EMILY IS AWAY
Start Date: December 14, 2015
End Date: December 14, 2015
At the beginning of the year, I speculated that I would be playing mostly Nintendo games in 2015, but man I didn’t know how right I was! As it turns out, Emily is Away was the only non-Wii U/3DS game I played to completion this year, and I only spent about 45 minutes on it. It was a very satisfying 45 minutes though, and since the game is free on Steam, you should play it too. And you should do so before you read any further, okay??
Okay. So that was pretty interesting, right? Emily is Away could best be described as a text adventure or visual novel, except it takes place entirely on an approximation of early 2000’s AOL Instant Messager. It explores the relationship between your character and a girl named Emily, who you are in love with despite her awful musical tastes.
The game’s five chapters take place over the course of four years, beginning at the end of the characters’ senior year of high school and ending during their senior year of college. “Gameplay” consists of annual AIM chats with Emily, which serve to fill in the gaps from the previous year. The player contributes his side of these chats by choosing conversational options from a multiple-choice menu.
That may sound kind of boring or “barely-a-game”-ish on paper, but let me tell you – I agonized over some of these choices. The reason this mechanic worked so well for me is because I was this character. I grew up during the heyday of AOL Instant Messenger, and it served as the catalyst for many, many awkward-ass conversations with girls I liked. I recognized so much of myself in my character – for example: at certain points, if you choose a “bolder” conversational option, the character will type it out, pause, and then delete it and write something safer instead. I did that all the time!!
Beyond the format, the characters’ relationship also hit home in a big way. If you’ve ever had romantic feelings for a friend, and especially if those feelings led to you making some questionable decisions, so much of this will feel familiar to you.
And the game nails the vibe so perfectly. There’s no overt drama, just subtle awkwardness and manipulation and resentment, and it all leads towards a conclusion so inevitable that none of your in-game choices can change the ending. Some might see that as a flaw in Emily is Away‘s design, but I think those people might be missing the point. The ending is brutal and frustrating and honest and perfect.
Visually, what you see in those screenshots is pretty much all there is to the game. But the little touches make it feel so authentic. You can check your in-game friends’ AOL profiles, which change year to year in telling ways. You can also choose your chat icon from a list of options, all of which reflect the popular culture of the early-to-mid 2000’s. Among mine were Avril Lavigne, Pirates of the Caribbean, American Idiot, and of course Batman Begins.
If you’ve read this far but haven’t played the game yet, I’m sorry to say that the experience has been mostly spoiled for you. But this shit is free and will take less than an hour of your time, so you should play it anyway. If you were ever a young person with a crush and an AOL account, this will hit you hard.
Yoshi’s Woolly World