"This is storytelling at its finest!" - IGN
January 16, 2014 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Gun Home: The Ultimate Gone Home DLC* [via]

Gone Home (previously) is a cerebral indie first-person exploration game with a heavy focus on environmental storytelling that is currently topping critic's end-of-year lists. It does not actually have planned gun DLC.
posted by figurant (59 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Finally, it is A Real Game.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:23 PM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I played through Gone Home a few weeks ago. It's a really interesting story, and to be honest I knew many people said that while it was amazing story telling, they felt it wasn't a "game". I will say, knowing very little about the story going into it, I kept expecting monsters to pop out of every darkened hallway, as there is a bit of a ghost-type side story. The main story becomes a little too evident a bit early, in my opinion.

When I finished I chatted with a friend over steam, telling him he should give it a try, it's worth it for a 2-3 hour investment of entertainment.

His first question "Yeah but is it a "game" ?"
posted by efalk at 3:28 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would agree that Gone Home isn't a 'game' per se -- I'd prefer to call it "interactive media". But, (a) I recognize that my definition of 'game' may not be the same as everyone else's, and (b) I don't get why it matters. It is a friggin' tremendous piece of interactive media that I would recommend to everyone who owns a computer. Why does everyone seem to have a bug up their asses about whether it's a 'game' or not?
posted by rifflesby at 3:37 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gone Home is a puzzle box with a lot of heart. Plus, you can speed-run the whole thing in about a minute and there's a hidden easter egg diary, which must qualify it in some ways.

As if that wasn't enough, Fullbright built the most interactive fridge in gaming history.

It's certainly one of the most polarizing titles I can think of in recent memory.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:39 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if class it as a game either - more an interactive story. Everything is clearly laid out for you (you can even choose to have all the doors unlocked).
I wasn't as blown away as other have been- it's pretty clear early on where the story is heading (especially after the bathtub') so I totally missed the scary element others seem to have gotten.

That said- it would be incredible on the Occulus Rift.
posted by HarveyDenture at 3:45 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed it but was really annoyed by the whole "are there demons about to jump out??!?" thing. It seemed like it was either added at the very end or left in from the alpha build, back when the game was called Ghost Home.

At the end of Ghost Home, you find in the attic not Cyber Hitler, but your own! dead! body!
posted by radicalawyer at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2014

Honestly I enjoyed it for what it was but would've enjoyed the murderous ghost they were hinting at tremendously.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:50 PM on January 16, 2014

For a long time the Idle Thumbs podcast and forums joked about "the ghost" in Gone Home, knowing there wasn't any. But the joke took on a life of it's own and some gaming websites actually started to refer to it as a horror game in previews. Poor Steve Gaynor got sick of telling people, "Actually, there's no ghost in this game."

And then they released the Gone Home: Official Soundtrack (GH:OST).
posted by straight at 3:56 PM on January 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

Strange that the objections to gamehood don't seem to crop up around titles like Monkey Island or Grim Fandango, despite there being no way to 'lose' apart from the odd easter egg joking about that very fact, the 'win' condition being reaching the end of a completely linear story, and there really being no 'gameplay' beyond clicking a series of objects against a series of arbitrary hotspots on a backdrop and enjoying the predetermined writing, storytelling and voice acting.
posted by emmtee at 4:06 PM on January 16, 2014 [15 favorites]

Those games have puzzles. Arbitrary random clicking won't get you to the end.
posted by rifflesby at 4:09 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed it but was really annoyed by the whole "are there demons about to jump out??!?" thing.

Maybe I went into it knowing it wasn't a horror game, but I did not have this experience. It was eerie at times, for sure. And really, really great.
posted by brundlefly at 4:11 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

There also aren't 57 billion loose objects with no purpose whatsoever in any of those titles (Grim Fandago, etc.)

I've never seen so many highlighters and coffee mugs in my life.
posted by dragstroke at 4:11 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

This looks pretty good
posted by Bwithh at 4:32 PM on January 16, 2014

The comments in the Kotaku report on this descended almost immediately into arguments about whether Gone Home was a game, with some adamant claims that it was a visual novel (this is code for gay girl stuff for girls and gays and gay girls - Jennifer Hepler during her time at BioWare was regularly accused of wanting to write/play visual novels rather than real games). Somebody asked the question that matters far more than "is Gone Home a game?", which is "why is it so important to you that Gone Home isn't a game?".

