Review by Danny Wagner, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2016

Gone Home

Compelling narrative game fosters empathy, self-reflection

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL

Subjects
N/A
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
9-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Relatable characters and an engrossing story promote deep reflection; a paragon of the genre.

Cons: Doesn't fit tidily into a regular class period, creative teachers are a must.

Bottom Line: If you’re searching for a unique way to analyze storytelling from a social and emotional angle, look no further.

Gone Home is not a typical game that you would include in the classroom; it takes some creativity to make it meaningful in the context of your subject. It's best played individually, from beginning to end, with no distractions. Since it can take well over 2 to 3 hours to complete, most teachers will need to break the game into separate playing sessions. In that case, have students make notes about what evidence they've found -- or what they are feeling either during or after each session. To organize students, provide them with goals or checkpoints to reach in each session. Once everyone is done, hold discussions about the overall themes as a larger group. If you're looking for ways to assess students, try using journals or better yet, annotated screenshots.

Be sure to check online for how other teachers have adapted the game to their content classes. You'll find lessons that get students investigating the culture of the 90's, providing a critical analysis of evidence, writing a game review, and examining the literary strategy of revealing character through setting.

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Gone Home is a narrative-driven exploration game that embraces a non-traditional model of storytelling. The year is 1995 and you’ve come home from being abroad to find the house deserted; it’s up to you to figure out what's happened. Instead of battling monsters or leveling up, you walk from room to room, analyzing household objects and reading bits of notes left by your family members.

There are no specific goals to pursue, instead you're compelled by curiosity and a sense of mystery. Where did everyone go? Why is my sister hiding? You're not left completely on your own, however. There's gentle guidance through the home by gated areas unlocked by finding keys or secret passages. As the tale unfolds, you uncover themes of love, life, and sexual orientation. Ultimately, it's a story about identity, and although there is a definite end to the game, ultimately much of the context and story details are left up to the player's imagination. 

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As dull as it may sound to play a game where you just examine, click, and read, Gone Home does a great job of building enough mystery and intrigue to keep you exploring. It’s surprising how easily this sort of voyeuristic experience can make you feel like you actually know the characters. The 90’s aesthetic is fun, but probably more of a novelty to those of us who lived through it, and won’t resonate as strongly with students. 

Gone Home will elicit very different reactions from players in the end, and it's there that learning can begin through meaningful discussion. Students will get a chance to experience someone else's perspective, and many will find the themes and struggles mirror their daily lives; it's an incredibly powerful empathy builder and discussion starter. The story itself is ripe for analysis about setting, character development, evidence, and theme, and the game context provides opportunity to discuss how game-based storytelling compares to literature and film. If you can swing it in your classroom, Gone Home is a can't miss opportunity for students to engage in thoughtful story analysis and personal contemplation.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Like any good piece of art, it's not going to reach everybody. Regardless, the blend of breadcrumb narrative with open-ended exploration is a powerful cocktail. If you are willing to embrace a non-traditional game, you'll be entranced.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

There's nothing more conducive to social and emotional learning than to get deeply immersed in a story and characters. By the end, you're more than likely to have reflected on your own life and choices.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Gameplay is intuitive and simple, letting the focus rest squarely on the strengths of the story. There is no help to get students connecting their experience to more meaningful learning: that's up to the teacher.


Common Sense Reviewer
Danny Wagner Common Sense Education

Teacher Reviews

(See all 1 reviews) (1 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Anuar Andres L. , Press
Press
Great game to teach all sorts of subjects

I also think we need to start building online courses with these games curricula, kinda like the Walking Dead course, since most teachers are not gonna have time to read 7 essays on how to implement Gone Home, so we need to make it easy for them. Having an online course that gives students the game, the assignments, forums, etc, would help streamline implementation for teachers.

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