Trigger Warning! Gone Home – The Silent Struggle of Sexual* Identity

*This post was originally published on The Game Bolt in October, 2015*

*The original title of this read “Gender” identity but after a good friend brought it to my attention that my article focused more on sexuality I amended this as such

[“Trigger Warning” – is a piece dedicated to showcasing video games which focus on mental disorders as well as emotional and psychological trauma. It is my hope as a lifelong gamer and sufferer of various psychological disorders to combine my greatest passion with my greatest weakness to benefit the gaming community at large. These pieces are meant to applaud games that I have found to appropriately exemplify such issues in the human condition. Some of them are visceral and violent games that take a liberal approach and are not for the faint of heart. Others take a lighter approach to the whole affair and can apply to a much wider audience. Hopefully, those who do not suffer from such afflictions can look at these games as a chance to grasp at something otherwise intangible. While those who do suffer from psychological afflictions can look to these pieces of fiction for hope and catharsis. Without further or do, enjoy. 🙂 ]

[By the way, this is the trigger warning for the article: Infidelity]

Gone Home, In Summation

Just like my piece on Among the Sleep there is going to be a serious spoiler for this article as I will need to discuss the story in its entirety to get my point across. So be cautioned in reading this if you’re interested in the game but have yet to grab a hold of it.

Gone Home is a fairly simple game. In fact, there is a lot of debate as to whether it’s even a “game” or not. But that’s an argument for a different time. You play as Katie, an older sister to her sibling Samantha and daughter of a loving mother and father, as she comes home from spending a year abroad in Europe. The gameplay is fairly simple. It involves you wandering around your family’s new home they moved into while you were away and picking up items to examine them for clues as to your family’s happening over the last year. There are notes, letters, post cards, cassette tapes, and various other items of interest to manipulate in 3D to discover writing or hidden keys to advance the story. There are no monsters, no demons and double-barreled shotguns. Just you and the memories of a family that shows signs of slowly breaking down.

Although you play as Katie, the actual protagonist is Sam, Katie’s sister. At first it seems a bit odd that you come home in the middle of the night while a dangerous storm is raging outside and no one is home. You find a brief note from Sam about her worries of moving to a new house and new school. But what starts the tension are two very brief messages on the answering machine left for Sam. The voice on the message can barely manage a “Sam… Where are you? … I need you.” As to who this is or what the context behind the message is the mystery behind your family’s disappearance.

As you explore the house, you find more and more of Sam’s things that trigger audio of her journal to Katie. They start off as the usual concerns of a teenager. The people at school refer to her as “the psycho house girl” because she moved into a distant relative’s home that had a bad history with the town. She feels left out until she meets a group of students who plays Street Fighter II at the local parlor. One friend in particular, Lonnie, says that she’s always kinda wanted to see “the psycho house.” So Lonnie and Sam become the best of friends.

Gone-Home

Taking place in the 90’s, the game makes mention of some of the pop culture of the time. Other than Street Fighters II, Sam and Lonnie go out to see Pulp Fiction in the theaters and bond over the rise of grunge rock. Lonnie even becomes a singer for a garage band; many of her tapes are found throughout the house for the player to pop into a nearby cassette player and jam out whilst exploring the otherwise quiet and empty house. And much like any rebellious teen, Sam decides to go to the city with Lonnie to see Lonnie’s band play at a concert behind her parent’s backs. After the concert, Lonnie and Sam go to stay at a friend’s house in the city and they share a bed together and fall asleep while smiling at one another. It is here where Sam’s infatuation becomes apparent.

Sam’s journal entries after this talk about her confused feelings towards Lonnie. She doesn’t know how to handle the sudden changes she’s experiencing since the night they shared a bed falling asleep together. She even recants a tender moment when Lonnie was dying her hair and Sam was nervous about how it looked. To which Lonnie responded, “You look beautiful.” They sat down on Sam’s bed and before Sam could get a word out in her confusion, Lonnie kisses Sam. And the entry ends with a joyful chuckle. From here it is clear that Sam and Lonnie are young and deeply in love.

But while this is going on, all is not well with Katie and Sam’s parents. Their father is a one-time bestselling novelist who cannot manage to keep down a job. After his second book flops, he turns to doing reviews for a VCR company which isn’t going well as he tries to insert little bits of his artist’s flourish into the reviews. His editors are tired of his ramblings and he has clearly buried himself in his work to the point of neglecting his role as a father and husband. As a result, their mother turns to infidelity to satisfy the affection she’s not getting. While in her role as a forest ranger she starts to get close to a younger, handsome forest ranger. She passes him on all his certification exams with perfect scores and even spends time with him behind her family’s back. This is the portrait of a broken home. A father who is trying to get back what he once had is ignoring the love of his family, and a mother who is committing adultery while their daughter is desperately trying to find out who she is.

And once they find out about Sam and Lonnie’s relationship, their response is heart shattering.

The House of Cards Comes Tumbling Down

The climax of Sam’s journal entries comes when her parents find out about her relationship. In Sam’s words, “They weren’t even mad.” Rather, their response was one of dismissal. They wouldn’t even acknowledge Sam’s emotions, and in some way, indifference is worse than disapproval. Because disapproval means that a person is at least recognized. That they’re given consideration. That they’re human. But indifference, dismissal, shows a disregard for the emotional needs of a person. It dehumanizes the victim. In this case, Sam’s parents are not only dismissive and unsupportive, but they’re more involved in their own wrong doings than in their daughter’s life. Their responses are cold and unfeeling, “You’re too young to know what you want.” “It’s just a phase.” And now nearly everyone has alienated Sam. She’s picked on at school and is looked down upon by her teachers. Her old friends have fallen away. And her parents won’t even treat her with respect.

