Originally written during 2021 and the hight of the Covid-19 pandemic, Joseph Reed share his experiance playing Homebound, while living through an event that reshaped society the world over.
For my first review published by Indie Ranger, I talked about how Kind Words by Pop Cannibal was helping me and others through the isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In March of 2020, I packed my bags, left my room at my university hall and moved back home, having not left since. I have been trying to go on walks as much as I feel able, but the isolation and uncertainty of the last year has often meant I haven’t felt up to doing more than playing video games and watching TV. Luckily, I was able to put some of that leisure time to some productive use.
In the UK, the process of lifting restrictions has begun again, but the memory of what happened last time hasn’t filled me with optimism. People are already preparing for things to return to normal, but I honestly don’t know what that means anymore. The last time we tried this, cases rose because the government encouraged people to put themselves at risk at a time before a vaccine. But even with one available now, I’m not optimistic that things go back to the way they were any time soon. Perhaps my continued pessimism is unwarranted, but isolation hasn’t been kind to my mood or productivity and hasn’t given me much of a reason for hope.
While Kind Words kind of became the game of the pandemic for me, as its comforting tone and gameplay of reaching out to others met mine and a lot of folks’ needs for validation during an incredibly stressful period that we’re all sharing. I haven’t seen a lot of games that take place in the pandemic itself. I’ve seen the sentiment on Twitter a lot that there are people that don’t want media to cover the pandemic, that comedy about the pandemic and drama about the pandemic just reminds them of the trauma from the crisis and it’s best to just move on. Personally, I have never been able to view things this way. I truly believe that media should cover these things — that through interacting with these issues in games and other mediums, we are able to see them from different perspectives, deal with the trauma caused by them and through this shared experience we can feel less alone.
With that being said, today I want to talk about two games I’ve played that both take place in the pandemic. The first game is called Homebound. In Homebound you play as a young girl living through the pandemic, keeping herself busy while being stuck inside. After that I want to talk about Homebound¸ a game where you play as a woman living through the pandemic, keeping herself busy while being stuck inside
Yes, you read that right, these games share a name and are both set in isolation. When the Itch twitter shared the first Homebound, developed by Ben Seavello on Twitter I was curious to check it out instantly. However, as soon as I searched for it on the app, I was met with a second game developed by Troy Atkinson and written by Lizzi Osborne. The coincidence of finding two games that were both short experiences, both about isolation and both released within the last 12 months was an exciting shock and I knew I had to cover both.
I want to start with Homebound. Hold on wait… Okay so to avoid any confusion, for most of this piece if I’m talking about a single Homebound in a specific section, I’ll cover them one at a time to avoid having to constantly state which one is being talked about. If I’m talking about both, it will be generally linking them together so you’re not incredibly confused about what game called Homebound I’m talking about. Also, just a quick shout, if anyone finds a third game about the pandemic called Homebound please message me, because if this is gonna be my niche then I’m cool with that.
Homebound by Troy Atkinson takes its inspiration from Reigns, a game by Nerial which is one-part royal decision making and one-part dating app. In Reigns, you play a king who makes decisions mostly by choosing one of two options, interacting with these choices through swiping as if you were swiping through a dating app, with you being able to see the amount the decision will make certain resources change, but not if the change will be positive or negative. In Reigns each decision you make has an impact on the wellbeing of four aspects, this being the wellbeing of your subjects, the church, the military and the treasury. If any one of those things drops to zero you lose, but you also lose if any of them get too powerful, as if you make your military, the banks or the church too powerful they’ll take over.
In Homebound, these stats you must keep track of are replaced by productivity, happiness and energy. You choose one of two options and see how that plays out, being left with either more of a certain stat or less of it due to your choice. For example, getting out of bed to work may take energy, but your productivity will go up, with this change from the major resources of a kingdom to the mental resources of a person being one to better suit an individual’s needs rather than a state. The game is short, with a playthrough lasting less than five minutes often before you either max something out or lose everything in a stat.
