Last week I completed the Emily Is Away trilogy. Everyone has my heart ripped out in less time than it takes to watch a Marvel movie.
I played all three games in a row, which meant I broke Emily’s heart in the first game on AIM, got a heartbeat again in the next game from Evelyn on AIM, and then got thrown again by Evelyn on DIM on Facebook in the last game . The three games are set on social media in the early 20th century. Emily is gone
You play as Emily and Evelyn’s classmate, and your interactions with them feel intimate and direct. You can enter your own screen name and choose some details for your profile. You browse trees of dialogue to define your character and his choices around life and romance. You don’t indicate your gender in any of the three games, although it is assumed that you care about girls. In the third game, you can choose between female and male profile photos, each rendered in an abstract silhouette. I used my old AIM screen name and real name in all three games, but now that I’ve beaten them all, I really wish I hadn’t.
For those of us who lived through high school and college during the height of instant messaging and the Proterozoic days of social media, the Emily Is Away trilogy will trigger micro-flashbacks and sense memories. The AIM sound effects. The clever imitation of the Facebook interface and notifications. Era-matching lyrics on friends’ profiles and a selection of worthy lyrics to add to your own.
Just as I loved browsing Facebook pages in 2008 to find out my new friends ‘favorite movies and quotes, I loved navigating through small details in the characters’ profiles that made them seem real, like their Facebook Notes app – Polls and links to curated YouTube playlists that reflect the tastes of every fictional teen.
With each game, the series’ dialogue becomes more naturalistic. Emily as a character felt hollow in the first game but when I was done Emily is gone <3Emily and Evelyn looked like real teenage girls with real teenage problems.
Indeed, the reality is scary. in the Emily is gone <3The tense social media fights I had with Emily, Evelyn, and the other new characters raised my heart rate, as did real fights I had on social media with friends, crushes, and partners. After completing the trilogy, I really felt like I’d been dumped three times in a row. Since I was using my real name and screen names, and trying to play “as myself” as much as possible, the rejections didn’t feel as different as if I was being dumped over the internet by a real person.
But while the rejections felt familiar and even real, they didn’t feel personal.
Emily is gone <3 added nuance and depth to the characters and dialogue compared to the previous two games, but this heightened realism all the more highlighted a certain flaw: I talked like a straight guy in these games. And so other characters noticed me again and again. Just that I’m a weird woman and I used to be a weird teenage girl and that’s the person I kept trying to be.
I’m not the only critic who has noticed this rigidity. Bruno Dias was already in 2015 Read the protagonist of the first game as maleand wrote: “You can choose the protagonist’s name and thus theoretically his gender, but Emily is gone really is not written to capture the possibility of a strange relationship; It takes a lot of squinting to read this as anything but the story of a boy with a crush on a girl. “Emily Short described the game as “heteronormative”. noting that any of the interactions between Emily and the protagonist could be viewed as dubious consensual, which “stains some of them after the fact [the protagonist’s] previous behavior titled Nice Guyism as Awkwardness and Real Concern. “
Like me, the critic Avery Delany tried to play the game from a strange perspective as well experienced fewer dissonances than I didand wrote, “The lack of an explicit, predetermined gender, set by the game and reinforced by the narrative, gave me a sense of freedom to interpret my character and their relationships.”
The Emily Is Away games do indeed leave a lot of interactions open to interpretation, and sometimes that’s the game’s forte, so that each player can see a little of themselves in the protagonist. But even as I got more money with each entry, I kept dreaming of an alternative version of the protagonist, who is more clearly defined as a queer girl. The drama in my high school friends group about “Who was with whom?” Got a lot more stressful when some of us came out of the closet (and sometimes reentered, depending on our insecurity that day).
in the Emily is gone <3Evelyn first dated men before she was with me (as far as the game tells me), and she broke up with me to go out with a man (okay, so Evelyn told Me, she didn’t leave me for Steve, but come on, it was so obvious. Nobody in the game is commenting on this. Trust me, it would have made a lot more sense if these 2008-era characters had commented on Evelyn’s relationship story, especially if I were to be Evelyn’s first friend. I know how teenagers were in 2008 – especially teenagers at Natick High School, which is where this game is set, because that’s the next town I grew up in.
What intrigued me more, and at the same time broke my immersion, was the way my player character spoke to these girls in the game and how they perceived me. The way a teenage girl performs as creepy or annoying tends to be different from the way a teenage boy would do. Not always, of course – but there is a wealth of scientific evidence on how different people are socialized to communicate in different ways depending on how other people perceive them.
In the first two Emily Is Away games, I often had a series of dialogue options that didn’t sound like anything I’d ever said in my life. In the third game it still happened, but less often. It may sound like I think the Emily Is Away series needs to have more dialogue to make the life experiences of someone like me possible. And while I think the ups and downs of a queer social circle would lead to a devastating game for teenagers, I don’t think Emily Is Away should necessarily be trying.
The strength of these games is that the protagonist is actually is A defined character, a person who gets more definition with every game. When I entered my personal information and tried to play as myself instead of riding as a character who is not so much like me, I enjoyed these three games less than usual.
The Emily Is Away series doesn’t tell social media stories that everyone can relate to. After all, not all of us used AIM in the early 2000s or Facebook in 2008. These games tell a specific story about characters who feel real and make difficult decisions that are understandable, including the player character. I just wish I hadn’t spent my time with them imagining what a teenage version of me would do.
Even if I had been able to play as my actual teenage self, I’m pretty sure Evelyn would have dumped me for Steve. Frickin ‘Steve.