Usually when I’m taking a look through Steam’s Free to Play section, I see a bunch of stuff I have absolutely no interest in playing. It’s not to say that a majority of games contained within that section are crap (although a good chunk of stuff in there is), but most of it is. I stumbled upon Emily is Away during one of my searches, and had really only downloaded it due to the nods to AIM and oddly enough, Windows XP.
I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play it, I couldn’t tell what the game was about from the video, or from the screenshots. If you had told me it was a mystery game, I would’ve believed you. I really had no clue, and so the game sat in my backlog for months. This past Saturday night, I decided I’d finally give the game a try. I don’t know if it was fatigue from the day, or the alcohol talking, but I was feeling pretty brave.
The game takes place of the course of 5 years, you start out in High School, and the game ends when you’re ready to graduate from college. The only thing that is changing over the course of the game is your relationship with Emily. It started off innocently enough, but then as your character gets older, and starts making some important decisions that impact your friendship/relationship with Emily, that’s when the game starts to have a different feel to it, and the themes get a little bit heavier.
After creating a screen name (johncena), I was looking squarely at the AIM UI and the rolling hills background within Windows XP, which is what drew me to the game in the first place. After sitting there for a few seconds, I hear a familiar sound; it was the AIM chime, someone was talking to me. I had a hard time taking the game seriously at first, I was answering questions about what my plans were for that night, and if was thinking of going to some party. Basically, all things that one would think about if they had a social life.
Halfway through the first play through, which was around chapter 3, I started to realize the game wasn’t as lighthearted as I thought. I wish I could talk about some of the choices that I had made, but there isn’t really a way to do that without spoiling the experience. I will say however, that this isn’t a game about making progress and “getting the girl”, in fact, I would venture to say that, that isn’t the point here. I think the point of a game like this, is to make you feel something, be it guilt, uncertainty, or even a twinge of sadness.
I know that at the end of my first play though, my final options of things to say to Emily were “Goodbye”, “Goodbye”, and “Goodbye”, and I felt really shitty about that. I thought that I felt this way because I was tired; but I went through the game again the next day, and felt the same thing (well maybe a little worse), since I was able to experience friendliness at the beginning, and the distance at the end.
Emily is Away is an interesting experiment, and I’m glad I took some time to check it out. Its always nice to be surprised every once in awhile.