No Longer Home
Made by: Humble Grove
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Platforms: PC/Mac, Switch, Xbox One
Release date: 30/07/2021 (console release coming on 07/10)
Emoji summary: 🏠🔮📅
Review by: GDLP
Spoilers: I outline the premise of the game and describe a few surprises along the way but not the ending
I wish every picture came with a caption, old and new and always. Scribbled context on the back of a 6x4 print, some rich meta-data equivalent. I want the story, not just an imprint of the memory. I want to see other dimensions and know exactly what was going on in that moment — what it was like to live there and then, like that. A personal history on how it felt when I used to be me or when you used to be you. I get jealous of people who have home footage of their childhoods for that reason. They have the magic available to know what their voice used to sound like. They can see the scale of themselves against the world and watch how they once moved through it.
I don’t really know what I was like when I was small or growing, and I don’t think I have done enough to remember my life. I have hard drives full of images but the albums don’t give me what I want. Pictures but no words, no sounds, no space. And over the years, it appears I’ve only photographed whatever was fun, beautiful or boring, but never what was sad or complex. Like, I can see the point where I moved to London in the hopes of changing into someone new, and I can trace when I returned to Liverpool in the hopes of changing back. But the critical feelings, the growing pains and the in between, are all lost in the edit.
What form should remembering take? Should I have been writing in a diary this whole time and stapling pictures to my entries? Should I have been taking videos instead, even if it was just for myself? But then I don’t simply want the headlines or the nice parts, I want the behind the scenes as well. If I want to access my own old atmospheres, I am going to need dialogue, tone, movement, even music to set the mood. I’m going to need the details and then the ones behind and beside them too. So, what form could remembering take? I don’t need to look back at history to think about this. I can look at what people are making right now: I have just played the newly released No Longer Home and to me, the game felt like an answer to these questions.
No Longer Home is a semi-autobiographical point-and-click story. It is based on a day in the life of the two main developers Hana Lee and Cel Davison. Their character equivalents Ao and Bo have both just finished art degrees. Now, they should be packing up their flat-share, which is based somewhere in South London, but the pair are stunned and worried about leaving behind this phase of their life. Not only will they be leaving education and their awkward, rented home, but Ao is going to be moving back to Japan which means the pair will soon be very far apart. Playing the game involves going in and out of the different rooms in their flat, looking at things, having conversations, and trying to pet the cats. A game, a BBQ, a late night chat in bed together. It is slow, almost inactive, as we mope around the place and say our quiet goodbyes.
No Longer Home does not deal in dramatics. It is not a thrill ride. Ao and Bo are not barricading themselves in the flat, squatting to spite the landlord, and clinging to one another as a way to stay in this age. The characters are resigned to what is about to happen. It’s sad but sad in a way that felt very distant to me because it was so specifically somebody else’s sadness. Playing this game felt like the moment you walk past a house on the road and see the door open or the curtains drawn and for a second you get to see what’s inside. Except here the house is a flat, the flat is a game, and the game is a memory box where the developers are keeping copies of their past selves hidden inside.
They’ve done what I have been wondering after. They’ve taken a picture of that memory from all sides; the game mechanics even allow us to twist rooms on an axis so we can see the space from every angle. The pair have represented a memory that seems to us to be complete with people, conversations, decor, and details right down to flies around the fruit bowl and posters on the walls. The soundtrack even captures the ambience of the neighbour’s footsteps that I recognise (and regret) from living in flats with too-thin walls. It has the rigid evidence of the past they shared but also the looser feelings — the vertigo that comes with looking back on a difficult time. The game slips into the almost abstract sequence of a game within a game at one point, and we stumble upon a few otherworldly surprises in forlorn monsters that seem to embody each character’s inner turmoil. When it slips into abstraction, it feels like a thick, emotional texture over the game’s lucidity. It provides the tone that seems to be missing when we only rely on real photos or accurate written accounts for memory. Abstraction provides the atmosphere.
Maybe if we want to remember things — and not just remember things but be able to replay how we felt at the time, and how we acted back then too — our memories could be transfixed to video games in this way. The good, the bad, and the haunted. In No Longer Home, the developers are the rememberers: they are the ones that design the set, turn on the smoke machines and angle the lights. The players are the mediums who sit at the table to summon the past back to life. It’s play as possession.
I enjoyed playing No Longer Home because I enjoyed thinking about this. I also liked the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for the kind of existential conversations that can only happen late at night. I felt a distance or a detachment from the characters when I wanted their conversations to go even deeper and become more intimate and acute. But at the same time, I accepted that it was none of my business. It wasn’t my story. I was only the medium summoning strangers to come and float around the room and be ghostly. And that’s fine because really, I don’t think the remembering part of this game is even for us. We are just bystanders. I am convinced the two people who will find most value in this game are the developers, and not even now but in the future. I think that is special. Once ten years have passed, the game will fulfil its destiny. That non-specific day from the very specific point in their lives will become something they can access when they start to forget what the past ever felt like.
It’s possible the game is already doing enough for them on its release. The tenancy can’t exactly run out when the contract has ascended to a virtual tenancy for the virtual copy of the flat they used to live in. They also can’t be separated by circumstances, visas, or even a pandemic they don’t know is about to happen, if they write themselves into a story together — and not just a story, but a game, where they can be present together on a loop. This day at the end of Hana and Cel’s student lives is now going to be re-performed every time somebody picks the game up. The memory exists with and without them, becomes a false memory for other people too, summoned into the present tense constantly so that nobody ever lets it go.
Of all the memories you could keep with you through the form of a game, I wondered why this sad day is what they chose to create. But maybe that’s why it felt necessary. It’s what I feel is missing when I look back over all of the photos I’ve ever taken, where harder moments never made the cut, even though the hardest moments are what I am most interested in. They mark us, change us, and then time makes them hazy and lost. A game is a way to remember, to soothe, to make eternal and live. That can be done when it is a game like this. I wish I could have done that for myself.