First person and possibility

The thing I found most frustrating about Galatea was the fact that I was unable to control my tone on a sentence by sentence basis. Although I’m sure there were many stats I did not know how to keep track of impacting the extent to which I sounded unimpressed or patronizing, I felt my conversational intentions undermined by “my own” words practically any time I posed a question. The thing I found must frustrating about Gone Home was the fact that I was looking through Katie’s eyes, but I couldn’t really tell who she was. Her blankness, which we talked about in class, did sometimes make me feel as though I was finding a Walt Whitman book under my own parents’ bed, having those same excited followed by disappointed feelings I’d probably get in real life were I to look through someone I know’s stuff and find nothing really unexpected (which, obviously, I would never do). But for the most part, I felt like something was missing: what did Katie think about most of the stuff she was picking up? At least in Galatea, I could test to see if my character thought something about certain topics, or wanted to say anything about others. In Gone Home, I waited for her to react to objects, and when she did in a way that was (often, not always) predictable, I felt like I was not being given enough of a person to hold on to.

Both games involved first-person perspectives which players are meant to inhabit — we’re sort of in control, but we’re also pushed along a path (even if it’s one of many possible ones). I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that the type of agency I felt I had in Galatea – choice of topic, the opportunity to imagine the way the room looked, maybe even the fact that I was typing – was somehow more gratifying than the powers I was given in Gone Home – ability to move, to set the tone by playing music, to turn on lights and see, to glance at a map, to pick things up, Katie’s being sufficiently open-ended for me to imagine myself into her. I don’t know if this has to do with the fact that most of my favorite books involve first-person narrators, and also maybe because I don’t play video games that often, but for some reason the “world” of Gone Home just felt very flat in comparison to the “world” of Galatea, and I think that had a lot to do with my experience of the characters whose perspective I was inhabiting.

I think I’m associating a world’s flatness (if I can put it that way) with an experience in which I feel like there are not many possibilities. I’m curious to know whether people who often play first-person shooters experienced Gone Home as having more possibilities than I did, in the same way that people more familiar with Super Mario appreciated the gameplay mechanics of Braid in a way that I could not. In both cases, I think that maybe the structure’s being pretty much totally foreign to me encouraged me to focus on the things I am more used to “getting”, like characters and story, and only superficially understanding what makes these games special in the universe of game to which they belong.

1 thought on “First person and possibility

  1. I really liked Gone Home and it didn’t exactly feel flat to me, but I was sort of disappointed by Katie as an avatar (can we call her that when we never see her?). Your post raised a lot of questions for me about identification and first person games, but I don’t really have answers to any of them. So I’m sorry if this comment is not helpful!

    It seems to me that in one view she is just a blank slate for the player to project onto. I like this idea theoretically, but I think it creates a problem for the narrative of the game. If I’m not grounded by the fact that I’m playing *as Katie,* then I don’t really have a reason to be exploring the ephemera of her family’s house. Maybe I am supposed to just be interested by their story? Or by the impression that if I keep playing I’m going to get to some kind of horror/survival/action situation? But neither of these would compel me enough to keep playing. Galatea doesn’t give me this problem — interacting with her is something that I find interesting/challenging/compelling whether or not I’m playing through a character.

    But it’s playing *as Katie* that prompts me to get far enough into Gone Home to find the family’s story interesting by itself. Katie-the-character gives the problem from which the rest of the game unfolds: she comes home from Europe to find an empty house full of cryptic clues. Her character is enough to make me interested in the other members of the family — they aren’t just random people, they’re her mother, her father, and her sister.

    But this gets me into a convoluted circle of me-avatar-character that I don’t quite understand: I’m interested (at least at first) in the family members because of their connection to Katie (character), but I’m just interested in Katie (avatar) because I see her as connected to me. By making her my avatar, the lens through which I see the world, the game automatically gives me an investment in her.

    So maybe I’m just looking for a Goldilocks balance between Katie as a place for me to project myself and Katie as a character for me to attach to? I’m not sure, but this seems like a problem for Gone Home in a way that it isn’t for Galatea.

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