Emily is Away is a free game made by developer Kyle Seeley. Tt only takes about 30 minutes to play and part of it’s charm comes from the surprisingly genuine feel of its narrative. Personally I recommend you give it a spin before watching the video.
The entire game takes place in a low res simulation of AOL Instant Messanger, one of the venerable messenger clients of the late 90s and early 00s, it was never popular where I grew up but through this interface the game tells an astonishingly genuine story about a teen/early adult relationship. A relationship full of confusion, apprehension and uncertainty which is all conveyed in a very fitting manner, typing.
In Emily is Away you select lines of dialogue similar to a traditional visual novel, but then you have to then actually type. You have to press keys on your keyboard, and each time you do so your character enters or deletes a key from the line. Obviously this doesn’t make it a freeform simulation but it does allow you to feel out that space between what you want to say and what you are brave enough to say in a way that would be hard to replicate elsewhere.
It was a very impressive experience and it really creates a nostalgia for a situation I never really experienced (primarily for lack of female friends in high school/early uni), but in the video I hit on one of the key weaknesses in it. The story feels kind of off if you pick a feminine name. Emily just doesn’t seem like she interested in women, but she is interested in you. When other people and relationships are mentioned, they are always men, but even with an female name she will suddenly openly ask why the main character didn’t make a move. I am glad they included female names in the random generator but I just don’t think Emily is Away commits to it in the same way it commits to the rest of its themes and presentation.