NOTE: There might be spoilers!
So, this past week, I played Gone Home. It's the first "walking simulator" I've ever played, and I really, really enjoyed it. Here are a few thoughts about it.
First, the phrase "walking simulator" is purposefully derogatory and sarcastic — and I don't think that it's applicable to Gone Home. After finishing the game, I read a few reviews, and the comment threads were full of angry players who felt that they'd been cheated out of a good time by something which, on the surface, posed as a game, but which in reality was a meaningless, drab nothing. I knew prior to playing the game that it had this reputation, but I'm happy to report that I did not feel robbed of my time or money, that I was moved deeply by the experience, and that it far exceeded my expectations. In fact, it is for exactly these types of experiences that I enjoy playing games at all. I love games that make me think, make me feel. A younger, less mature version of myself believed that the only fictional works worth consuming were built on fantasy and that the mundane could never surprise or enlighten or motivate or instruct. The world of Gone Home is, in a sense, mundane and common ... but the story is so masterfully told and the player is so subtly led from clue to clue and the atmosphere is so gripping that the whole thing transforms into a beautiful, powerful work of art.
Second, I made a good choice by choosing not to learn much about the game prior to playing it. I had learned a while back, I think, that it had been rated highly by, for example, IGN, but I hadn't read anything about the story or the gameplay. The sense of anticipation and curiosity I felt as I played was strong. The house was dark — most of the lights were out — rain lashed against the windows, deep thunder rolled every minute or so, the house constantly creaked and moaned, and the faint, slow drone of the soundtrack hummed far in the background. So, I wandered around the long, dark hallways, turning on lights (since I'm creeped out by dark houses, even in a game), digging through drawers and cabinets and desks, picking up and examining every examinable object, creeping myself out and wondering what the heck to make of it all. Some bits of information weren't pivotal to the plot of the story; they were just there to put flesh on bones. But they agitated my curiosity. At times, the house seemed so sad and dark and empty, and the family seemed so broken, that I genuinely worried that a horrible ending was coming, like that someone had gone crazy and murdered the whole family. I was already worried enough about the characters and their struggles; the added sense of foreboding caused me to worry even more. In the end, I was sucked deeply into the world and entranced by the story.
I'll probably think of more things to say later, but for now, I'll just leave it at this: I loved this game. It's definitely going in the list of my favorite games.