Last night I received a recommendation from a friend of mine. Her ear seems to be closer to the ground when it comes to the indie scene and this game shows that her ability to track down interesting, artsy titles hasn’t weakened in recent weeks. Three Fourths Home is a game that is, on the surface, slightly underwhelming. There are approximately three shades on screen at any time; white, grey and crushing black, and the only sounds are the crackly radio in the car being drowned out by grating car tyres. The game sees you driving home through a torrential downpour, racing a tornado that speeds towards your family. The only mechanic this game has is a phone call home. There is no voice acting, just reading. It’s all in your head.
Do you see what I mean about it possibly being pretentious rubbish? It’s easy to go in to this kind of thing with good intentions and to come out the other side with an over-exaggerated mess. I will admit that this was lurking at the back of my mind for most of the main story. The first time that this fear intensified is when Ben, the main character’s brother, starts reading one of his short stories over the phone as the family take shelter from the oncoming storm. It’s a solid 10 minutes of story completely separate from the main narrative but it’s only really when you get to the end of the main game (and through the epilogue) that you realise: It’s not separate. Nothing in this game is. Everything said in this game is there to serve the characters in some way, no matter how miniscule it might impact their growth. From the Mother’s passive resentment buried under her love, to the Father’s possible Post Traumatic Stress that he refuses to face and to the Brother’s own mental health issues; each character plays a role in a home breaking apart due to the stresses of hardship. A home that quite literally breaks apart when a tornado hits, or at least I think that’s what happens. More on that later.
Prepare yourself for a lot of white, marred with grey.
Continuing with the theme of everything in this game existing to serve it in some calculated manner: I want to discuss the art style. At first, I assumed that the basic, almost bland nature of the artwork was the result of a need for easy programming. Perhaps the studio was a one-person deal or the folk behind it were new to the games industry but now, I think I may have been wrong. By the end, what I took away from the flat, lack of colour is that it was being used to emphasise the feeling of emptiness. Kelly, the main character, is racked with guilt for one reason or another. It’s never truly explained, she just is. She doesn’t call her mother when she moves away, she clearly resents having to move back to her home town in the main game and she even seems vaguely aware that her need to remain distant is hurting her family. With this in mind, she keeps pressing forward with her own wants and needs so that she can keep avoiding the bigger picture. Something I feel we’ve all done at some point. It’s easy to approach the game as a third party in the beginning but after half an hour of holding down the “D“ key and desperately stumbling through the phone call with your family, Kelly’s problems are just as much your problems as they are hers. I also feel, however, that the visual style in which the story is presented could be taken a bit more literally. Black and white. Clear cut. One or the other. When we feel the things that are being discussed in this game, we all search for a clear solution. One answer that can solve everything. How often do we find such a solution? Grief, Illness, and life in general aren’t black and white and the longer you spend trying to make them so, the longer you spend going nowhere. Stuck in a cycle of what could have been and what should have been done. This is further emphasised by the square bracketed dialogue options. Every so often, a dialogue option will come up in square brackets. These options are the “right“ answers, I feel. The ugly answers. The horrible things that hurt and stir things up but need to be said to progress the narrative. Of course, you don’t always have to say them. But no matter how much you try and skirt around the hard choices, they always come back to hit you. You can’t run from the brackets forever; what needs to be said, needs to be said. I feel that this is driven home further by the visuals that often accompany these dialogue choices. Square bracketed options are nearly always accompanied by some greying of the screen. No longer is it black and white, but grey. Be it the fog rolling over the fields or the darkness of night or even a literal vignette as an image of a broken home rises in the background, looming over you as you’re forced to face it. The choice isn’t black and white anymore and accepting it hurts.
The words get harder, the screen gets darker.
The image of the broken home is one of hot debate between myself and the friend who I played this with. Admittedly, I came over to her point of view in the end but I still feel that there could be a double meaning behind the imagery. This “broken home“ image, for those who haven’t played the game, is a picture of a literal broken house. The roof has caved in. Remember that tornado I was talking about earlier? When the tornado hits in the story, the phone cuts out and the story ends. We don’t know what happens after that, it’s up for the player to think on it. After much debate over what we thought, my friend and I decided that the family probably dies in the disaster. We’re not alone in this thought either, as many other people seem to have arrived at the same conclusion. The brother says it himself, of the two rooms they have in which to hide from the tornado, neither are 100% safe. The Father says that the brother can’t have Kelly’s room if the tornado rips a hole in the roof. The first line of text on screen for the epilogue reads something like “You wish you had called back then“. All seems very foreshadow-y to me. Not to mention the fact that in the epilogue, the image of the ruined house pops up every time you have to make one of those square bracketed choices. Every time you have to face what happened. What you said. What you did. Always there in the background. What really sold this theory to me, however, is the past tense in which the mother speaks in the epilogue. In fact, how the mother speaks in the epilogue as a whole. In the main game, the mother is loving. Slightly resentful of her distant daughter and stressed as all hell, but loving. In the epilogue when the square brackets hit, her tone switches to one more sinister. To me, it sounded like the harsh way in which one speaks to themselves when they’re left alone with their thoughts. The past tense is also a big red flag. Lines like “is this the conversation you wish you’d had?“. Perhaps it is. Perhaps Kelly will never have that conversation. It is, however, entirely likely that the game was being a bit too over dramatic, as it was prone to get in certain areas. It is also entirely possible that I am wrong, this game is genius and the way I interpreted it says a lot about me as a person. I’m gonna go with the second option.
It's always there, no matter how far you run.
The beauty of Three Fourths Home is the way it deals with the cycle of grief and guilt and to a lesser extent, mental illness and broken homes. This is a game that deals with the thoughts that refuse to leave your head when you know you’ve done wrong. The thoughts that tell you that you could have done better. Should have done better. Not only that, but it deals with this mindset in the most human way possible. I still can’t really explain what I mean by that, but perhaps that’s the point. Can any of us explain why we force ourselves to go over details in our heads? Things that could have been or that we should have said? It was when my friend and I were discussing this half an hour after we’d finished the game that we realised how much of an impact the story had made. This near silent, monochrome art piece had us going through the same thing that the main character was going through but in the real world. The game made its point by being its point. It was, in fact, when my friend and I were still discussing it at midnight that we realised: this game goes further in to the mind than most other games. What could have easily, at any point, descended in to pretentious rubbish really came through and delivers if you’re willing to give the game the thought and appreciation that this masterfully crafted piece of art and discussion deserves. Go play this game.
Steam Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/344500/