I often wonder if the internet of today will ever be as ancient a place as the internet of my youth, some 10 or 20 years into the future—if I’ll look back on my Twitter feed, the various chat programs I use with my friends, and get the same pang of nostalgia I do now from hearing Windows XP boot up and the creaking door of a friend signing-on to AIM.
Given the nature of the internet today, I doubt it. Things are so permanent now. Data is sorted so neatly, documented so conveniently. I can copy and paste a URL and within seconds see what a website looked like a decade ago. People, places, and things are mere clicks away. Experiences are saved, stored, archived for later. Few things are as fleeting and long-lost as those late-night chats with internet friends on AIM and MSN Messenger. Emily is Away knows this, and captures it so bittersweetly.
Emily is Away is more than just an AIM simulator for nostalgia’s sake, though. It’s also an exploration of a friendship carried on mostly through instant messages, between two people who would’ve otherwise grown apart if not for this thing we call the internet. Your connection with Emily, or emerly35, is painful to watch and probably achingly familiar to anyone who has experienced growing distant with someone in this way, whether or not romance was involved.
To watch your lively conversations crumble over the years into awkward interrogations about relationships, to confusing rants and accusations, and finally, those terse, one-line responses that put the responsibility of saying goodbye all on you—it’s too real.
For anyone who did use AIM back in the day, the nostalgic element is there, but it comes naturally in the look, feel, and sound of the game. Nothing is forced. For those who can say they spent their teen years on AIM, the memories manifest more deeply too: from light-hearted things like reading away messages and setting your text and background color, to deeply and perhaps harmfully over-analyzing the lyrics in a friend’s profile, searching for a sign to explain the sudden tension between you two.
Emily is Away doesn’t try to sell itself solely on the nostalgia aspect, which is good. The real strength is how it captures all the awkwardness, tension, sadness, and hope of a doomed friendship in such short bursts of text spoken through an outdated, but dear, piece of software.
Pay what you want for Emily is Away on itch.io.