Long before social media dominated our lives, we crafted our online personas through the glory of AOL Instant Messenger. We chose our buddy icons based on the latest movie releases, customized the our font to the most unreadable colors possible, and added our favorite song lyrics to our profiles (or if you were like me, added the most sarcastic comedian quotes you could find). Truly the early 2000’s were a magical time.
Emily is Away is a friend-zone simulator based around your AIM chats with a girl named Emily, your “best friend” as you prepare to graduate high school. The game takes place across five years, from your senior year to your final year in college. During each chat session, you’re presented with three different ways to respond that may change the course of your conversation or the actions you agree to take in real life (which happen off screen). In this way, it’s a lot like a “choose your own adventure” game that takes place across AIM.
After you select an answer, you have to type out random keys on your keyboard in order to see your message scrawled out in your AIM chat (complete with typos and striking Enter to send the final message). One of the interesting features of the game is that whenever you offer a bold, direct answer to Emily, you’re character goes back and deletes it to make it more harmless. You can essentially try to spill your guts to Emily, but your character inevitably backtracks at the last moment as you helplessly watch. It’s a clever commentary on teenage insecurity and the way in which we use online communication to hide our true feelings from one another.
Unfortunately, one of the issues with the game is that it never really tells you what you’re relationship with Emily is, or how you’re supposed to feel about her. Are you secretly in love with this girl? Are you trying to go out with her? If so, I failed miserably at that on my first run. I acted like a distant jerk, and the ensuing distance between us could be measured in light years. She wound up going out with that douche, Brad. Looking back, maybe it was because I treated her like dirt the entire time. Maybe it was because I said her favorite band Coldplay was a steaming pile of shit. Nah, I bet she’s just a slut who goes out with jerks like Brad. Fuck Brad. He’s such a tool.
In retaliation, I replayed the entire game, giving her the responses I expected would make her happy. I even replayed chapters I thought I had messed up on, catering my answers like a true sociopath. She break’s up with Brad and wants to come visit my college for the weekend? We party our asses off, but the next time we talk she accuses me of getting her drunk so we could hook up. Restart the chapter. I tell her to come over so we can go around campus. Ditch the alcohol, we don’t need it (winky face). Next time I’m pinged, she blames me for not making a move on her! God, there is just no pleasing this girl!
Undeterred, I try again and again. I stay home from the party in high school, but later she tells me she’s disappointed I didn’t go. I try to build a relationship with this other girl Emma, but the jealousy tactic fails, and Emily just becomes bitter.
After a couple of run-throughs, I was basically tapping A and G on my keyboard to fast forward the chat logs. Fed up, I looked up a guide for the “perfect run-through” only to discover that there is no happy ending to this game. No matter what you do, Emily always becomes distant and you never talk again. They even tease you with messages like “Emily will remember this”, but to no avail. The outcome is always the same.
This is, of course, the bittersweet message the game is trying to impart: That even the closest of friends grow apart after high school, and that its’ best to accept it for what it is. She even mentions at one point that “it sucks when people change” (a little passive aggressive, huh?). Hopefully you at least enjoyed the Windows XP throwbacks.
Alternatively, a couple of people online noted that the best ending is the one where you act like a distant jerk (I knew it!) and Emily tells you she doesn’t want to talk to you anymore. Under this interpretation, you actually get to know Emma instead, although this is never outright stated and left to your own imagination. Who knows. Maybe you’ll find solace in liking her Facebook statuses for the rest of time.
The Bottom Line: Why won’t you love me, Emily!?