donkey Kong and Balloon Fight, the simplistic assumption that games do not have an artistic, narrative substance would have more validity, but video games have evolved graphically, technologically, and artistically since then. Yet today, only two of these factors are universally acknowledged and awed.

Video games as an art form isn’t recognized to the extent they deserve. Much of art, arguably, is driven with a narrative initiative. People enjoy a good story; they especially become interested when thematic elements come into play. It’s the whole reason a Literary Studies major exists in college. Storytelling in video games isn’t taken seriously, but thanks to a recent game, the public eye is changing.

The developer in the gaming industry arguably responsible for this shift is the indie studio The FullBright Company, a group of developers originally involved with the massively acclaimed video game, Bioshock. In fact, Bioshock is the backbone and aspiration for many of today’s storytelling in video games. However, The FullBright Company is now known for something possibly bigger: Gone Home, an indie title available on Steam that has become a national acclamation for narrowing the divide between narrative and video games.

In Gone Home, you are the oldest daughter of the Greenbriers family exploring your home after returning from a year-long study abroad trip. No one is there to welcome you home and it’s your job to find out what happened to them. In Gone Home, there is no combat, no time limit, and no strenuous “violent” tasks many games in today’s industry embrace. Instead, you are to explore your home at your own pleasure, searching for clues left by your younger sister as to why she and the rest of your family is nowhere to be found. Like a work of fiction, Gone Home has you explore and put together the numerous metaphorical puzzle pieces throughout the home to form a conclusion, or at least a facet of the troubled and distressing history that is waiting for you to discover. There is a familiarity painted on every wall of the Greenbriar’s home, as not a spec in the house is undetailed. You’ll rummage through paperback books that your father failed to publish, the bedroom of your rebellious younger sister afraid of the secret she hides from her parents, cassette tapes that play Riot Grrrl (a cult favorite in the 90’s), documents addressed to your mother who is rising in her career but is losing touch with her loved ones, and closets with board games your family used to play together when you were a child. You’re brought into this world with a believability that’s normally felt in novels; a world that feels so relatable to our own. There is nothing left undetailed in the game and it’s a notability not often seen in a gaming world. The player searches for and places everything together the way a novel ties its story together or how a poem seeks its reader to understand its feelings and words. And, without giving away spoilers, it does this all while confronting social and human issues that headline today’s news and the hearts of many.

What The FullBright Company has shown to us is video games can be taken with earnestness and that interactive entertainment can be a model of art form. There will always be the Battlefield‘s, Mario’s, and Farmville‘s in gaming, which they themselves have their own qualities that too get ignored by commoners, and there is nothing wrong with having games created purely for entertainment purposes, but with games such as Gone Home coming into light, let’s finally acknowledge that games can also be a serious illustration of artistic valuation.