The funny thing is, I've seen people who argue vociferously that Gone Home is not a game in the next breath hold up The Stanley Parable as indie gaming done right, when the two are mechanically near-identical - a single character moving through an uninhabited space, triggering a voiceover by entering certain areas or interacting with certain objects.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:32 PM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

Gone Home had "puzzles," and your assertion that "arbitrary random clicking" will get you to the end is obviously factually incorrect. You can't even get into the frigging house until you find the key, which is concealed in the game environment according to better logic than any of the keycards in doom.

Broken Age has (so far) generally very simple puzzles and operates off of a single click interface designed to work on ipads, no one's bringing up tiresome "but is it a game?" questions.

The boundary-guarding going on with Gone Home is so ludicrous that well-meaning but entirely weird statements like "it's not a game, it's interactive media" get said. Like, really? What are some other examples of non-game "interactive media"? Presumably Dear Esther and the Stanley Parable? Why is it important to create this distinction? It's pretty clear that it's not a film or a book or a poem or a dance or a comic, and that if it is indeed a not-game, this is some new creature that evolved directly from videogames and not from any of those other things. It's far closer to being a videogame than it is to being anything else, if indeed it's not a game. So what do we gain from splitting these creations off? Do we need fundamentally different vocabulary to talk or think about them, as you do with prose vs. poetry? Was it a mistake for RPS to cover it?

So now that I've written a paragraph of questions, I'll actually make some declarative statements.

I think that it's fairly silly to look at, in this case, a piece of software that's predicated on a metaphor created by FPS games and call it "not a game" because it's insufficiently combatty or puzzly. This is software that would not - could not - exist without Wolfenstein 3D and everything that came after it. It started life as a mod for Amnesia, another game which is light on the puzzles, has no combat other than "hide in a cupboard until the monster leaves," and is long on discovering the story by means of exploration. So I think that when people start drawing a game vs. not-game line and put Amnesia on the game side and Gone Home on the not-game side, there's something else going on. Even if people aren't especially conscious of it, I think there's an urge to denigrate stuff like GH, in part because it's really clearly infringing on a domain that people who consider themselves Core Gamers have had all to themselves.

It's interested in the concerns of teenagers and teenage girls and family and relationships and it's rather less interested in power fantasy. I think that's why people are trying to draw this line. If your reaction to all of that is "no, that's not me" then maybe consider dropping the attempt to force this particular distinction, because other than defending that boundary, it is really really useless.
posted by kavasa at 4:37 PM on January 16, 2014 [19 favorites]

I draw the distinction because I am interested in words and what they mean, and the distinctions between them. I'll thank you not to paint me as a misogynist or whatever because of that. As I said, Gone Home is fantastic, and it remains so no matter what you want to call it.
posted by rifflesby at 4:49 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Saying that you click to progress in both Broken Age and Gone Home doesnt mean they are the same thing. There is thought involved in point and click adventure games, Gone Home leads you the entire way. At no point (other than the key I guess) was I puzzled about where I had to go.

I wouldn't argue that The Stanley Parable is a game either. Both it and Gone Home are stories told through the game engines. Nothing wrong with that distinction. I'd love
More stories told that way.
posted by HarveyDenture at 4:58 PM on January 16, 2014

Yeah, the core experience of Gone Home is essentially exploring a space that has been constructed for you to explore. Pretty much the same core experience of Elder Scrolls games, at least to me and the couple other people that play games that I know in real life. You could cut combat from most FPSs and I'd be fine- I really just want to explore a space and work out a story at my own pace. Combat can be fun, and for some reason I love hacking and lockpicking minigames, but to say that Gone Home is really substantially different than other first person games is disingenuous. The main difference, as kavasa said, is the content of the story and the identity of the characters.

I think the gamer audience complaining about the game is really bizarre. I spent days and days as a kid making "dungeon maps" of my schools and neighborhoods without the intention of fighting monsters in the halls (ok yeah some of that) but because its fun and meaningful represent your real experience in game maps and doom wads. I'd go so far as to suggest that it makes the insane power fantasies better when you return to them, because you had some contrast.
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:59 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

So now we have a number of interactive entertainment products, which are not games, yet which deliver their content entirely through game engines.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:00 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Somebody asked the question that matters far more than "is Gone Home a game?", which is "why is it so important to you that Gone Home isn't a game?".

