Now I am about to state the obvious here, but it’s the best intro I could think of. Texting has become the main form of communication in the 21st century aside from actual conversation of course. We are not sending as many letters or telegrams as texts in the modern-day. The thing about that is that texting has evolved. In the early 2000s, the main form of texting was AOL Messenger and ICQ. While my age group might not have the most vivid memories of these services (I personally never used them) they can still be used as an object lesson about the highs and lows of texting. In my experience, no form of media better expresses this than Emily is Away and the sequel Emily is Away Too. Now, these are technically “visual novels”, but I think the amount of player choice elevates them to the status of “actual video game”. So I will start by talking about the first one. My goal here is to get you to try them out, but also I do want to talk in-depth about them so be forewarned I will be spoiling the plot, but I still think they are worth playing. Especially since the first one is free.
Emily is Away as in the first one, not the franchise is very depressing. Taking place from 2002 to 2006 it follows the protagonist’s various conversations with Emily aka “emilyluv” or “emerly”. You start the game as high school seniors and end as college seniors. Now instead of giving you a play-by-play, I will instead go broad strokes. You start the game wanting to get with Emily and end the game drifting apart. This ending is absolute, that’s kind of the whole point of the first game. Some people drift apart. Does it suck? Absolutely, but it is bound to happen. Do you talk to everyone you went to kindergarten with? How about your graduating class of high school? How about your first crush? Do you still talk to them? The answer is most likely no and this game expresses that over text. Now player choice still matters here in an interesting way. The result is absolute; you will not end up with Emily, but why is it up to you. Well not exacting, but how the relationship ends is influenced by your actions. Did you never express your feelings leaving it all unsaid as you missed opportunity after opportunity or did one ill-advised hookup strain your relationship too far? Emily is Away is sad and at points stressful, but it does capture a truth. Some people just do not end up together and that is okay. Now the thing I remember most from this game is the final chapter and a very simple gameplay tweak. Throughout the game, you get 3 choices for your response to Emily’s texts. You pick 1,2, or 3 and then fake type them out and send them. However during the last chapter when you truly drift apart from Emily when you pick one of your 3 choices which are all honest expressions of your character’s feelings instead of what you type out are stupid questions about the weather or other inane shit. It is not exactly the most groundbreaking gameplay innovation, but that lack of player choice does show that sometimes you simply don’t say what you mean or don’t know how to express your feelings. This game takes a lot out of you, but after you finish it you kind of get a sense of clarity about how we communicate and make you rethink what messages you are sending online. Now on the brighter side of things is the sequel Emily is Away Too or as I like to call it you can have a good relationship if you are honest and don’t try to gaslight people.
Emily is Away Too takes the whole stress of texting online adds in a third person, time limits, and the ability to lie. It uses a very similar format to the first game, but with the addition of Evelyn. Now in this game, Emily and Evelyn are opposed to each other in both music tastes, plans for the future, and everything else under the sun. Now the cool thing about this game is that you can get good endings. However, it comes at the expense of staying consistent and having to let someone down. Again I do not want to spoil every single part of the game, but there are certain parts I wish to talk about. In Emily is Away too there are two stand-out moments in the game. The two puns were unintentional. First is about halfway through the game both Emily and Evelyn go through breakups. You only have enough time to fully talk to one of them. You can try to speed type all you want, but one of the girls gets more attention than the other. This leaves whichever girl you fully address feeling good about the protagonist and the other girl let down. This at least to me captures trying to juggle multiple text conversations very well. You try to give everyone the attention they deserve, but sometimes someone who needs to talk falls through the cracks. The other stand-out moment of the game is the ending in which outside of the chat room Emily and Eveyln meet for the first time. Now depending on if the player character gave consistent answers to both girls two things can happen now either the protagonist can start a healthy relationship with one of the girls based on mutual trust or the protagonist can try and fail to convince the girls they are not a liar who tried to take advantage of both of them. Now, this is completely dependent on how you play the game, but also should be applied to real life. Remember to try to be yourself online. As in don’t try to act like a character around different people. Don’t be too uncomfortable disagreeing with someone’s opinion in person or online. If you don’t you might seem like you are just trying to please the other person or have absolutely no idea who you are. Also try out these games Emily is Away is free and Emily is Away Too is 10 dollars. Support Indie Games they’re cool.
In conclusion texting sucks. Waiting for someone to reply, being unable to see their immediate response or facial expression makes communicating difficult. If you ever do try these games try to imagine how Emily or Evelyn looks like when they read your messages and now apply that same logic to the real world. Remembering there are other people on the other side of a text can help you remember to be kind, be honest, and above all be yourself. Just text like you talk or at least express yourself and not someone else. Also, there is supposed to be a sequel called Emily is Away <3 which is all about Facebook in its prime which could be cool. Check the games out. They are good.