The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home was, perhaps, always going to divide opinion amongst our group of volunteers. Generally very well received – it currently boasts a Metacritic rating of 86 – Gone Home has irked some who feel it challenges their personal definition of what a video game is*. Our group certainly included a small proportion of those who didn’t quite fall in love with the game, but the majority of players did appear to become engrossed in the game’s elusive narrative.
This situation is illustrative of another of the problems that can arise when using a prescribed game within a formal learning environment: not everyone is going to like it. Squire (2011) and Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2007) have documented similar problems, where some proportion of the class in question isn’t interested in playing video games. It’s also worth bearing in mind the students we’re working with here have volunteered to take part in a game-based study and all have at least some interest in video games.
The intention was to examine how the game communicates its story to the player, and to ask whether playing such a game might help hone our investigative skills, as the player is required to locate and synthesise information from a range of in-game sources in order to figure out what has happened. The extent to which our players felt as though the game’s creators were communicating with them was generally rather limited, and I was reminded of Jonathan Blow’s comments in Indie Game: The Movie, wherein the designer revealed that he had hoped to speak to his audience through his game, Braid, but that this conversation had not really taken place.
The idea that Gone Home’s exploratory gameplay could help develop investigative skills was met with somewhat greater enthusiasm. However, broadly speaking, those players who enjoyed the game to a lesser extent also saw less value in its investigative aspects. Those players who became invested in the game’s narrative and were thus motivated to piece together the story from the clues scattered around the abandoned home in which the game is set did appear to feel as though their investigative abilities were being exercised.
If the communicative aspects of the game are put to one side, then, the question that remains is: does playing Gone Home help develop the player’s investigative skills?
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S. (2007). Educational Potential of Computer Games (illustrated edition). Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.
Squire, K. (2011). Video Games and Learning: Teaching Participatory Culture in the Digital Age. Teachers’ College Press.
* For the record, I love Gone Home.