I'd like to see an answer to this from the "it isn't a game" crowd.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:02 PM on January 16, 2014

I wouldn't want to play My Dinner with Andre EX 2: Hyper Eating but how great would The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover be as a 3rd person sneak em up? I guess there is a fail state if you get caught, and I cold see some pretty complicated scripting for all the staff and diners but that would be a cool game right there.
posted by kittensofthenight at 5:06 PM on January 16, 2014

So you have a bit of an idea of what you're in for when you play? Like knowing what kind of movie you're watching when you pop in a DVD?
Is this going to require thought or am I going to be able to not think and be lead through it. No sure about you but I like to have some sort of idea of the entertainment I'm about to consume.

I'm not really seeing why it's such a problem that it's not classed as a game. Is it because it's about a young, gay female's story? Are there people defending the Stanley Parable as a game with as much enthusiasm.
posted by HarveyDenture at 5:07 PM on January 16, 2014

Also, glancing back over that RPS review of GH, the reviewer remarks on how you're rewarded for ransacking the house to find additional scraps of narrative, but then adds parenthetically that surely you'd put everything back after?

That in turn reminded me of someone else mentioning how they horrified their partner when they played* GH because they would pile everything in the middle of the room to make sure they hadn't missed anything. This stark difference in how two different people move through the game is a really good illustration, to me, of GH's essential game-ness.

*I also think it's a good idea to ask yourself what a better word for this would be? One watches a movie and reads a novel or sees a play; what are you doing with GH if not "playing" it?

On preview: rifflesby, see, the part at the end where I said:
If your reaction to all of that is "no, that's not me" then maybe consider dropping the attempt to force this particular distinction, because other than defending that boundary, it is really really useless.
That was me answering your "I'm not a misogynist" objection before you made it.

Do you really think I'm not interested in words and their meanings? I can assure you that I am! That's why I've written everything I've written here. In this particular instance, I'll also point out that you'll need to come up with something more substantive than that as an answer! I'm specifically questioning the utility of this particular distinction, as well as pointing out several inconsistencies with it, such as the cultural lineage that GH comes from, comparison with Amnesia, and so on. If you don't even attempt to answer any of those, then you don't actually seem very interested in words, what they mean, or the distinctions because you don't seem to be willing to engage in any critical thinking about them.

So, again, when I posit that there are other, crappier reasons people are trying to make that distinction, your response is "but I'm not a misogynist!" Which, great! So maybe take this is a cue to question your actual thinking here. I agree that it's fantastic, but I also think it's a mistake and a shame to try to exclude it from the arena of "videogames," the arena from which it came and certainly the only one that it fits in at all.

Just to be 100% clear: I'm not now and didn't ever call you a misogynist. I made a significantly more nuanced and harder to reflexively dismiss argument about the sort of Core Gamer culture and what's going on when we try to exclude particular works.

And again, Harvey Denture, the contortions required are just not worth it. "Stories told through game engines" is just - why? What do we gain from that instead of saying "game"? And again, the puzzles in Broken Age are generally considered to be pretty easy, and there are puzzles in GH. I agree that they're easy, and their goal is to drive exploration and assist your experience of the narrative, but arguing that they're not puzzles is silly.

On more preview: I've already explained why it's a problem. Which part of my first post was confusing or unclear?

I would certainly classify SP as a game too, as I would Dear Esther.
posted by kavasa at 5:11 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Haha, oh my god I am the worst: the video was funny! Thank you for linking it. =x
posted by kavasa at 5:17 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I contend that Gone Home, Dear Esther, and the Stanley Parable are all games. I didn't enjoy them much but I don't need to make up a new category for that.
posted by squinty at 5:20 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

So now we have a number of interactive entertainment media, which are not games, yet which deliver their content entirely through game engines.

To be fair, I remember asking Dan Pinchbeck of Dear Esther if he thought of it as a game, and getting the response "well, it's a game engine..."

Which I can kind of see! Like, Choose Your Own Adventure books are sort of games in book form - they can have puzzles, ways to win, ways to lose and all that stuff. It's possible to do this sort of cross-media stuff. Accounting software and FPS games are both found on DVD-ROMs, but FPSes are not accounting software.

However, it's hard for me not to see Gone Home as essentially ludic. The player is tasked with negotiating the space, but also with solving various mysteries posed by the story - one storyline is told to you (although not comprehensively) through the voiceover, but other stories are barely touched on by the voiceover, so the player has to find artefacts, relate them to other artefacts and solve the puzzle of, for example, what's going on with the Greenbriar parents' marriage. Is this scored? No, but it's part of the way the player can feel that they have more or less completed the game.

