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Gone Home's Fairy Tale

[Just a minor spoiler warning for Gone Home on this one]

It’s like my teenage self never really left, they’re just hidden beneath a few fresh coats of paint. An old memory or visit from my parents and suddenly there I am brooding in the corner, feeling misunderstood and trying to make sense of things. I don’t have any warm feelings about growing up and I’d much prefer to forget what it’s like to be incomplete and shaped primarily by others. I had a fairly innocuous, privileged upbringing. I hate to think what it’s like for someone with more to escape.

Gone Home wants me to remember, but I can’t hate it for that. Somehow it reaches in and makes me care, even though I don’t want to remember. Somehow it becomes relevant to my life, even though I have very little in common with these people.

Sam is all passion and creativity, at a time when I didn’t even understand how to crave freedom and expression, let alone take it. Her first experiences of romance begin nervously, but she still manages to maintain far more elegance than most of us. Katie is a fairly blank slate, but I automatically cast her as the popular type. She has sports trophies on display, and enough money and independence by her early 20s for a long overseas trip. The house is full of (to me) absolutely ridiculous numbers of books, records and VHS tapes. It’s hard to say exactly what keeps reminding me I’m exploring an American house, but that feeling is present too. This is all very far away from my 1995.

I do recognise those exact Magic Eye posters on the wall and think about my love of The X-Files, but that’s just a shared wink across the table, not what actually drags me back in time. Partly it’s that recognition of the discomfort of not being a fully recognised human being. Gone Home is concerned with teenage love and sexual discovery, but the themes I’m personally most drawn to are about creativity and freedom, particularly within a formal education system.

Sam’s fantasy stories didn’t grab me immediately, but her sex education homework certainly did. An uninspired assignment covered several years too late to be properly useful. Is anyone surprised if someone tries to make dull, pointless work more interesting and explore topics that are more important to them?

Something about Gone Home kept dragging me back to an earlier memory, from when I was around twelve. In school we were writing classic Aussie-style yarns. One person nailed the voice of an old swagman, making hers easily the best piece in the class. Just one problem: that included the word “bugger”. The teacher was obviously a bit conflicted but had no choice but to censor it.

This might not be the best example of restricted creativity. There are good reasons for not using the word “bugger”. To me it feels like mild swearing, but when I actually think about it I don’t appreciate the implied homophobia. There might also be good reasons not to be trying to emulate certain writing styles in the first place. Regardless, it always stuck with me because, based on my knowledge at the time, our right to expression wasn’t there because we were “just kids” and our choices would always come second. I had some sense then of the need to stretch our own ideas (and, looking back, needing the freedom to make our own mistakes). The agency of children and teenagers has limits for a reason, but it’s still important. Formal education often restricts people more than it expands any ideas, in my experience. And art always loses to whatever else is seen as more important.

Gone Home is a fairy tale where art and passion don’t have to lose. I can only dream of being like Sam, but she gives me hope and there’s not enough of that to go around sometimes.