It’s always magical when a book or game or film lands in your life at the precise moment when it will speak to you the most. Playing No Longer Home, a new game about two friends facing the end of their time together in a London flat, was one of those rare experiences for me. There’s a remarkable honesty and depth of emotion to the way its nonbinary protagonists, Bo and Ao, try to process all the complex feelings that come with bidding farewell to one phase of their lives and facing the unknown of another. As I gear up for my own seismic shift, I was right there with them.
Having just joined the ranks here at Kotaku, I’ll soon be moving to New York City, a place I’ve long adored. I’m excited about what the future holds. But it also means leaving the Bay Area after living here for over 15 years, and saying goodbye to so many familiar places I’ve come to love. Watching a movie at one of my favourite local theatres last weekend, my awareness that it would probably be my last visit before I move away lent the whole experience a bittersweet quality. I was intensely aware, even as it was happening, that it would soon be over. Afterwards, I met up with friends for a few drinks. They’re the kind of rare friends who really get me, who make me feel seen and understood in a world that often doesn’t. It was a wonderful get-together, made all the more vivid by the unshakable thought: It will never be this way again.
No Longer Home captures the intense connections we sometimes form with places, and how endings can make everything feel more immediate and significant. Playing as both Ao and Bo, you find details in every room of the flat that speak of their time there, recalling joys, accomplishments, ongoing little frustrations like the feeling that it’s always you who ends up taking the trash out. Their apartment is viewed isometrically, each room presented like its own separate handcrafted diorama. As you rotate each space to reveal new items to interact with and new areas to explore, the accompanying sound is like a block of wood spinning and then clicking into place. It’s a satisfying bit of sound design that makes the spaces you’re interacting with feel physical and tangible, which makes you feel more closely connected to them as well.
But home isn’t just a place. If you’re lucky, home is other people, and for Ao and Bo, the hardest thing about their impending move is that it means the end of their time together. As nonbinary people, Ao and Bo feel a particular trepidation about the future, because it means confronting a world in which they’re often painfully misunderstood. Ao in particular talks a lot about the anguish of always being seen as someone and something they’re not, at one point lamenting how, back in Japan (to which they must return because of visa issues), their genuine love of cooking is often remarked upon as evidence that they would make a good housewife. “I just enjoy doing it,” they say, “why does it have to be gendered?” We’ve started to see more positive representations of trans and nonbinary folks in games these past few years, and that’s cool, but these portrayals often fail to reflect our actual, lived experiences. I’ve rarely seen the pain of constantly having people put you into a box that you don’t feel you belong in and not being seen for who and what you are expressed as truthfully as it is here.
No Longer Home was developed by Humble Grove, a two-person collaborative who drew on their own experiences, but living through something yourself and being able to create art that captures the experience in a way that’s moving for others are two different things. No Longer Home succeeds because it is so specific, honest, and unflinching in the ways it confronts what being at a crossroads can do to us emotionally and psychologically. The game’s centrepiece is a lengthy conversation Bo and Ao have in bed one night, as they really lay out all their fears and insecurities about the future. During that conversation, you sense just how much these two have meant to each other. When the world doesn’t see you, it’s especially hard to say goodbye to the person or people who do.
And yet, painful as some aspects of No Longer Home are, there’s a poignant comfort to it as well. Ao and Bo may be bidding farewell to their apartment and to living together, but they’ll still be in each other’s lives. I may be leaving the Bay Area soon, saying goodbye to my favourite coffee stands and parks and movie theatres, and I won’t be able to meet those dear friends of mine for drinks at my favourite bars soon, either. But it’s ok. There’s something else No Longer Home understands about those rare, special connections in our lives. Those people who truly know us and see us? We carry their love with us when we go.