Can you finish the game without opening the safe, or picking up any books? Sure. But you can finish The Last of Us without opening any of the safes, or picking up any of the comic books, so content you don't have to interact with to finish the game is not in itself proof of not-a-game-ness...
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:22 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd like to see an answer to this from the "it isn't a game" crowd.

A game implies that it's merely a toy. Because of that, I don't know if I'd call it game, because it's different and more than that. And also, there are those in the public who still shy away from games because they are viewed as toys for children (or who have the heart of a child). I guess the latter reason is somewhat related to what neustile stated in the last "Gone Home" topic. Steam is viewed as a store for games, not as a store for all digital content (music, movies, games, novels, apps).
posted by FJT at 5:26 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The more pressing question: Is Dinner Date a game?

Yes, that is the full experience. The only interactive part is how you eat your meal and whether you decide to smoke the cigarette at the end or not. The dialog is the same every time.
posted by ymgve at 5:27 PM on January 16, 2014

I could totally see a Dwarf Fortress mod to make it function as a Personal Information Management application.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:28 PM on January 16, 2014

Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, and Kentucky Route Zero were the video games I most enjoyed playing last year.

The argument that they aren't games rings totally false to me. They're all first person point-and-click adventures. What makes Myst a video game? You move around, click things in order, and move around to the next place. All the Blendo games fall into this camp as well.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:30 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I could totally see a Dwarf Fortress mod to make it function as a Personal Information Management application.

That sort of happens in Austin Grossman's You.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:31 PM on January 16, 2014

At the very least I figure the NOTREALGAMEers should be much more concerned at the recent output from Telltale Games. The Walking Dead seems not to get much of that flak because, I guess, it's got zombies and guns, even if you don't often apply the latter to the former.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:07 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Walking Dead was at its best when they got rid of those traditional video gamey elements. They figured this out as they went along: the first episode had that "puzzle" where a woman had put batteries into a radio backwards and you had to flip them around. It was needless and silly. The later episodes got rid of these adventure game cliches.

The new interactive storytelling genre that is being developed is fascinating to me. I think that game developers are slowly developing three different sorts of narrative technologies that have yet to be perfected. All have their own lineages. All have a different sort of experience as their goal. And all push against the standard conception of a game as something with a "win state", which is something that is almost always included in conceptual analyses of 'game'. Obviously, any conceptual analysis will be imperfect and will have counterexamples, but I think that it sounds at least a little strange to call Gone Home or The Stanley Parable or Minecraft a game is because it is strange to say that you win, solve, or beat these games. There are tight conceptual connections between being a game and being something you can win. Myst and Gone Home both involve clicking around, but Myst feels like something you can win at and Gone Home does not. Possibly this has only to do with how difficult the challenges are.

Firstly, the storytelling genre has been developing technologies for exploration. Open-world games were the first games to really start dabbling with exploration as an end in itself... it was fun to just drive around the cities of GTA without taking on any missions. This has led to games like Minecraft, where much of the thrill comes simply from looking for exciting vistas. Gone Home explored this branch of the storytelling genre. It's a a lot more like Sleep No More than it is a traditional adventure game. The UI and interface for small-scale exploration games is still under development, and I expect that when it becomes perfected, it'll become relatively standardized.

Secondly, the storytelling genre has been developing technologies for creating rides. This branch emerged from the development of FPSs; the tram ride at the beginning of Half Life was a watershed moment. As developers realized that gamers enjoyed scripted moments more than they enjoyed fighting off waves of bad guys, games became more and more on rails. Sometimes people complain about this. A while back, there was a YouTube video of someone playing a whole 20 minute mission of some Call of Duty game without firing a shot... they just ran through and let their AI partners take on the baddies. A bunch of gamers derided this as bullshit. But it's not bullshit any more than Space Mountain is bullshit; a lot of modern FPSs have essentially become roller coasters with a slight illusion of agency. That is OK. The Stanley Parable is essentially a roller coaster --- it's not the branching narrative that is at the heart of the game as much as the fact that it is a fun ride. (The demo, which is essentially a whole other game, doesn't have any branches but it still feels like The Stanley Parable.) Developers are still figuring out the sorts of actions to allow the player in order to make the experience feel like more than just a cut scene.

