Gaming Writer Emily Breeds reviews Emily Is Away, an intriguing and reflective delve into the nature of online relationships

English student. Writers' Bloc's Journal Editor and Redbrick’s Culture Editor.
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Images by Kyle Seeley

A game that only involves instant messaging can’t be that bittersweet and nostalgic, right? Or can it? I downloaded Emily Is Away when I was ill, and instantly fell in love with the game. It cheered me up when I was stuck in bed all day, and was incredibly easy to navigate, with a simple yet strong storyline. Released in 2015 by developer Kyle Seeley and available (for free!) on Steam, the game is rooted in the nostalgia of Windows XP and old instant messaging servers. We all have similar memories of sitting at various family members’ computers writing stories on Microsoft Word, playing games online or from a disk, not to mention messaging friends after school on MSN.

The game starts in the middle of a friendship between you and Emily, from the senior year of high school to the senior year of college. You choose your avatar each chapter, reflecting the pop culture of the early 2000’s backdrop. You also choose from three options of what to say to Emily each time she messages you. An element of realism shines through when you can see yourself and Emily typing and deleting messages, rather than the messages simply appearing.

Whilst you are aware that you and Emily have been close friends for a while, this friendship eventually succumbs to time and distance, as well as old regrets and qualms from Emily. With one option, she wonders why you didn’t kiss her at a party, and you wonder what could have been. Later in the game, you can either cancel your plans with your new college friend to see Emily, or not allow Emily to visit. The difficulties of maintaining lives in two different places begin to replace the simplicity and innocence of your high school friendship, and it becomes increasingly forced and complicated. Eventually you have no choice but to leave Emily for good.

No matter what you do, even if you stay friendly throughout the game (there is a path where Emily will log off for good herself), ultimately the last three messages you can ever say to Emily are ‘goodbye’.

Upon finishing the game, dejected by the anticlimactic twist, I empathised with the character I was playing. I realised it was not the nostalgia of the game’s format that affected me, but the realisation that I drifted apart from my childhood friends at some point, whether I was aware of it or not. Whilst retro, the messaging feature of the Emily is Away reminds us we still have the same instant messaging today. In a world where communication is instant and literally right at your fingertips, we would expect these friendships to be maintained. However sometimes old friendships cannot grow up with you. No matter how far technology has come, time moves on. And people move with it.