Cigarettes and Magazines
by ALEX CARNEVALE
The Fullbright Company
design by Steve Gaynor
Now that the 90s are a good fifty or sixty years in our collective past it is possible to take stock of them. Adjectives are inadequate — who can deign to describe Rome at its most opulent? It is like staring too long at the sun. Gone Home returns to this moment, represented by an empty house in the Pacific Northwest during a thunderstorm.
Kaitlin Greenbriar is the protagonist of Gone Home, the new game created by the Fullbright Company. Gone Home suggests that Kaitlin is a fairly heteronormative straight A student who comes from a troubled family, which we will learn more about presently. Since there are no mirrors in the Greenbriar house, we never see who Kaitlin is in the present of Gone Home. We have to be content with the family photos and documents that show what her and family looked like in the past.
Rotating and examining various objects in the Greenbriar house up close, with rain pouring down in the background between the fantastic score by Chris Remo, is the game. In 90 minutes or so you can finish Gone Home. By the end you will have opened a safe in the basement replete with accusations of molestation, explored an attic darkroom where Kaitlin's sister Samantha made out with her ROTC girlfriend Lonnie, and felt completely alone in the world.
It is another life completely, each detail reinforced by the accompanying cultural reference. Gone Home contains an astounding level of detail. Along with guilt and fear, each room in the house generally holds a box of tissues, a lamp, and a handwritten letter or list at the very least. There are always more secrets left to find here. Going through your family's private writings and keepsakes feels like a betrayal. On this level, Gone Home is spot on, since no one cared a whit for anybody else from 1990 to 2001.
Gone Home has inspired divergent opinions on the internet; there are no reports as of yet as to what the Prodigy.com userbase thinks of it. Some seem to feel it is wry or obvious commentary on the positioning of homosexuality during this period; others connect with the general Americanness of Nirvana on the radio, The X-Files on the VCR. It is completely ridiculous to make this time innocent or unknowing in any way, and Gone Home avoids this softening at every turn.
The general milieu inspires a nostalgia that already itself feel like an affection borne of a second, additional remembering. Now we not only recall the original period, maybe from news clippings, television and movies, but we also revisit our memories of our memories.
It was as a child that I learned how easy the past is to bring back in conversation, how it let me understand other children when they were no more than tiny, walking mysteries. In a society with no history what is left over becomes even more powerful. At this point Ronald Reagan is just a fucking face on a t-shirt. Much like Sam Greenbriar, 1995 was the worst year of my life, and also kind of the best. When Sam Greenbriar's girlfriend tells her she is enlisting in the military, it is very difficult to get over whether she goes through with it or not.
As with anything sentimental, a vocal minority loathes Gone Home. There is a deeply reductive idea that any piece of art must appeal to every single person. That seems to me misguided, although I do regret some of the things I said to people who liked The Dark Knight. Those who object to Gone Home's austere precociousness are usually those who did not come of age in the 90s, since it describes the decade perfectly.
Until the 90s, there was the distinct possibility that there existed a place more exotic and fascinating than the boredom we inhabitated. Today we are factually aware that the entire world is just a mirror. Kaitlin Greenbriar returns from college, the place she went to abandon the dullness of her Oregon life. She discovered, we may intuit, that it was all the same - now everything follows you everywhere. Then, youth could be fled or rearranged: people actually forgot the things that Lillian Hellman said and did, Margaret Mead was written about positively in magazines while Norman Mailer and Paul Gauguin were not locked up in jail.
The documents in Gone Home maintain an ineradicable record of our fuckups, making that break impossible. Jeanne, a disciple of Karl Jaspers, wrote that the philosophy of freedom consists of knowing that a choice made today projects itself backwards and changes our past actions. She could have added two words to the beginning of her definition to make it more accurate — before now.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Blue Jasmine and Philip Johnson. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.
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