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Last week, I stumbled into the kitchen after a long therapy session. I needed something that would help me reset after discussing so much with my counselor. I filled my kitchen with “right where you left me” by Taylor Swift, made some banana bread, and sat down on the couch for my favorite comfort movie: the 2007, criminally underrated masterpiece, Nancy Drew. 

My childhood was defined by Nancy Drew. Beyond an obsession with the movie, I have read every book of the series. I collect antique editions, with the blue tweed editions from 1950 being my prized installments. I was five years old when I began playing these computer games. My older sister took the main chair next to the computer, and I took the little chair on her right. Watching, and sometimes helping, we clicked through the worlds together, teaching me to problem solve and trust my voice.

Okay, “together” is really pulling a lot of weight in that sentence. I quietly sat next to her, absorbing, ready to jump in if I noticed any details. It would be a few years before I felt ready to solve a mystery of my own. We both discovered our strengths in these games: I am great at music logic puzzles. My sister is amazing at deduction, slider puzzles, and pattern-based puzzles. During these games, we received an early indication of how well we balance each other out. Some of my favorite memories involve peering up from my little chair at her absorbed in these worlds. 

The Nancy Drew computer games were released biannually by Her Interactive. In 1998, the company released their first installment of a female-driven PC game titled Secrets can Kill. By 2001, their fourth installment, Treasure in the Royal Tower marked the beginning of the biannual releases. These ended in 2015 with Sea of Darkness, the 32nd installment. The company went on hiatus, laid off their employees, and switched game engines. After 4 years, the company released their long awarded 33rd mystery, Midnight in Salem, which received very negative feedback. Sea of Darkness currently has a 9/10 rating on Steam, compared to Midnight in Salem’s 6/10. 

For many members of this community, this is a let-down. Her Interactive found a niche in simple, easy-to-play games marketed for young girls. Each mystery follows Nancy following a specific mystery. The Deadly Device, number 27, follows Nancy solving a murder mystery in a science lab, learning facts about Tesla on the way. Labyrinth of Lies, one of my favorites, follows Nancy catching an art thief in a theater performance about Greek Mythology. Each game is beautifully created, allowing the player to explore the world and question everything they are told. 

Midnight in Salem marked a transition to a more complicated operating system. This is planned for a virtual-reality release, even though this is not the majority of their market. In earlier installments, I didn’t need to learn a complex way to move around. I just needed to click. I didn’t play these for the video game capability, I played for the fun and for the memories. 

Twice a year, my sister and I would scour the Target catalog, waiting for the new game to be released. Immediately, we would run out and buy the game when it appeared in the circular. These would always be saved for summer vacation and winter break. We would lock ourselves by the PC with our lunch trays and play them in 48 hours. My mom dubbed my sister and I Nancy and Bess. I was Bess Marvin, the fun, supportive sidekick from the series, and my sister was Nancy, the fearless, smart, brave explorer. 

By age 9, I learned to play them on my own. I attacked mystery 21, Warnings at Waverly Academy, alone and promised to finish it without a walkthrough. I tried. Still, I checked some hints and finished the mystery myself. I was proud that I did it alone, but I missed the joy of sitting next to my sister. In this one, she could not solve a puzzle without my help. She called me on the intercom landline and asked me to figure out this piano puzzle. 

Nancy needs to find a key to open a door in the basement. To do so, she finds these notes scattered on lamp shades around a living room. She needs to play this melody on the piano to trigger a little box to open.  How does this work? Unclear. I had been playing piano for 3 years at this point, so I knew which notes were which. I came downstairs to help and just felt so happy that I, a small, shy, little 9-year-old Bess Marvin could help my 13-year-old sister solve this mystery. 

During the next installment, Trail of the Twister, we both tried to get through it together again.  We missed exploring together and helping each other through the games. When she went to college 5 years later, I continued to warm up the PC to start these games, playing all them alone and filling her in on the plot lines over the phone. 

I still replay these games. I haven’t tried Midnight in Salem yet. I have accepted that these games are no longer being made, and I don’t want to give my heart to one and be disappointed. I own five of the later installments on my laptop and enjoy playing them on the quad. There is something so fulfilling and relaxing as I explore these worlds countless times. Sure, I might be able to play them from muscle memory at this point, but that level of familiarity brings even more relaxation. 

Nancy Drew games, and the character herself, taught me to vocalize my thoughts and trust myself. I know things. I can learn things. I can solve a whole mystery on my own. Maybe I have been spooked by the ghosts in them over the years, but I can get through just about anything, as long as I have a mystery-solving partner by my side.

Lauren Smith

Emmanuel '23

Lauren Smith (she/they) is a student at Emmanuel College studying Theater Arts and Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Personality wise, she considers herself a mix of Nancy Drew and Cher Horowitz. In her free time, she's busy making earrings, watching Criminal Minds, and baking banana bread.
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