In her nuclear family, Katie comes off as probably the most “normal.” Her parents and her sister all have their arguably token demons or issues: Terry’s childhood abuse, Jan’s wandering eye, and Sam’s homosexuality. Katie, in contrast, seems a model daughter. We see her trophies for high school Track and Field, a charmingly generic memento from kindergarten with her name as an acronym, and her sweet and witty postcards. Everything that would make her particular, like her room, is boxed up.
The way that Katie interacts with her family’s possessions makes it clear that she’s legitimately a good kid, like when she says “ew” upon seeing a condom and refuses to read about Sam and Lonnie’s sexual experiences together. Katie is alone, so we know she’s not affecting her prudishness/discretion, although it’s such a minor ethic that it doesn’t disturb my ability to “possess” Katie as an avatar.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Katie’s strange lack of baggage compared to Gone Home’s other characters. Maybe we’re being asked to think about what we’re hiding behind impressive veneers, or to better feel compassion from a feeling of superiority. Maybe Katie is the neutral option amid the smorgasbord of personal issues catalogued in Gone Home.
I do want, though, to try to situate Katie within games’ broader tradition of silent or near-silent protagonists, who are usually quite bland. The first video games necessarily were light on dialogue, so characters like Mario, Pac-Man, and the spaceship from Space Invaders spoke with actions instead of words. Samus Aran is an example of a character who doesn’t speak because of her profound solitude, and Half-Life’s Gordon Freeman an example of a mostly silent protagonist whose rectitude feels almost a source of disquiet.
Speech is an incredibly complicated endeavor, and in shooters and other games that tell their stories through interactions or through found text, dialogue can inhibit the player’s ability to project onto or into the protagonist. For example, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake very much do not belong to the player. Games like Fallout that offer extensive conversation trees try to ameliorate this by letting the player decide on their avatar’s personality through a series of finite options, but that’s another conversation.
Point being: as a formal element, having a silent player-character usually leaves a lot of space for the player. In Gone Home, the choices afforded the player are minor, or matters of degree: there are the sandbox elements of the game, and then the constant question of how far the player wants to take their voyeurism, how long to linger on each textual object. The mission forced upon Katie and therefore the player is less obtrusive than a hunt for a princess: it’s a series of sensible questions and answers about her family and her sister. There’s not much to alienate the player; but maybe at the same time, there’s not much in Katie to provoke, either.