Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Gone Home: A Comparison
It has been a while since I've posted here, and I could think of no better game to break my silence with then talking about Gone Home by the Fullbright Company and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons by Starbreeze Studios. Both are games published by independent game publishers, and both feature a focus on the relationship between two siblings. I had heard quite a bit about Brothers and next to nothing about Gone Home. Brothers I know won quite a bit of acclaim and many awards, while Gone Home has enjoyed moderate success and won a handful of awards. Why did one do so much better then the other? Both promised immersive interactive storytelling, and both delivered. Fair warning, this blog is going to have a fair amount of spoilers for both of these games, so if you don't want to have both games spoiled, I would skip down to the bottom.
Essentially, the story to Gone Home is that you, Katie, have been away to Europe after graduating and have just returned home to the states. When you arrive home, however, you find the house empty and essentially have to piece together clues you find to figure out the story of what happened with your family while you were away.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a story of two brothers setting out to save their father from some deadly illness. They have to travel to a tree to get magic healing stuff and it will cure their father.
Both games are very similar while at the same time being very different. Gone Home deals mostly with reality and the direct relationship between an older sibling with a younger. Brothers more deals with establishing the close relationship between two brothers, and dealing with loss and death.
I want to start by saying that Gone Home is absolutely the direction that gaming should be heading. The entire game feels exactly like what interactive media should be. The pacing is amazing and clearly forces you to experience the game precisely as the writers wanted you to. I will add this caveat. If you are a fan of mindless violence or subpar writing...this game will clearly not be for you. This game requires a lot of thought and patience, but rewards you immensely for doing so.
Now, when I say that this is the direction that game publishers need to be heading, I suppose I should clarify what that means before I get lynched. I am not saying that games like Call of Duty or Gears of War should stop being made (well, actually I will say that because I hate games like that, but that's not what I'm saying here). What I mean is that gaming companies need to realize that there is indeed a market for games like Gone Home. A big market.
Brothers on the other hand, for all it's awards and praise, was kind of a let down for me. Maybe it was the hype from all other sources, but the story is simply one we've heard over and over. White males going out to save something. They even throw in a damsel in distress cliché, then turn the damsel in distress cliché into women are monsters, literally. The game doesn't push any boundaries, and really felt like a shallow puzzle/platforming game. Yes, the story was interesting, and the game looked gorgeous as well. It just fell a little flat, especially near the end as we got to see two of the most egregious tropes against women in gaming rearing its ugly head again.
Gone Home is an excellent example of a life simulator. I have to admit that gaming has conditioned me to expect certain things. With the lights off in the house to start, I kept expecting something to jump out at me. The game referred to ghosts and things, and I legitimately started expecting a haunting. But as the story progressed and you saw more into the world of the game, I began to understand that very real worries and dreads can be far worse then things that video games have trained into me.
The main reason I love Gone Home was that it made me feel real emotions. As soon as Sam came out to Katie that she was in love with Lonnie, my first thought was “What will our parents think?” The game leaves Katie's reaction unknown, which means that the player can feel their own emotions about such a thing. It is nice to have a game that is essentially one long “coming out” letter. I felt worry for the well being of Sam throughout the game. This game made me feel real emotions throughout, and I can't think of any higher praise to give it then that. All stories are written to make the reader or listener feel some sort of emotion. This game successfully does it in a way that very few games before this have.
Brothers, on the other hand, made me feel emotions, but only really at the end. Even then, it was kind of a detached sort of “oh no, the older brother died and the younger brother is all sad.” kind of way. I didn't personalize it as much as I did the emotions felt while playing Gone Home. While devoid of combat for the most part, there still were some action fight sequences that felt really shoe-horned in for the sake of having “boss fights” in a game. I did resonate with the main characters, as I happen to be a white male with brothers and a father I care about. But while Gone Home felt more universal in how you could relate to the game, Brothers really felt like just another entry as a “guys club” game.
People view the world differently, and different experiences make up different reactions to the world. The main protagonists in Brothers could have been women and it wouldn't have hurt the story at all. They could have been persons of color and that wouldn't have hurt the story at all. One can argue that the developers may not have thought of things like that, but that is an indicator of a greater problem in gaming culture.
Some may like to deride Gone Home by saying that nothing happens, or that all you do is wander a house and open doors and cabinets. In contrast, Brothers has you doing things and solving puzzles throughout the game. I feel that the people saying those things are missing the point of Gone Home and glossing over the problems in Brothers. Gone Home is an important game. It tells an important story and gives us not only a female protagonist but an LGBT supportive message in the story. Brothers is just another white washed male power fantasy, complete with saving a girl then turning around and literally saying that women are monsters that intrude and obstruct male power fantasies. And that is a really horrible thing to have in a game.
Gone Home is the direction that gaming needs to take. Brothers, while being very pretty and telling a good story, was just another example of what is wrong with gaming today.