At the start of the year I lost my grandmother. I loved her as much as my parents and lived with her for a period of two years. During this time I helped take care of her, and while playing Home I couldn't help but think of her. I felt a twang of emotion at the end of Passage, but this is the first time my eyes misted up from playing a game. The protagonist is an old man in a hospice; as player, you act the role of surrogate caregiver. You balance the old man's needs like you would in The Sims, and like Billy Suicide, something meaningful emerges as the game unfolds. That's all I will say for now, spoilers and observations after the break.
"The mechanic is the message" is PTT's rubric for games of this ilk, and in this regard the game shines. The old man is confined to four small rooms; each room satisfies one of his four basic needs. Three of which are bodily functions, and one is happiness. Happiness is raised when the old man strikes up a conversation -- this human interaction and living vicariously through his hostess is his sole pleasure. The four bars decrease as the game progresses, and in order to appease one need you must sacrifice time. This combined with the frail man's slow walking speed means that inevitably the player is unable to accommodate a need. When this occurs the game takes that burden away from you and artificially fulfills it. In time you lose more and more control of your life, and ultimately are unable to affect the game state any further. Once you lose total control the game ends, and the flashing screen at the end cutscene hints at your death.
Through gameplay, increpare tells a tale of a man no longer in control of his life, who slowly loses what little agency he has remaining. The loss of this control could be seen as analogous to a body shutting down, system by system. The man's shambling walking speed and minimal interaction highlight his powerless incompetence. When the old man lost all but one need I felt sympathetic to him, and helpless in my own turn by being unable to help him. I could only watch as he succumbed to his final indignity and inevitable fate. I was reminded of losing my grandmother in a similar fashion and the same feeling of helplessness I had when she passed. My eyes watered a little, and I was touched.
This helplessness could not be achieved if this was attempted in a form of passive media. Increpare uses the interactive nature of the medium to create a work that plays to its strengths and is capable of eliciting an emotional response from a five minute investment. This game is important and should be spoken in the same breath as Passage whenever "is gaimz arrt?" arguments rear their head. I'm not sure how many people it will convince that games have the potential to invoke emotion or inspire, but its a damn fine argument for the future of our medium.