Thirdly, the storytelling genre has been developing technologies for creating conversations. Dialogue trees have become much, much more engaging than they were in Monkey Island, and the Bioware experimented in Mass Effect and Dragon Age by having the player choose a sentiment without choosing a line of dialogue verbatim. This has pluses and minuses. Telltale is now making dialogue options timed. This is an excellent addition. Developers are figuring out what dependencies must be tracked in order to make conversations sound natural and real.

Exploratory environments, rides, and conversations are all things that you do not beat or win. It makes me very excited that games are being to cast off the notion that games must include puzzles or challenges for you to overcome in order to have these experiences. I think we'll eventually figure all these things out, a UI will become relatively standardized, and there will then be a new storytelling genre of game (or interactive experience, or whatever).

I consider L.A. Noire to be the greatest cautionary tale. It was ambitious and tried to include all three elements, but failed catastrophically. It's instructive for this reason. If you want to see how much Bioware and Telltale have added to conversation technology, check out how terribly the conversation trees work in L.A. Noire. It never allows you to communicate what you want to communicate, and your interlocutors will yell at you and then suddenly be your friend at the drop of a hat. The game promised to allow for the fun exploration of a full city, but your engagement with the city was frustratingly limited. And whenever you got to push through a fun little ride portion of the game (a car chase or incognito tracking mission), it was almost always needlessly challenging and caused the inertia of the game to grind to a halt.
posted by painquale at 7:38 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

And all push against the standard conception of a game as something with a "win state", which is something that is almost always included in conceptual analyses of 'game'. Obviously, any conceptual analysis will be imperfect and will have counterexamples, but I think that it sounds at least a little strange to call Gone Home or The Stanley Parable or Minecraft a game is because it is strange to say that you win, solve, or beat these games.

This is really interesting, definitely. I was thinking about Call of Duty: Ghosts, for example. There is an obvious overarching win state (for the single-player campaign, to keep things simple) - getting to the end of the final encounter and seeing the final cutscene. And the number of achievements you get on the way is a second set of metrics for your... winningness. Winnitude?

(The Stanley Parable in particular explicitly plays with the idea of achievements as things that gauge progress and achievement.)

But on the other hand, that's the ending you are always going to get. Death in battle could be considered a fail state, but it's a very limited one, since you restart a few minutes of play back. If you keep playing Call of Duty:Ghosts you are going to get to the end - unless you get hung up on a particular challenge, and the game is designed to minimize the risk of that happening. So, is there actually a way to lose? And if not, what exactly does it mean for something to be a win state? You complete it - but do you beat it?

(I guess this is part of the promise of the roguelike and the roguelikelike - that death is meaningful, and thus that victory is meaningful. If you win Spelunky, that might be the only time in your life that you do it. You might never beat Spelunky. You can grind to get better, but you can't just grind to the end.)

Of course, that applies to most games these days. I was quite impressed that X-COM: The Bureau actually does give you the option of doing something stupid and ending the game in a weird, inconclusive place - although of course you can still restart the chapter and do it again, it is properly a 'The End', credits and all, rather than a die-and-respawn. But games like the original X-COM, where you can play a game for a long time and then realise that not only can you not win, but you have been unable to win for several hours and just hadn't realised it, and all your save games are from points after your defeat became inevitable, are pretty thin on the ground these days.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:06 PM on January 16, 2014

Was it a mistake for RPS to cover it?

Gone Home has no shotguns, but it has plenty of papers. And lots of Rock. So it's fair game.
posted by straight at 8:45 PM on January 16, 2014

Somebody asked the question that matters far more than "is Gone Home a game?", which is "why is it so important to you that Gone Home isn't a game?"

There was a guy in the RPS forums who objected to games like Oblivion being called an RPG. He wanted the term to be reserved for turn-based party-management games like Wizardry and Might & Magic -- a game genre that has been pretty much displaced by games that are more like Oblivion. Calling Oblivion an RPG obscures the fact that no one is making "real" RPGs any more.

I think there's a similar feeling about calling Gone Home a game. People who miss the days of Doom and Quake already feel that stuff like the single-player Call of Duty campaigns are hardly "real" games anymore. I think they're afraid that stuff like Gone Home is continuing to push the definition of "game" in the wrong direction, and that it will lead to a decline in the kinds of games they like.

