Thrilled as fuck to announce that I’ve accepted a writing position at Gearbox Software.
My thoughts on the matter are summarized below:
Telling someone why they have to play Gone Home can be tricky. It begins innocently enough but, if mishandled, can take a turn for the creepy, e.g.: "You know how, like, you can learn a lot about people by going through their things, reading their mail and checking the expiration dates on the food in their refrigerator? Well imagine that, but a game. Boy howdy, I never knew how much I could learn about the life of a teenage girl until I went through all the drawers in her room and read every page of her jour who care you calling are you calling the cops why does everyone do that."
But I persist because it’s a risk worth taking, because you should play Gone Home, a big highlight in a month absolutely fuckin’ besieged by highlights.
I promise a relatively spoiler-free examination in the paragraphs to follow.
I’ll readily admit that a lot of my favorite games are tremendously difficult. Dark Souls, Spelunky, Super Meat Boy—yes and hell yes. But I get a little squidgy when I’m accused of being a masochist for liking or loving these games, and that happens a bit more frequently than you might expect. I usually offer the same defense: no, I don’t enjoy dying or being punished, but I do appreciate when obscene difficulty is paired with elegant design that distills challenge into a small roster of basic choices that make the difference between a win and a loss. When even the simplest choices matter as much as the big ones.
But that’s the game designer answer, not necessarily the personal one, which is as follows: I think I scratch some sort of itch when I’m presented with a wicked problem and an inexhaustible supply of attempts to solve it.
I played Kentucky Route Zero feverishly, which is to say I consumed its content wholly driven by a need to consume it entirely. With many games I play nowadays, particularly those with hulking, pendulous narratives, I feel a fatigue set in a bit sooner than I used to when tracking down all the story has to tell me, and sooner still if the gameplay between me and story isn’t all it could be. Not so with KRZ—I played the first act three times through to be sure I saw every last bit it had to show. It helped there was little to no gameplay to get in the way of it, which I didn’t mind in the least.
I had resolved not to braindump on the game ‘til at least one more of the game’s four remaining acts were released and I had further explored its vector map of blue highways and hushed vignettes, and seen the results of KRZ's unique presentation of dialogue and characterization, or specifically, the choices I made within that framework. Then a Wired piece on the game picked it apart in a way I found—I don’t want to say irritating, so let’s say inspiring, at least in as much as I now feel like I must, must crap out a bazillion words about the game as hastily as possible.
I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t already been stated a hundred times by folks much more capable, qualified and eloquent than I am, but I nonetheless want to quantify exactly why KRZ makes me so excited about the future of interactive narrative. If you haven’t played the game, play it right the fuck now, and come on back so we can chat further.
Maxis’ SimCity was besieged with server problems when it launched last week. Those have been largely remedied. Now free to play the game for more than twenty or thirty minutes at a go, players are digging deeper into the game and returning with woeful tales of AI corner-cutting.
What follows isn’t intended as a pile-on. When I began writing it, it was a love letter to what I presumed was a quirk of simulation extrapolated by extreme circumstances. Now, the mystery of its behavior is a little less mysterious, not quite as beguiling—on the other hand, the pictures are still pretty goddamned weird, so this is worth posting, I suppose.
Anyway, let’s kick this off with a question: what would inspire a person to protest their own house?