Gone Home is so honest, it has no hook that pulls you in on pretences of addictive mechanics or xp systems. This is not really a surprise from an indie game about exploration but its (seeming) lack of guidance allowed me to finish it in 3 leisurely sessions. Its not that its not compelling, it is, but its also so much less clingy and demanding than the honed structure of a AAA action game that refuses to leave you pause for breath. The details, of which there are many, had time to mingle and form the sense of history that lent the house, and my time inside it, an authenticity.
The best writers are the ones who tell you about thoughts you've had, but you subconsciously thought you were the only one who thought that way. Its such a powerful way of creating a bond with a character or authorial voice to have it reveal a part of yourself and say "me too". There is much of Gone Home that is just so human that its so easy to care about and empathise with these characters, regardless of their gender or sexuality or upbringing or ideologies, you identify with them as people. They are so totally undefined by these labels which are undeniably diverse.
When theres so much scrutiny on representation in games now, for good reason, it makes perfect sense to rebuild how to do that from the ground up using some of the oldest tools in the box. 90% of what you learn about the characters is from text relating to them, letters they've authored, notes crumpled into the bin, university leaflets, a gig poster. Literature allows the characters to have a very pure voice, there is no physical appearance or actions to distract from the words and thoughts that come from that person.
Unless effectively making a novel in three dimensional space is cheating and does more problem dodging than solving. But it works, so it doesn't matter.
So all this stuff exists around the house and some totally masterful level design acts as the structure that lays it all out into a coherent narrative. Of all the games this draws from (Bioshock being the clear example given the team's heritage) Cluedo seems to be the most apt comparison. But if Cluedo were a drama rather than a murder mystery. Who did what in which room is the process that plays out continuously, but rather than reaching for the most dramatic possible outcome at every turn like The Last of Us, Gone Home is restrained to the last. Not allowing itself to undermine its story with spectacle or shocks.
Some slightly contrived key based gating aside, it feels so natural to follow the architecture of the house as an allegory for the chapters of a book. The foyer, an introduction. The study, a man's struggle with his career and the relationship with his daughter. The bedroom, a woman's struggle with her marriage. Each environment betrays it's inhabitants past, which makes sense in the medium of games where the currency of meaning is so often the movement through spaces.
It always comes back to Sam, she connects every room with a secret passage like she connects every character with an interaction. Who didn't have a love affair with the word 'juxtaposed' during secondary school? Its that kind of observation in the writing, the one off use of a word that denotes a specific time and a specific kind of person- and it spans years of character's lives, and renders layer upon layer of believability until I just wanted to meet her.
I feel like metaphors only reveal themselves to me after words have been written, and I've churned out a few redundant ideas before things start to make sense. The house representing the family, a group of units that connect and coexist, each with stories to reveal. Its really lovely, and effective. I feel that maybe Gone Home as a role model for games is perhaps more significant than it is as an experience. Its a great experience, but the statements it makes about how games like this can be seem far grander than the small and personal story it contains. But there is little more affecting than a grand statement illustrated through a personal story.