From the outside, videogames are viewed as childish, immature, immaterial. From within the industry, there are accusations of unoriginality, of an endless rehash of the same old ideas. Stephen Lavelle’s ‘Home’ dispels both arguments at a stroke, and offers up a commentary on the nature of life and death itself.
Utilising graphics reminiscent of the ZX Spectrum or the C64, and a haunting but beautiful chiptune soundtrack, ‘Home’ is both a literal tag for the nursing home inhabited by the main character, and also a commentary on the old man’s professed happiness of his new surroundings. Riffing on the premise of The Sims, where the player is tasked with keeping the old man, Charles, happy, well-fed and rested and also relieving his bodily functions in the toilet. All of these, like the behemoth Maxis franchise, are indicated by steadily decreasing bars at the top of the screen. Should a bar empty, a cutscene of sorts is triggered; a conversational exchange between the apologetic Charles and his carers, Moira and Maggie.
The banality of the man’s exchanges with these two women is heartbreaking, a commentary on the degeneration of the human spirit, reduced to irrelevant chit-chat, but it’s only the reiteration of Charles’ insistence of how happy he is here (in the quiet, amongst the trees) that shows his inevitable decline into dementia, and ultimately, death.
And it is inevitable. Try as you might, you simply will not save Charles from his fate. You can only share his sad deterioration, grimace at his embarrasment as he is told he must wear diapers, or that he fell asleep in the hallway. And his responses to Maggie when his Happy meter run out are strangely chilling, an uncomfortable reminder of the frailty of the human mind as it slides into depression, conveyed so poignantly with just a few pixels. ‘Home’, then, is an unflinching portrayal of an inevitable fact – death takes us all. Guaranteed to make you think, if not disquiet and upset you, Stephen Lavelle’s title should be played by everyone who enjoys the videogame medium. It’s a lovingly crafted rebuttal to everything you thought a videogames was, and, beyond its depressing subject matter, a strangely life-affirming experience.