The Emily Is Away trilogy makes DMing your crush into a doomed game

Recently I finished the Emily Is Away trilogy. Every one removed my heart in less time than it requires to see a Marvel motion picture.

I played all 3 of the video games in a row, which suggested I got my heart broken by Emily through GOAL in the very first video game, got another heart-stomping from Evelyn on GOAL in the next video game, and after that got disposed yet once again by Evelyn on Facebook in the last video game. The 3 video games are set within early-’00s social networks. Emily Is Away (2015) and Emily Is Away Too (2017) are both text experiences embeded in a series of GOAL chat logs, and the 3rd video game is set on an approximation of 2008-era Facebook.

You’re playing as a schoolmate of Emily and Evelyn, and your interactions with them feel intimate and direct. You can fill out your own screen name and choose some information for your profile. You select through discussion trees to specify your character and their options in life and love. You don’t define your gender in any of the 3 video games, although you’re presumed to be drawn in to women. In the 3rd video game, you can pick amongst both womanly and manly profile images, each rendered in an abstract shape. I utilized my old GOAL screen name and my genuine name in all 3 video games, and now that I’ve beaten them all, I truly want I hadn’t.

Emily likes Snow Patrol in all three Emily Is Away games

Image: Kyle Seeley through Polygon

For those people who endured high school and college throughout the height of instantaneous messaging and the Proterozoic days of social networks, the Emily Is Away trilogy will activate micro-flashbacks and sense memories. The GOAL sound results. The smart replica of Facebook’s user interface and alerts. Era-appropriate tune lyrics on buddies’ profiles and a choice of cringeworthy lyrics to contribute to your own.

In the exact same method I liked digging through Facebook pages in 2008 to discover my brand-new buddies’ preferred films and quotes, I liked browsing through little information on characters’ profiles that made them appear real, like their Facebook Notes app studies and links to curated YouTube playlists showing each imaginary teenager’s tastes.

With each passing video game, the series’ discussion ends up being more naturalistic. Emily, as a character, felt hollow in the very first video game, however by the time I completed Emily Is Away <3, both Emily and Evelyn looked like genuine teen women with genuine teenager issues.

In Emily Is Away Too, you can talk to either Evelyn (pictured) or Emily

Image: Kyle Seeley through Polygon

In truth, the authenticity is spooky. In Emily Is Away <3, the tense social networks battles I had with Emily, Evelyn, and the other brand-new characters raised my heart rate similar to real-life battles I’ve had on social networks with buddies, crushes, and partners. After finishing the trilogy, I really felt as though I’d gotten disposed 3 times in a row. Given that I utilized my genuine name and screen names and tried to play “as myself” to the level that it was possible, the rejections felt not that various from getting disposed by a genuine individual through the web.

However while the rejections felt familiar, even genuine, they did not feel individual.

Emily Is Away <3 has actually presented more subtlety and depth to the characters and discussion compared to the previous 2 video games, however this increased realism made one specific stopping working stand out even more: I kept talking like a straight guy in these video games. Which’s how other characters kept viewing me. Other than I’m a queer lady, and I utilized to be a queer teenager woman, which’s the individual I kept attempting to be.

My profile page in Emily Is Away Too, featuring some lyrics and quotes that real-me wouldn’t have chosen

Image: Kyle Seeley through Polygon

I’m not the only critic who has actually noted this rigidness. Back in 2015, Bruno Dias checked out the very first video game’s lead character as male, composing, “You can choose the name of the protagonist, and so theoretically their gender, but Emily is Away really isn’t written to encompass the possibility of a queer relationship; a lot of squinting is required to read it as anything but the story of a boy’s crush on a girl.” Emily Short explained the video game as “heteronormative,” explaining that a person of the interactions in between Emily and the lead character might be checked out as dubiously consensual, which “retrospectively colors some of [the protagonist’s] earlier behavior as entitled Nice Guy-ism rather than awkwardness and genuine concern.”

Like me, critic Avery Delany tried to play the video game from a queer lens and experienced less harshness than I did, composing, “The absence of an explicit, predetermined gender set by the game and reinforced through the narrative gave me a sense of freedom to interpret my character and their relationships.”

The Emily Is Away video games do undoubtedly leave lots of interactions open up to analysis, and sometimes that’s the video games’ strength, permitting any gamer to see a little of themselves within the lead character. However even as I ended up being more invested with each entry, I kept thinking about an alternate variation of the lead character who’s more plainly specified as a queer woman. The drama in my high school friends group about “who was dating who” got way more stressful once some of us came out of the closet (and sometimes headed back in again, depending on our insecurity levels that day).

The profile page of Mat, one of the characters in Emily Is Away &lt;3

Image: Kyle Seeley

In Emily Is Away <3, Evelyn had only dated guys prior to dating me (as far as the game tells me), and she broke up with me to date a guy (okay, so Evelyn told me she wasn’t leaving me for Steve, but c’mon, it was so obvious). Nobody in the game comments on this. Trust me, it would’ve made a lot more sense if these 2008-era characters had commented on Evelyn’s relationship history, especially if I’m supposed to be Evelyn’s first-ever girlfriend. I know what teens were like in 2008 — especially teens at Natick High School, where this game is set, because that’s the next town over from where I actually grew up.

What fascinated me more, while also breaking my immersion, was the way that my player character talked to these girls in the game, as well as how they perceived me. The ways that a teen girl might come off as creepy or annoying tend to differ from the ways that a teen boy would. Not always, of course — but there is a wealth of academic scholarship about 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’d often find myself with a string of dialogue options that didn’t sound like anything I’d ever say in my life. In the third game, that still happened, but less often. It might sound here like I think that the Emily Is Away series needed to include even more dialogue to allow for the life experiences of someone like me. And while I do think that the ups and downs of a teen queer social circle would make for a devastating game, that isn’t something I think Emily Is Away should necessarily attempt to do.

I convince Emily to come visit me in the first Emily Is Away game, but no matter what I do, our visit won’t go well

Image: Kyle Seeley via Polygon

The strength of these games is that the protagonist actually is a defined character, a person who gains more definition with each successive game. Entering in my own personal information and attempting to play as myself, rather than coming along for the ride as a character who isn’t that much like me, resulted in me enjoying these three games less than I would have otherwise.

The Emily Is Away series doesn’t tell social media stories that everyone will be able to relate to. After all, not all of us used AIM in the early 2000s, or used Facebook in 2008. These games tell a specific story about characters who feel real and make tough decisions that are understandable, including the player character. I just wish I hadn’t spent my time with them imagining what a teenage variation of myself would do.

Even if I had actually had the ability to play as my real teenage self, I’m still quite sure that Evelyn would have disposed me for Steve. Frickin’ Steve.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.