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When you’re dealing with difficult things but they’re the same difficult things you’ve been dealing with for years, and you sort of want to talk about them but you’re also tired of hearing yourself talk about them, and you send a few messages, start and delete several others, and go to a movie alone and step out afterwards into a big Midwestern parking lot and the moment before the distraction provided by the film dissipates, you hold your phone up to the sky.
I’m a compulsive reader. I’m less consistently engaged by movies and television, but there are certainly any number of films and shows I love. Over the past several years, though, I’ve become increasingly aware that there’s an entire type of narrative with which I haven’t been able to connect.
I glean things from time to time — for instance I understand, vaguely, that many folks in my social circle play, love, critique, passionately discuss, create fan art for, and are otherwise engaged with games like Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age.
But by and large, I’ve never found games fun.
Back in the dark ages, my fervent enjoyment of Ms. Pac-Man (as much for its name as for the gameplay) always coexisted with anxiety and frustration (whether due to inadequate hand-eye coordination or lack of quarters).
More recently, playing games, like reading some mainstream comics, has seemed more like work than entertainment, requiring Talmudic-level knowledge of creators, techniques and game mechanics. Or I’ve thought playing games would be like middle school gym class, where I knew I’d struggle with activities that others found simple, intuitive, enjoyable.
Turns out I hadn’t found the right game.
I wouldn’t have found it, either, if it hadn’t been for Carmen Maria Machado‘s thoughtful appreciation in the L.A. Review of Books, “Why Alice Munro Should Play ‘Gone Home‘: The Video Game As Story And Experience.” I bought Gone Home immediately after reading Machado’s piece, and played Gone Home, with only a few pauses, for the next several hours.
Anyone with more of a connection to the world of indie games than I have is, no doubt, not surprised. The game has been out since 2013. It’s won a lot of awards.
And anyone who knows me IRL will also not be surprised that the game with which I connected so strongly:
But even more than my delight in all the elements that felt tailor-made to delight me, what I appreciate most about Gone Home is how it subverts ideas about what even constitutes a story.
Received ideas about narrative are hard to escape. Conflict is everything. Raise the stakes. What does your protagonist want? What’s in the way of her getting it? What’s the through-line? What’s her arc? Who’s the Big Bad? Make it hurt!
Gone Home’s storytelling doesn’t work like that. You extrapolate from fragments. Relationships reveal themselves to you gradually. You discover that the Greenbriar family home, the “Psycho House,” both is and is not what it seems. And if an antagonist even exists, it’s, perhaps, simply the emotional and physical distance between the characters.
The Alice Munro quote about stories considered as houses that Machado includes in her piece about Gone Home is certainly apt (go read it if you haven’t already). I thought of another, a favorite passage from Ursula Le Guin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”:
There are a lot of stories inside the carrier bag of Gone Home’s house. And like Le Guin’s essay, they remind me that the ‘narrative trajectory’ is only one way to think about what stories are, or can be.
I don’t know the photographer to credit for this image. (If anyone reading this does, let me know.)
I saw it at, yes, an estate sale, and didn’t buy it, but wanted to remember it. Now you can too. Those handprints. Desperately grasping for purchase, or proudly leaving a mark?
I am incapable of taking the train without also taking photos out the window while it’s in motion.
Emerald City was terrific as usual. Highlights this year, aside from lovely interactions across the table, included the excellent meetup organized by Marissa Louise, various smaller-scale gatherings with old and new friends, and that curious con phenomenon where you manage to catch up with folks who live in the same city as you, yet whom you somehow never see while you’re at home.
But I will have a tablet so folks can browse & see how a T-shirt with the slogan #problematic, dinosaur selfies, and the word mansplaining figure into the plot.
Also, here’s a panel that has already been modified and put into service in a college lab where a friend works:
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