It’s hard to write about art that reflects closely, objectively, your experience. It’s kind of like community murals on the walls of the street in your area, there it is, that’s the thing, the piece of art that stands for where you are and its difference from the place half a mile down the road.
Humble Grove’s No Longer Home, a work itself intimately about ‘place’, feels like that to me. In the prologue Friary Road, and accompanying game preview, the life of Bo is revealed to be disconcertingly similar to mine, a white, English, student/graduate artist who says ‘I don’t think I’m a man…’, who doesn’t know what to do after years of university, is depressed and hazy, can’t work up to sending off job applications or learning French properly, has to move out (I’m currently bumming around on sofas), doesn’t want to be perceived and has to deal with fruit flies. This is connection on a level that is more unsettling than comforting, especially considering the mood it takes on in its opening, which is in line with the foggy depression I’ve lived with for over a decade.
Outside of that, No Longer Home is this elegant and gorgeous magical realist point and click game about non-binary graduates moving out. Environmental exploration in the game requires mechanically gaining a sense of linear place first, before being able to rotate and explore its environment in a holistic sense. The reflections of the characters, Ao and Bo, are realistic, grounded and sober, and describe kind of perfectly certain relationships that I’ve had, especially with queer partners, of common understandings that build train tracks around the voids that the things you are scared to talk about leave. It’s a remarkable reflection on what life actually feels like sometimes, right now, as an unemployed, non-binary art graduate with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and relationships being stretched across countries by Visa laws. Perhaps, outside of the preview, it unfolds into something that offers a path out of this specific rut.
It’s both important and strange then to remember that though an artwork feels so close to you in this way, it also, naturally, is not about you, and generally isn’t meant for you in the sense of being able to say good things about it… (which is not what I believe this type of writing should be, but which it inevitably becomes when you vibe with something and want to tell everyone to experience it)… it’s all just way too much to deal with to tell someone that this game is reflective of how you feel, and you feel you’ve become, instead of an audience member, part of its internal mechanism.
Which is annoying, because I think it’s great, but my internal criticism of the preview becomes the things that aren’t actually relatable to me, having never lived in London, being single and not really worrying about what my parents think (three threads that are important to the game). These aren’t things to criticise, they’re part of the realistic tapestry that No Longer Home has going on, and yet, my closeness to it, and the way internally I fight the depressed reflection on life that the game gives an insight into, in order to avoid feeling like I’m going to die, means I’m basically, critically on the level of pointing to stuff and going, “well that’s not me.”
I think this is a good game, that I will probably not play for at least a decade, and I hope it does well, and I definitely need to go for a walk right now.
No Longer Home is part of Fellow Traveller’s LudoNarraCon, and is expected to release later this year on PC, Mac and Linux.