Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Punk, Magic Eyes, and Gone Home

With a few touches of familiar objects and locales, a piece of art can fill me with so much nostalgia I feel like I've traveled back in time. It's a weakness, one we all likely share, but still, nostalgia is an amazing phenomenon. This explains how something like Ready Player One can feel like a novel written, literally, for me, as though the author plumbed his way through my memories, finding every piece of nerdy subculture I could never forget and used as inspiration for his own story. In many ways this is what Gone Home accomplishes its expansive but lived-in world to explore.

There is a lot to discuss about Gone Home, which will have to wait until next week, but I want to take some time now to poke out my own susceptibility to its environmental trappings. See, I think nostalgia is a cheap way to get at someone's heart. Maybe "cheap" is the wrong word, it does have negative connotations, but at the very least, nostalgia seems like an easy distraction. See, the moment I stepped into the Greenbriar home, I was captured.

The game takes place in the wet and wooded American Northwest, Portland to be exact. While I never visited Oregon in my youth, or owned a mansion-sized home for that matter, I did grow up in the rural parts of Northern California. Our home was surrounded by red woods and a mighty storm could easily feel like the thundering backdrop to Gone Home. I also fondly remember the wooden mansion-like retreat our family would reserve for reunions every couple years which, when empty, were filled with the same imaginary apparitions that tickle my spine playing the game. The first moments, after just a glance at the house and an introduction to the storm outside, I felt at home.

Is that a sail boat?
When nostalgia grips you, you know it. I did my very best to set that aside and explore the game objectively, but two things ruined my attempt at achieving such a removed perspective: a punk mix tape and two Magic Eye posters. Like many children of the 80s, I loved the optical illusions. I hung at least two on my own wall and remember bringing them to school to show to my friends. They were novelties, but today they reflect so much more.

As for the punk tapes, they dug deep into my high school days. I remember going to my first punk show, I think my friends, or people I wanted as my friends, were playing in between sets in a tiny little room. The whole affair felt transgressive and liberating. The music was ultimately mediocre, but the message, the feaux trappings of adulthood, the open aggression that so many teens clung to, it was moving. It felt good. It felt like I was young. Putting in a tape into the record player in Gone Home called back into existence, for just a moment, an exhausted, adrenaline-filled, and deeply hopeful version of myself.

It felt really good.

So when Sam's story begins to unfold, I was ready for it, every piece. No, the whole story is not entirely relatable, no its not perfect, and yes, I can see why many people may not enjoy this game. Yet with all the memories this little worked stirred up, I had to feel like coming home again.

1 comment:

  1. GChristopherWilliamsAugust 25, 2013 at 5:43 AM

    The time period strikes me as existing for far more than nostalgic reasons (though it is very good at evoking them). The issue that Sam is wrestling with and the responses of those around her to them (family, friends, school, the culture at large) would play out very differently in 2013 in a Portland, Oregon suburb than it would in a 1995 era Portland, Oregon suburb, and the 1995 attitudes surrounding her discovery, frustration, and her eventual decision make it a very different story than if it was set in another period (especially now).