I think they're wrong. Gaming is getting bigger and more diverse, but there's still games being made in all kinds of niches. Your favorite genre might not dominate the gaming scene as it once did, but that's mostly because the gaming scene has gotten so big that nothing, not even Minecraft or Candy Crush, can really be said to dominate all of gaming. Meanwhile, if you still want more Doom, you've got this that was released in 2012.
posted by straight at 9:09 PM on January 16, 2014

Somebody asked the question that matters far more than "is Gone Home a game?", which is "why is it so important to you that Gone Home isn't a game?".

I'd like to see an answer to this from the "it isn't a game" crowd.

Personally I believe that The Waste Land is not a novel, Things Fall Apart is not a poem, Breaking Bad is not a stage play, When The Levee Breaks is not hip-hop (though the idea intrigues me and I'm kind of hoping that internet trick where mentioning a thing finds/creates it happens now), and in general that the categorization of cultural outputs is a valid exercise which necessarily entails excluding most cultural works from most categories. Therefore it can be worthwhile to propose criteria that speak to whether or not certain very long integers transmitted to sundry computers and interpreted in certain well-known contexts may be considered a "game," an "interactive entertainment," an "ebook.txt," a "porno.mp4" etc. and in this unfortunate world where we all find ourselves of necessity amateur ontologists (THANKS OBAMA) we must often make do with trying to figure these things out for ourselves.

I suppose I may not be the ideal respondent, as I wouldn't characterize the "game" status of Gone Home as anything like "important" to me, but I do have the feeling that many would characterize any assertion negating such status, even on a no-account Internet forum, as "importance." The unimportance leads to a disclaimer - the matter has not been important enough to me to investigate by actually playing Gone Home, as, game or not, it is by most accounts a finely crafted interactive digital work of a type that holds no special interest for me esp. considering the limited amount of time I devote to interactive digital entertainments these days. I would stand by as much as I stand by any opinion derived from secondhand accounts, however, that it does not sound to me like Gone Home is a game, though it is certainly descended from games and close to games. (In general my cognitive bias is towards lumper rather than splitter so if there wasn't the context of many asserting that Gone Home is 100% definitely & morally identical with "game" I think I would characterize it as "basically a game" or "not quite a game but more or less". Really the whole discussion is shortly academic or historical, games/life/work/art/media/production/consumption/politics are all kind of lumping up anyway. Why have I as yet heard no serious political candidate propose an agenda for dealing with the simulacrum?)

I think I've heard the words "ludic," "formalist," and "systems" thrown around to describe opinions on the matter closer to mine (I would add "challenge"), and it just doesn't seem to me like the elements required are sufficiently present. There seems little "ludic" to me, the gameplay sounding like basically a tiny Doom level with no monsters to fight when you strip story and setting. There would seem to be no "systems" of relevance beyond the trivial key-door interaction - the WASD FPS engine is of course itself an intricate system, but no more inherently a game than my alt-left alt-right ctrl-tab web browsing engine. I think I would evaluate Gone Home quite poorly by the standards of a game, even if I found it excellent as a thing in the world.

Some other people, though (the vague sense I've gotten is of a split at least grossly even, judging by things like general internets sentiment and Metacritic user reviews), consider narratives, experiences, storylines, interactivity, exploration, aesthetics, engines, artistic value, or some other facet or combination to be primary to the definition of a game. I default to pluralism - though we could debate the superiority of our definitions, I have little problem with other people operating under another definition. I find it difficult to see any of the prevalent positions as particularly morally superior or blameworthy, however.

Of course, to some extent one side's victory merely defers the issue of categorization, hiding it behind semantics - we could have a 4Chan/Reddit/Tumblr/SJ Blogger Internet Peace Conference tomorrow and agree to compromise terms such that the Internet agrees Gone Home is definitely a game but Donglegate was definitely ridiculous, but then we'd hear people say "art games" like they say "hardcore games," "casual games," "AAA games," and "indie games," and we'd hear complaints about people making the distinction.

This is something I have a very hard time grasping with the theory and theorizing about social constructs & perhaps someone could edify me on this point - I definitely agree that many categories and entities such as "games" are social constructs, and are often rather arbitrary or pure social constructs, with little basis in anything objective. Having identified them as such, they can be critiqued, possibly even changed, but I find it difficult to declare one construction or the other "wrong" or "right" except maybe through consistency with itself and other accepted social constructs. I think you can make a case that one social construct should be preferred as more useful or even sometimes morally superior if a shift would result in greater happiness & well-being, but not so much this "NO U WRONG." It's not even glaring here with "games" where "society" seems rather undecided, but there's enough sociology out there that reads like "We discovered 93.2% +/- 1.3 of society endorses social construct X, fairly purely a social construct, but they are in fact ALL WRONG." There seems to be a lot of fairly blatant study of what society ought to be thinking.

