Yesterday I got a few questions about Gone Home and that tiresome debate over whether or not it is a game, a debate which is most cases not an honest one. Looking at definitions of art is a fun activity that everyone who practices art in any way is constantly asking and this is a good thing. But when you move it from intellectual exercise to where and how and if the art is worth talking about then you’re not really engaged in the question of what is art, you’re policing what you believe gets to be called art.
It’s easy to tell the conversations about Gone Home and Twine etc are utterly disingenuous when you see who’s having them. Take a step back for a second and look at what a stunning reversal this conversation is from any other debate about what gets to be art. In any other field the debate of what was art would overwhelmingly favor narrative and character driven “notgames” over melodrama, science fiction, and violence. In this space, though, the question of legitimacy is not answered by the question of “is it art?” unless “is it a game?” can also be answered in the affirmative.
So actually: this is not a stunning reversal at all from the way other forms engage with art. Literary fiction is has been mired in contemporary realism for so long it’s hard to remember a time you could write about something other than suburban ennui and be taking seriously. That is a joke, but it hardly is one, and it is no coincidence that those whose entire skillset is based around a certain particular form of creative expression are incredulous or hostile to alternatives.
Here’s a thought I hope is frighteningly cynical: as Gone Home and imitators become popular and consumable outside of a subculture trained to play them, as it becomes taken more and more seriously, a new set of formalists eager to depict the ennui of aging men will fill the void currently occupied by the formalists. They will be considered the first people to truly unlock the artistic potential of the medium, unlike the clumsy and haphazard art of the queer folx that paved their way.
Reposted here are the questions that led me there.Is disliking Gone Home homophobic if you like the positive portrayal of LGBT people, but hate the rest?I’m going to complicate this question in order to make it more interesting to answer, because the way it is currently framed the answer is just obviously no. How could it be homophobic to criticize the game design or narrative progression or character development of a game that happens to contain LGBTQ characters? Gone Home has received a fair amount of critique from within the queer community for its limitations as a queer narrative so I feel like perhaps this question is incomplete? I won’t speculate on that, but it does remind me of a bit of a tangential issue: how art by/for marginalized groups is frequently picked apart by critics to a degree that might not be applied to art written by and for privileged groups. The standard passive-aggressive criticism is that LGBTQ work is (for example) not “universal” enough to really talk about the “human condition” like books about white masculinity are. It’s not uncommon to see women writers, black writers, or queer writers criticized on this basis, as if their experiences are quaint and specialized while those of the privileged are grand and universal. So in criticizing a game like Gone Home, it’s important to keep in mind the subtle ways in which our culture believe that, at a fundamental level, queer experiences are outsider experiences and special interests that will never attain the quality of art at the apex of our culture. This is something, then, that you must be very aware of when you are critiquing art by marginalized people. I’ve been in a lot of classes as a teacher and a student, and I’ve listened to a lot of classmates find ways to express their discomfort with minority writers with a disingenuous critique of their craft. “This text is too angry/aggressive/depressing/whiny” for example. You have to be aware of the wider cultural power dynamics that exist when you critique a text. You can’t examine it in a vacuum.why is the defense of gone home calling it’s detractors homophobic when critique of purely it’s mechanics, and it’s classification as a visual novel rather than a game, due to the most minimal of game mechanics being present?I haven’t seen anyone accuse Gone Home’s detractors of being homophobic, so I’m not going to discuss the implication that this is a majority opinion as it’s obviously an incorrect stance to take. The classification of “visual novel” or “game” is utterly, boringly trivial and I can’t believe discussions surrounding Gone Home STILL centralize on whether it goes in box A or box B rather than literally anything else. Gone Home is without a doubt Bioshock without the shooting—and there is still tons of game design in creating that experience, like how the design of the house subtly points you in certain directions so that even though it feels like you’re exploring on your own you are still being guided through the levels in the order they want. That is fundamental to level design and hard to get right. Gone Home is very good at something that even AAA games can flounder in. There’s nothing “minimal” about the game mechanics in Gone Home. The difference is that there are no feedback loops or systems to optimize or choices to make, qualities that we have quite arbitrarily decided are so defining of video games that they overwhelm such concerns as level design, how you interact with an environment, or making sense of a fragmented narrative. Gone Home required a great deal of understanding of game design to make and every single thing in that game is directly applicable to any AAA game that has shooting along with its story. So why is this classification of game or visual novel a meaningful distinction, when the same skillset, technology, and tools are being used to create both Gone Home and Bioshock? Why is there the implication or that Gone Home not be talked about alongside the games it was influenced by? Why is it that games with manipulative feedback and rewards loops—games like temple run that just so happen to have a very clear path for monetization—have no problem achieving the status of “game” while Gone Home gets a million comments demanding that it not be discussed on a game site because it doesn’t fit a personal definition of a game? Why is it so important for so many people to police Gone Home with the seeming intent of bullying them out of the venues we discuss games in? So you can see how some folx feel like the criticism of Gone Home or other notgames is disingenuous in the way I indicated in the last ask. I see in some people an attitude like: “Gone Home isn’t a game, so we don’t have to take it seriously, or talk about it, and we can shove it off to some other place for other people to deal with it.” Even Raph Koster, one of the biggest voices to cry out for cutting Gone Home and its ilk out of the categorization of games finally realized that his position was a great deal more charged than he had thought and he was unintentionally dismissing and marginalizing important works. Gone Home is so obviously relevant to discussions of game design I can’t understand the insistence on kicking it out on a technicality.do you think the reception of gone home will encourage the development of other looking glass studios-style immersive sims that avoid manshootin’ mechanics?Oh absolutely (tho technically I don’t think they fit the immersive sim definition(i reaaaaally don’t like the term in the first place)). Literally since Bioshock game out people have been speculating on what a game like that would be without combat, and well, there it is—as Dear Ether and Amnesia both are part of a incestuous influence orgy between the three games, it’s basically already happening and games like this will only continue to become more popular. Though these games aren’t really comparable to visual novels in most ways, they fill more or less the same role in a way that western PC users are very receptive to. It’s going to be impossible to argue that gunplay or puzzle solving or competition is essential to selling games and while I don’t think we’ll see a AAA gone home for a long time, expect to start seeing stuff like this announced on consoles before too long with the same sort of breathless abandon that Fez or Braid received in the 360/ps4 generation. I hope! There’s going to be a lot of imitators in the meantime but some of them will be cool and a couple will be really really good.