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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 isn't 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 or 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're 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 '90s, providing a critical analysis of evidence, writing a game review, and examining the literary strategy of revealing character through setting.
Gone Home is a narrative-driven exploration game that embraces a nontraditional 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 that are unlocked as you find 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's a definite end to the game, ultimately much of the context and story details are left up to the player's imagination.
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 '90s aesthetic is fun, but probably more of a novelty to those of us who lived through it; it 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, so 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.