Attention & Distraction in Gone Home

Gone Home plays with the player’s attention and distraction through the formal elements it borrows from the horror genre.  From the get-go, the game makes the player hyper-aware of the surroundings through the establishment of the atmosphere as being mysterious and suspenseful.  We are compelled to, if not forced to, investigate every object with a heightened sense of attention as if doing so would earn us somewhat of an immunity against the impending doom.  In this mode of perception, every little detail of the world becomes monumentally important, and nothing is inconsequential.  In other words, the attention that the game commands from the player in turn shapes the world of the game into a stylized, bracketed space where everything takes on symbolic meaning and therefore everything also loses symbolic meaning.  Distraction almost become a non-existing stimulus in the world, as everything calls for intense attention, and even when the player is “distracted,” they are distracted in a manner that the player is still expending the same kind and sum of attention in attending to the source of distraction.

Specifically, the manner in which the game manipulate the player’s attention mirrors the crux of its narrative: the coming-of-age tale of Sam.  The game already draws a pretty explicit parallel between the entire slew of miscellaneous objects that are littered about in the giant mansion and the scattered and isolated incidents in Sam’s life as are sprinkled sporadically throughout the gameplay experience.  However, we could go further and consider the formal presentation of Sam’s journals as not just a narrative with a deconstructed chronology, but also a formal analog to the life and struggles of the character of Sam.  Much like how the player learns about Sam’s story through connecting the discrete dots and generating constellations, Sam’s story is in fact non-linear and is characterized by isolated events clumping together to birth a renewed sense of significance.

Without making a sweeping generalization about narratives that have to do with queer identity or identity in general even, the narratives of both Gone Home and Dys4ia are quilts of disparate episodes.  Perhaps the lack of a single driving force that organizes the episodes under a unified superstructure has to do with the structuralized oppression that the queer identity suffers from.

The spatial storytelling that the narrative roots in resonates with the spatial logic that Jameson claims postmodern narratives to follow as opposed to temporal logic.  I was worried when I was playing the game that I was discovering Sam’s journals in the “wrong order,” but I gradually realized that there is no set order that I, as the character in the game, is supposed to discover the journals in, but rather, am supposed to interact with the various locations in the house in order to earn the privilege to listen to the journals.  Each location triggering an advent of a piece of information and the relationship between the pieces of information having a horizontal rather than a hierarchical relationship is also, interestingly, a characteristic of locative literature.  Instead of a mimetic representation of Sam’s physical existence telling the story, the entire mansion was serving as testimony to the emotional journey that she has gone through.  And so, once I had intensely meticulously scrutinized the whole house, I felt like I was connecting with the character of Sam on a very intimate, visceral level.

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