A lot of this is personal, and a lot of this will contain spoilers for Gone Home, which you should play. Right now. Go. Shoo.
I don’t know if any game will mean as much to me as Gone Home does.
There’s this thing that happens in games a lot, I like to call it the “Oh. Okay :/” moment. Yes, I put an emoticon in a quote, because the feeling is one of slight disappointment and resignation to something that makes me feel weird. Most games have it. They’re really little things, like having to navigate choice wheels where my options are “save orphans” or “be space hitler”, or the protagonist saying something so cheesily macho that Guy Fieri would jump at the chance to put it on his menu. It’s usually not anything offensive, it’s just something small that makes it difficult for me to take the game seriously in this moment that the game is asking me to take seriously, or feel like the character I’m controlling is actually acting out my will. I’ve never felt like I’ve really played any game that was made “for me”, as I’ve heard a lot of my gaming enthusiast friends praise their favorite games over.
Not until Gone Home.
There was this girl. She was a senior and she smoked and she seemed like the only other girl who felt out of place in our small hometown of 1,000 people. We became close over Johnny The Homicidal Maniac, a plethora of nerdy hobbies, and being the only two queers in town (that we knew of). I could never get her into my riot grrrl music though she’d support my bands so many times even if I was nervous singing in front of her. So many teenage nights were spent in the passenger seat of her car, smoking cigarettes and talking about how badly we should be in a band together until the day we went to get her a drum kit. Every night I spent with her I’d have to worry about getting red hair dye on things or her, lest we be found out, since when you sweat it causes bright red dye to run. She did help me redye it once or twice, which proved a good cover story for that. We got tattoos together, sneaking away to NYC on a train when I was 17. The most important things, the things I remember closely, are these small specific points in time that I felt so very alive with her.
I used to save everything. She drew so much art and we’d write dumb notes to each other. I had polaroids of my first time going to a gay club with her on her 21st, of her shoving dollar bills down the bartender’s pants with a wall of dildos behind her. She was such a huge impact on my life, and one of the few other punk kids I knew, even if we kept the realities of our relationship with each other a secret. The secrecy of it all made me treasure these things like artifacts, like it was the only proof everything actually happened.
Years later, when I was running off to a real city to escape that crappy town like we’d always talked about, a vengeful ex torched all of it. Right along with all of my old demos and mixtapes and it felt like my entire past melted away in the fire. I now have maybe 2 pictures of my years before age 21, and nothing left of her.
Unlike Lonnie, I didn’t turn back. Really, it was for the best - leaving the town was absolutely critical for me as a person. But, I left that old life behind and now I’m not even sure where to find her, or if I had anywhere near the impact on her that she did on me.
Enter Gone Home. I’m not sure how else to say it, but it made my heart hurt in the best way. All of the little details in their relationship reminded me so closely of some of my own experiences, even the stuff that wasn’t uncannily similar (like the X-Files obsession - Scully was my first crush). Going through these artifacts of two teenage girls in love didn’t make me miss what I had lost in that fire, it made me feel like it was almost a surrogate for what it was like. It was nice to be able to pour through these objects again. Even though they weren’t mine, it still evoked the memories of my own time as a teenage riot grrrl with a secret love. That’s something I thought I would never get back, and had accepted. Being able to experience that feeling again is something I can never be thankful enough for.
Games have had this obsession with nostalgia and making gamers recapture their youth amdist pixelart and platforming, but that was never *my* nostalgia. It never pinged at my heartstrings or made me think of a childhood long passed. None of the 90’s trappings of magazines and Lisa Frank folders evoked that reaction in me - they merely made the setting feel a bit more realistic. What did it was the feelings expressed by Sam and the notes and drawings and mixtapes they exchanged. It was seeing the red splotches on the bathtub and not expecting blood or death, but instantly knowing what that meant and remembering the feeling of delicate fingers running through my hair a decade ago.
I’m so thankful that the story didn’t focus on the difficult parts of being a gay kid. There’s already so much of that, and it’s important and has it’s place. I’m just so happy that the game really just let these two girls be themselves first, be messy and awkward and teenagers together, and that they also just happened to be gay. Because what I try to remember best, and what really matters to me personally, is the nights she fell asleep on my chest, not the times people defaced my things with the word “dyke”. It’s so wonderful to see moments like that take the forefront of a story. I know it can be considered problematic or unrealistic, but after so much real world suffering this small private story feels like an oasis in a desert. It reminds me what I choose to keep close to my heart, and it’s not the hate or suffering.
I’ve had purple hair for a couple weeks longer than the average of 3 months or so that I keep a color. Today I’m buying red.