Why I ‘Spoiled’ Gone Home in My Review
Let’s compare Gone Home to another recent game with character relationships at its core: The Walking Dead. Sam’s relationship with Lonnie is just as central to Gone Home as Lee’s adopted fatherhood for Clementine is to The Walking Dead. And yet, reviews had no issue coming straight out and (rightfully) praising The Walking Dead for having and developing that relationship. There were no concerns of spoilers or hushed tones when talking about Lee’s father-figure role, because that was just the story’s catalyst. The spoiler best left for players to see firsthand in The Walking Dead was how that relationship informed their actions, and how the player’s role in those actions shaped the emotional core of the game.
Likewise, it isn’t a spoiler that Sam is attracted to other women. Like the theme of fatherhood, within the theme of “queerness” there are still a vast spectrum of experiences that Gone Home could have conveyed. Her sexuality simply acts as the framing agent for those experiences.
Just using Sam’s queerness as a starting point opens several story possibilities. Does Lonnie feel the same way? If so, will they stay together? How will Sam’s parents react? How does Sam’s school react? How does this all piece together to explain why Sam isn’t home, and where she might be? Does the fact that Sam is missing have anything to do with why the parents aren’t home? What is going on with the parents, anyway? Who is Oscar? Why is the house called “The Psycho House?”
One more question: Does Sam’s sexuality ruin the reveal of those more relevant questions?
Knowing that Sam is a lesbian doesn’t spoil the discovery of her Captain Allegra stories and how they evolve with her own self-realization. It doesn’t spoil how her own affinity for writing fiction draws a parallel to Terry, who also tried to make sense of childhood experiences through fiction and received discouragement from his own father. It doesn’t spoil how the “ghost” of Oscar that caused Terry to become reclusive and jeopardize his marriage was also the catalyst for Sam’s first true love. It doesn’t spoil a strained and complex family dynamic. It doesn’t spoil Sam and Lonnie’s zine, or Sam’s attempt in vain to make her school aware of the abuse and bullying she received because of who she loved. It doesn’t spoil that Sam and Lonnie felt their only option was to escape from their expected lives if they had any hope of being happy.
However, I’m not writing now just to say why it is okay to “spoil” that aspect of Gone Home, but why I did it. Along with Sam’s sexuality, in the review I also briefly mention my own coming out, and how even 10 year later, I have been too afraid to have those crucial conversations with my own older brother.
Gone Home can be a powerful experience, and for me part of that power was a renewed courage and optimism in how those conversations would pan out. While that courage came a decade late for me, I don’t see any reason to withhold anyone else from having that experience. And how else will they know that Gone Home involves a homosexual plot unless someone says so? Quite simply, I believe that the people who will enjoy Gone Home the most and will benefit the most from playing it deserve to know the game exists, and that it deals with subject matter that relates to them.
If you feel that any of this makes me too close to the game’s material so that I can’t fairly judge it in a review, then please feel free to consult any of the reviews by straight people that make up Gone Home’s 90 percent average on Metacritic.
To me, one purpose of a review is to offer readers a lens to help interpret and better understand a game, not to spoil it. And yet I find myself in that very position, blatantly stating in a review a detail many consider a spoiler. It was a risk to call out Sam’s sexuality in the review, but a calculated one I made in an effort to better serve you, the reader.
In a game about building connections, I thought it was important to share some of how I connected with the game. Hopefully through my experience, I can open the door so that others can connect with Gone Home in their own way. Because really, a review is just the beginning of the discussion, and for Gone Home that discussion begins with Sam. Where it ends, well, I’ll leave that up to you.