I really think we should hold that peace conference. I know a lot of people don't read the comments out there so let me tell you while some places are held fairly closely by varyingly moderate to extreme forces of one side or another (/pol/ /b/, SJ blogs, MRAs) or somewhat neutral powers, half the Internet is a fuckin' war zone anymore (Reddit/Tumblr/Twitter). I've seen some shit, and I think we should attempt to be better than our political leaders and rekindle a spirit of negotiated compromise.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:31 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

the matter has not been important enough to me to investigate by actually playing Gone Home

You used the word "playing", boom, it's a game.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:38 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Now, bloviating on the internet to laboriously reach the conclusion that the truth lies in the middle: there's a game.
posted by emmtee at 9:41 PM on January 16, 2014

You used the word "playing", boom, it's a game.

Yet I just played some Kanye, 'bout to play an episode of something or other before bed...
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:48 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The best conceptual analysis of 'game' is probably that of Bernard Suits in The Grasshopper. "To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude]." See here. But in response, see page 3 of this pdf.
posted by painquale at 12:00 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yet I just played some Kanye,

Oh, come on. Kanye's definitely got game.
posted by straight at 1:14 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If Kanye is music, then Gone Home is a game. It's not a first person shooter, but then Kanye doesn't make bluegrass.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:16 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not a game; it's better than a game. It's a story -- a simple one, a relatively everyday one, but one I really enjoyed. Having said that it shares many notable features of games -- i.e. it's presented in the form of software that simulates an environment you can move in from a first-person perspective. But we don't really have a name for things like that that aren't games, yet.

Calling it "not a game" is only a criticism if the only type of entertainment you can stomach is games, which would be weird. Unless you never watch movies or TV, or read, that's not a strike against it, except out of weird tribalism. "What is this trickery! I'm a GAMER(TM) sitting at my GAMING PC(TM) and this is clearly NOT A GAME(TM) -- unclean!! PURGE THE ELSEMEDIA!" People should chill, and they should also play Gone Home, because it's great.

Actually things like Gone Home have made me realise that I've never really been that interested in playing games, I'm mostly interested in being told interesting stories and I happen to particularly like the format called "video games" for doing that, because so many stories or aspects of them can emerge from that format emergently, which is novel and interesting.
posted by Drexen at 2:54 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

(As an aside, I think one problem with the debate is that the far end of the arguments against - the homophobic, misogynist weirdos who see it as the thin end of a wedge that will result in them being forced to play Sexual Orientation Epiphany Simulator - which despite its name is in fact a Twine game - for twelve hours a day every day, while an audience of women watches and laughs - is so awful that it's hard to have the discussion at all.

Like Anita Sarkeesian, actually; you don't want to say "actually, I thought that example was bit forced", because you'll get a bunch of people agreeing with you in the worst way.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:09 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

And by the way, however the terminology evolves, RPS sure don't seem to have seen covering Gone Home as a mistake -- it was their #2 GOTY -- and I'm sure that they will continue to cover interesting stories whether or not they continue to be classed as "games".
posted by Drexen at 3:20 AM on January 17, 2014

Yeah - I think one of the parts of the "is this a game" question is that people who write about games wanted to put it on their lists of games of the year, and saying that it isn't a game while doing that raises some awkward questions.

(Although it is worth noting that the bro-iest of brogaming events outside eSports, the VGX awards - so bro, the X stands for X-treme! - also made Gone Home its PC game of the year.)

So, on the one end you have a group of people who want good and interesting interactive experiences build by game developers, using game engines to count within the set of "games" - who want the set of things that are games to broaden the possibilities of how games are constructed, how they work and the emotions they can instil. And at the other extreme you have people whose objections to Gone Home being classified as a game are based in a pretty deep anger at what they see as the intrusion of queer and female narratives into their games. In many cases their objection is not only about Gone Home as an object, but also about the way The Fullbright Company, its creators, decided to cancel their stand at the Indie Megabooth at PAX out of discomfort with Penny Arcade's recent actions.

