(Spoilers for Gone Home)
I really like saying that. Nineteen eighty seven. It was the year I was born.
I’ve come to learn it is one of the years that birthed impostors. When I think of the 90s, it’s Nickelodeon, Spice Girls, laser tag. I guard these memories with the fiercest of passions, because I like to think nothing in my childhood after 1999 existed. There were always older friends of mine cynical of the aughts, its lack of culture and honesty. They would tell me of rock shows I was too young for. My first mixtape was a CD.
Now, when I’m asked about games from those outside of the scene, I’m asked about what it is to be indie. There are indie films and indie bands, so do indie games fall into the same pattern? Rebel against The Man, bootstrap it? I never like to confirm this line of thought, because it isn’t true. Indie game culture is still preoccupied with being commercial enough. To me, this particular scene is more defined by its nostalgia, its pining for the past. And though I might be considered a contemporary to this scene, it’s a past I don’t share.
Playing Gone Home, it’s obvious much of the game’s presence was drenched with reminiscence. The environment begs you to dig through it, smiling at the TV listings and cassette tapes. We’re in the pacific northwest, the birthplace of nostalgia for anyone in or near their 30s. I grew up in South Florida, on the opposite end of the country with its nightclubs and Caribbean restaurants. The ghost haunting me wasn’t an estranged uncle, but the specter of the early 90s; feelings of longing and familiarity I just didn’t have. But it was there, baked into the play. Welcome home, it says.
Instead, Gone Home felt like a past I wished I had. A house with secret passageways, TV teenage drama. Everything felt just a little off from reality for me, and into the sitcom I wish I lived.
I am an older sister, but never had the chance to be. I grew up queer, but never had a lover to sneak through my window. I had a two parents, two kids, and a dog family, but my mother and father were immigrants and didn’t have that wholesome American culture to pass down. Playing Gone Home was like watching Nick at Night and wishing the TV would suck me right in. I’ve left home for good before without my parent’s knowledge, and I’ve returned to a hollowed-out family, but it didn’t have this ‘authenticity.’ I hope that reads as a merit to the game, instead of a criticism. Just a little bittersweet.
I don’t remember much about 1995. I had a second grade teacher with an over-powering vanilla-scented perfume who always sent home complaints that I talked too much in class. I thought you had to marry anyone you really liked and probably watched reruns of Deep Space Nine with my father. Nirvana was just that one song on the top 40 radio station my mom listened to and Jagged Little Pill would be the first album I’d buy with my own allowance. All of the blocky electronics were being swapped out for newer technology. It’s possible my nostalgia is shitty 3D graphics and a missing history. I wonder if there’ll ever be a homecoming for so-called millennials. What is the reference for our high school days? 9/11? Post-punk bands no one admits to liking? Hopefully it’s the awkward social dynamics of livejournal and the J-Pop.
That might be what makes me feel so distant from current going-ons; the difference between missing the past and missing having one at all. We’re going through a stage of reference, used to bond people together with a shared history. This might speak to why I won’t allow my work to hint much of anything cultural past my own skin, and I want people to feel foreign reading and playing what I create. It’s curious to me that counter-culture games evoke nostalgia, and counter-counter-culture ones with such present, and sometimes future, individuality.
I liked Gone Home, a lot. I just still feel its ghosts grabbing at my fingers.