Unlike Reigns, not every outcome is an end state. With Reigns if you lose all your money, you go bankrupt, but if you max out the banks become too powerful and take over. In this game if your happiness goes to the top you don’t die from good vibes, you just get an end screen that describes your character’s current mental state, which feels more like a victory for staying happy. The game values individual needs and wants, with your well-being being the focus and aim of the game. The music is calming, the visuals are sweet and comforting and the scenarios can be anything from simple things like writing a text or meeting a cat on the street and adopting them. The game’s scale is minor but that’s the point, it’s an intimate experience where self-care is the only aim and as a short experience I enjoyed my time with it.
Homebound by Ben Seavello stars a young girl called Sophie who is home with her father and attempting to entertain herself while her father is busy working. You interact with everyday objects in her home and she imagines events surrounding the item and the location it’s in. A plant becomes a jungle, a kitchen gives way to food-related games, and so on.
The game has an appealing pixel art style and really nice music. Sophie and her dad live in a narratively claustrophobic environment, but it feels familiar and charming. The writing is great, with the interactions between the two feeling genuine and sweet, with the father’s nickname for Sophie being adorable. They feel like a real family living in a real home. I also love the title screen of all things with people walking around in masks on the street, grounding this game in this modern-day and the narrative within this lonely context that Sophie is attempting to escape. One last aspect of the sound I’d mention is the synthesized voices which reminded me a lot of the voices in OK Games Celeste, with them mimicking human tone really well.
Sophie’s daydreams are expressed through Wario Ware-style minigames where the controls are simple but the time limit strict, so part of the interaction is figuring out what you even need to be doing before you can complete the minigame. This leads to a lot of frustrating losses where you don’t have enough time to even figure out what you’re doing before the game leaves you behind for the next microgame.
Luckily, this is an incredibly accessible game. You can practice games, turn off certain game timers to complete them in less of a rush. You can also just auto-complete minigames if you really want to in order to progress if one specific game is giving you trouble. In a sense, this is a narrative that is aided and delivered through the games, with the narrative being the focus and the games being the way in which you interact with the narrative. This is a short story that benefits from making the story interactive in this way. The game is short once again, but with your very sweet ending being determined by one of three options there is reason to go back to see the other activities Sophie and her dad can get up to.
To tell the truth, this piece may have been sitting unwritten the longest of anything I have ever written. I started it months ago and only got to writing about the games today, having only completed the introduction. I abandoned this review early on because I lost a lot of my energy for games writing around April. The reason for this is because of what I said before, I am terrified of what is going on. I read back what I wrote and didn’t feel the need to change anything because nothing I said is no longer true. The Government is taking a gamble with people’s lives, people are celebrating the end of the restrictions even though experts say the lack of them will make things worse and no one seems to care.
I received my first vaccination which hurt like a son of a, but still, I don’t feel safe as I’ve known people to get both and still get it. I am scared for my mum working in retail, I’m scared for my grandmother, and I am scared for all my friends. Every day I see the people celebrating and the government pushing forward regardless of warnings and I feel a rage I cannot contain. I get the impulse to want this hell to end but it isn’t, and we need to accept that if we don’t do this right it just might not end for a while yet. My energy is shot, my studies have suffered and even my passions feel out of reach. I am fed up with all of this and so sick of feeling so furious and sad at the same time and I just want it to stop!
Video games started as something I did to escape. I would come home from school and turn on my GameCube and play Sonic to chill out and enjoy my time out of education. My perspective on games has shifted in recent years and now I see them foremost as a medium for expression. This can just be the expression of a cool mechanic, a political idea or a story you are dying to tell. Both Homebound’s express the loneliness and the struggle we have all shared over the past year. The isolation but also the joy, the little moments of happiness and togetherness we find to keep ourselves going. These are games grounded in a lonely moment but they both understand that outside of the loneliness there is something else, this is an attempt to look after yourself or an attempt to find joy with each other.
My brother and his wife had a baby last November, the entire pregnancy was during COVID. She was brought into a world unlike the one I was and unlike even her sisters. I am currently still scared of what is happening in this world in so many ways, but when I spend time with her, I feel a hope that there is still so much for her. She is unaware of the shared trauma and difficulties of this year and when I spend time with her, even for a moment, I am too. People like her and games like both Homebound’s remind me of what has happened, but also that despite everything that sucks about it there is some joy to be found stuck at home, and there’s hope in that thought.