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And so, Lonnie is about to ship off to basic training so she can follow in the footsteps of her military family. Sam is left at home with a broken family who won’t even acknowledge her. And they’re torn apart. But those messages from the answering machine come into perspective when you find Sam’s last journal. Lonnie had apparently stopped on her way to basic and decided that she couldn’t do it. She didn’t want to leave Sam. She wanted to run away with Sam and start a new life. And so Sam, following her heart, grabs whatever she can and takes her car to go meet Lonnie. She apologizes to Katie and hopes that Katie will understand why she chose this path. The disarray and emptiness of the house is explained. Sam’s parents had rushed out to try and stop her. And where they go from there, is left up to the player’s own interpretation.

Living a Double Life

I have to break a bit from my usual formula of holding my personal voice till the end because of the possible contentions behind such a sensitive issue.

I’m in a bit of an odd position in writing this article. I’m a heterosexual to be clear, and a devout Roman Catholic. So I have my personal contentions with the LGBTQ community. But, the one thing that I always hold to is the human side of things. You see, my religion, my dogma, and my personal beliefs do not allow me to condone a homosexual agenda. However, they don’t forbid me from supporting one. I have been in love before. I know what it’s like to desire affection while seeking to give affection to another. And the LGBTQ community is in the same boat. They’re merely looking for love and they are products of the way their brain is wired. They cannot help it. And to me, that is enough to say that I will never stop a homosexual relationship. I have many friends who are active members in the LGBTQ community and I have seen them live happy, productive relationships. I talk to them about their significant others just the same as I would anyone else. In the end, I am not the moral compass for our world. I am not the one who decides the right and the wrong and the rules we abide by. And the stories I see coming out of this community are ones of struggle for simple acceptance in a world that preaches tolerance. So for the duration of this article I hope you can put aside your differences and take a look at the struggle behind the LGBTQ community and the internal struggle they go through on a daily basis.

Sam and Lonnie’s struggle is one that I’ve heard all too often. Sam is a growing young girl who has numerous problems that are typical of a teenager. She was picked on at school and struggled in her classes. We can presume that her physiognomy is still changing and the hormonal nature of teen development is affecting her. Katie, her only boon, leaves for an entire year. And her parents are so wrapped up in their inequities that they aren’t giving her the support she needs. That’s enough to handle as is, but she has another burden to bear, her homosexuality.

gone-home-s-and-l

She has to hide who she truly is and how she feels about Lonnie. So while she’s dealing with everyday struggles, she has a secret that’s eating at her from the inside, and it only grows with each passing day. And we all have those unseen wars, the ones people never see, which keep us awake at night and worried during the day. But Sam’s is different. While most people have family issues, financial troubles, or illnesses, Sam is in love. What a duality that is, for love to be viewed as immoral, evil even.

Your Dear Writer’s Thoughts on Gone Home

This game is simply a love story. It doesn’t set out to “push the homosexual agenda.” It’s not setting out with such a goal in mind. It’s simply telling a story of unrequited love, albeit an unorthodox one. And it’s a story that makes more sense in its setting. Until the last decade and a half, the homosexual community was fairly underdeveloped, and there was still a hefty stigma behind it. So in the 90’s it makes sense why there’s such a powerful reaction behind Sam’s coming out.

I adore Gone Home. Despite its innocuous nature, it still sends a powerful message about forbidden love and the struggles of growing up and accepting one’s self. It’s a swan song to all those who are hiding in plain view and go about their day with a horrible secret eating away at them from inside. During my first play through I was in tears at Sam’s story and found myself constantly tearing up even in the silent spaces between Sam’s journal readings. Again, it is simply a love story and about the pain associated with growing up, set in a time period of my own youth.

Furthermore, it tells a story often unheard of behind many in the LGBTQ community. Sam’s daily worry about her parents finding out about her and Lonnie and the bullying she receives at school is a surprisingly common story. I cannot possibly recount how many times I’ve had some of my homosexual and transgender friends tell me that they had to live a double life. Some had relationships that they hid from their parents, or everyone in general. I’ve had friends who went to Christian school and were harassed or beaten because of their orientation, which quite frankly sickens me as a devout Catholic. I have even had friends who were in love with someone for years while growing up but never ever said a thing because of what it might yield for them. And so they went about their every day with a heavy heart. To know that people were afraid to love, as I can do freely, is saddening to me.

Trigger Warnings for Gone Home: Honestly, there’s really not much to insight panic or depression. The story behind the family in Gone Home is only pieced together by what little fragments of info you find via survival horror style documents. There are references to adultery, homosexuality, bullying, and domestic dissent but none of it is overt in any way. If you’re one for a good story, Gone Home has one of the best out there for how short it is.

(If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please, please seek help from your country’s suicide hotline. Furthermore, if you believe you may be suffering from a mental illness, seek the professional help you need. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. Just the same as a man with a broken leg needs a cast and crutches, you may need some help as well. And remember, someone out there cares about, at least, your dear writer does.)

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