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How Gone Home Succeeds in Being Completely Terrifying
The release of The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home a few months back led the game to reaching something of a fever pitch in popularity, largely because of its interesting mechanics and the way it boldly handled themes of homosexual relationships in a very resonant way.
And while I found the game to be moving even after its inspiring end, I have to fully admit that the game is also by far one of the most terrifying I’ve ever played.
Now, allow me to openly admit that I am a self-confessed horror baby. Anything related to the paranormal, possessions, serial killers, gore, and evil manifestations of otherwise mundane things tends to leave me in a state of mind that prevents me from sleeping for weeks at a time. Really, it’s only zombies I can stomach, and even then, the number of jump scares had better be low. As such, I tend to avoid horror games whenever possible.
So, you’ll imagine my surprise to find out that Gone Home, this game that so many had championed as being one of the better narrative-based games released this year, was supremely terrifying and manipulative of my dainty self.
There are no ghosts, no zombies running at you, no jump scares, and no psychos stalking you as you rummage through your mom’s belongings. So, what about it makes it scary?
Gone Home succeeds in capturing the sheer terror that is often felt when one is truly alone in a place where they are used to the comforts of other people around them. Ever been in your house all alone, late at night, with a thunderstorm continuously churning out loud and abrupt sounds? If you’re anything like me, your imagination begins to take over and turns everything from merely an empty house to a mansion ripped straight from a horror film. That’s really what the game is so good at doing: manipulating your imagination and playing with those irrational fears that being to pop up in your mind.
You know… it’s dark, you’re all alone, the shadows seem especially long, small noises make you jump, and you really begin to feel the isolation in a cold, unsettling way that leaves you with nothing but a sense of your own dread to walk with you. That’s what Gone Home captures perfectly, all with its use of ambient noise, darkness, and the strange feeling of being in a place that feels forlorn and welcoming at the same time.
This was especially effective when I first learned about the hidden passageway Sam had discovered in her parent’s bedroom. At this point in the game, I had learned enough that my nerves had started to calm down a bit. Sure, Sam was into the occult and had maybe found a spirit living in the house. But that was just fun stuff a teenager was into. It couldn’t possibly be real. After all, it wasn’t that kind of game…right?
When I finally moved the panel in the closet and opened up the passageway, I clicked on the light and started to turn to the right when I spotted a crucifix lying against one of the boards in the house’s frame. I picked it up and began examining it, reading the words scrawled on it in black permanent marker. “For God so loved the world…”
Pop! The dim light went out behind me, bathing me in darkness. It was at this point that my heart beat violently in my chest, and every natural instinct in my body told me to run and escape at all costs.
Instead, I hit escape, quit to the desktop, and went straight to Google to type in “Is Gone Home scary?” Because it was eleven o’ clock at night, I had work the next day, and dammit, I needed to be able to sleep at some point.
I should mention that I wasn’t the only person who had ever asked this. And surprisingly, there were many, many other people who found this game to be utterly terrifying. I found several people who had freaked out at the same moment I had, one who had shut the game down the moment he spotted the attic door surrounded by red Christmas lights, and many who had been terrified to go into the attic, for fear of what they might find up there. Had Sam killed herself? Would I go this entire game without seeing a soul, only to end by discovering my dead sister’s body?
But no. You don’t. Instead, the game wraps up with one of the more evocative and resonant endings I’ve experienced in a while, replacing my complete and utter sense of dread with a nice case of the warm fuzzies.
Still, I’ll never forget the fact that a game with no intentional scares and a brilliant narrative is up there with the Ravenholm level of Half Life 2 as one of the most terrifying games I’ve ever experienced.