At the heart of their narratives, Gone Home and Braid (like Super Mario before it) are both driven by a missing girl. More generally, of course, this device comes up all the time, across media: the protagonist loves a woman, the woman is in peril, and everything else follows from there.
But what happens to this formula when the story is told from a female point-of-view? What happens when the girl-in-trouble is not a wife or a girlfriend but a sister?
I bring up this comparison as a way in to a larger conversation about what Gone Home is doing with gender. It would be nice if women and female relationships were so widely represented in the media that a game like this could be no big deal, but as things stand now, Gone Home is set apart just by its characters’ demographics. Writes one reviewer who strongly identified with Sam: “It feels embarrassing to say, but I could cry—did cry—with the relief of knowing a game like this even exists.”
The femaleness of Gone Home is particularly interesting in that this is essentially a game about looking. Occasionally you’ll come across images of and references to your avatar, and in small ways you interact with the objects throughout the home, but for the most part, your role is to observe, sometimes voyeuristically. That this observing occurs through the eyes of a girl upsets the traditional gender dynamics of looking, as put forth by Laura Mulvey et al. In one room in the house, you find a Sassy-esque teen magazine bearing the cover line “THE MALE GAZE: How to Subvert It”; on one level, this is a throwaway gag about nineties pop feminism, but on another, it could serve as a winking nod toward what the Fullbright Company might actually be going for.
Sam’s characterization also strays from what we might expect from the missing-girl archetype: she is the driver of the plot rather than a device thereof. Women in fiction so often exist as motivators for other (male) characters’ development and actions, while Sam is the one doing this most developing and acting in Gone Home. In a game like Braid or Super Mario, the pursued princess exists only in the context of her relationship to the player’s avatar, but Katie is largely beside the point in thinking about Sam. It wasn’t until the final scene, when Sam apologizes for not saying goodbye to Katie in person, that I became conscious she in any way belonged to me, and vice versa. (Let’s all pause and take a second to call our IRL sisters, just to check in.) It’s also worth noting that through all these letters to Katie, Sam exerts control over her own narrative—we learn about her inner life as she herself chooses to portray it.
Were you all as struck as I was by the gender dynamics of the game? For the guys in the class, what was it like being asked to step into the shoes of a female avatar (a task that surely happens less often than the other way around)?