[This post is fairly spoilery; best to just go play the game and come back when you’re done. It’s pay what you want on itch.io and incredibly worthy of your time.]
Emily is Away is a 30 minute game set purely within an online messaging application; yet it manages to be more evocative and emotional than any other game I remember playing recently.
We all drift away from friends despite the fact that it’s easier to keep in touch than it ever has been, but it’s something that’s always preoccupied me and clearly equally preoccupies the player character in Emily is Away, at least in the one of three endings that I experienced.
But through this game, the player can put voice to these fears – though you can only pick from one of three replies, you must physically press keys in order for the words to appear, meaning there is an intrinsic involvement when your character types and then deletes things like “will we ever be like we were before?”
Losing Emily to time and diverging lives was painful, despite the fact that neither Emily nor “Jay” – who in this game was an American art student – really existed. I miss Emily because the half hour I spent becoming estranged from her was merely a condensed version of events that you don’t always see happening when they are drawn out in the lengthy processes of real life.
But pain borne of fiction can be cathartic. Saying goodbye to Emily at the end of our 30 minute rollercoaster relationship felt like saying goodbye to real people I never got closure on; people who were central to my life until I looked around and they weren’t. It’s given me something to reflect on and something that makes me feel less alone with my feelings. It’s that that makes this game so meaningful.
(Plus, it was a pretty great excuse to go and comfort game with Pokémon Moon for a while, and you can’t argue with that.)