These are a twain that basically can't meet, which is a problem. And it does cause static for the more academic argument about what a game, broadly, is. Which is why The Stanley Parable and Kentucky Route Zero, for example, are much less fraught subjects of discussion.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:48 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

running.., that's a good point. Even though I'm personally happy to think of things like Gone Home as 'not a game' without thinking less of it, clearly they are, in terms of insfrastructure -- media, development, conferences, method of consumption, etc -- closely intertwined with games, and that probably won't change any time soon. As such, one side effect of separating the two is that there will be an effort to exclude 'non-games' from all that infrastructure.

Until and unless a separate infrastructure builds up around them that at least reflects the demand for these things, whatever that is -- if it even makes sense to do so at all -- I guess it's not useful or even counterproductive to try and separate them, given that they share so much, including most of their respective audiences. Especially since there's an extent to which the divide matches up with a 'mainstream vs queer' divide (in various senses)... so this separation would have an exclusionary effect.
posted by Drexen at 5:02 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's an interesting problem! "Indie games' doesn't quite do it, because there is that problem of whether it means indie in aesthetic or indie in publishing arrangement (the very indie-flavored Journey was produced by thatgamecompany as part of an exclusive contract with Sony Computer Entertainment, and there are endless low-budget "modern warfare" FPSes produced by studios managing their own publishing and distribution). "Art games" is a common term, but it's hugely subjective, and Fullbright, for example, would be I think entitled to point out that they are a team formed from a nucleus of BioShock 2 veterans, making a game with a realistic setting and a totally mainstream, relatable set of concerns depicted in a realistic fashion, so that doesn't really work either.

The infrastructure sort of already exists - it's Steam, and to a lesser extent the Humble Store, and then behind that other PC digital markets and the consoles' various toe dips into indie gaming. But that does create a locus of conflict - when Zoe Quinn's Depression Quest was put into Steam Greenlight, an intersection of gatekeeper attitudes* led to a pretty toxic response (from a tiny minority, as it was swept through the Greenlight process by others, it is worth pointing out!). So, Steam's very ability to sell hardcore FPSes and these other kinds of game side by side is causing a lot of friction. So, yeah, you're absolutely right.

* "This is a text-based game made in Twine", "this is a game made by a woman", "this is a game about depression".
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:56 AM on January 17, 2014

This sounds like it's not a video game in the same way Margaret Atwood doesn't write science fiction.
posted by squinty at 7:27 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

From what I've read about Gone Home (it's on my wishlist), I'd call it an exploration game. Proteus received a few 'but is it a game?', yet there wasn't that much fuss about it.
posted by ersatz at 8:01 AM on January 17, 2014

(Although it is worth noting that the bro-iest of brogaming events outside eSports, the VGX awards - so bro, the X stands for X-treme! - also made Gone Home its PC game of the year.)

Yeah, but that's their way of sneering at PC gaming. "Nerds!"
posted by straight at 9:35 AM on January 17, 2014

eSports are a thing for bros now?
posted by squinty at 1:01 PM on January 17, 2014

More that eSports and competitive gaming are towards the bro end of gaming as a culture...
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:49 PM on January 17, 2014

Metafilter: a lot of fairly blatant study of what society ought to be thinking.
posted by umberto at 5:54 AM on January 18, 2014

  • It's a game because its fundamental mechanics are not easily distinguishable from puzzle/adventure games, and we call them games.
  • It's a game because it uses a game engine to reproduce the environment you play in.
  • It's not a game because it doesn't feel like the games I'm used to playing and I like my games to feel game-like.
  • It's not a game because using "game" to describe it feels like it trivializes what it actually is. Can't we use "interactive media" or something instead?
I think it's more interesting to see the reasons why people want it to be a game or not-a-game than to spend much time arguing over it myself. I personally don't think there's any checklist you can use to define the term "game" so precisely as to exclude Gone Home but not other games that are popularly recognized as games, though I also sympathize with the idea that describing Gone Home as "a game" could lead to many people trivializing something that has a few important things to say.
posted by Aleyn at 6:39 PM on January 20, 2014

I guess part of my thing is, if it's not a game, what is it? It's not a movie, it's not a painting, it's not a book. Apparently it's a unique thing which has every trapping of a game except some indefinable quality and thus it is a unique kind of thing, a kind which includes only itself? William of Ockham turns in his grave.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:57 AM on January 21, 2014

It's whatever Sleep No More is, but it's a digital one of those. So there are at least two of them out there.
posted by painquale at 8:23 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sleep No More is often called immersive theatre - I think I'd be totally OK with a genre of immersive gaming, except that immersion is already (over)used as a term in video games...
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:56 PM on January 21, 2014

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