Unorganized thoughts on Emily Is Away

I like the UI for this style of game, although having to spam the keyboard is annoying. I wonder what an Inform 7 version of this would look like.

First playthrough: I found the story a lot more moving than I expected. That feeling of being friends with someone you’re attracted to, wanting to be more but being unable to broach the subject, until emotionally trying circumstances force it to the surface, and after finally talking about it, your relationship becomes physical, but it doesn’t work out the way either of you wanted, and the friendship withers away… and then the one where you’re left having awkward, superficial, pointless conversation with someone you used to be close to, because you’ve grown apart, and they’ve moved on, and talking about how things used to be between you is just going to upset you both… yeah, I’ve been there.

I’ve heard the protagonist described as an unreliable narrator. Is that really true? For instance, Emily Short’s review mentions that “we don’t know whether the protagonist is being truthful and accurate” when he types an observation about something that happened between chapters and then deletes it without sending. But, well, if you want to go down that road, we don’t know that about anything else said by either character, do we? I don’t see much value in speculating about whether this one line was a lie.

I’ve seen the game described as “a masterclass in masculine normativity” and “EiA isn’t about a guy who is unlucky in love … It’s about male entitlement and it’s uncritical of it; it’s reinforcing the ugly views of its audience … It takes it as a given that men are entitled to forceful opinions about what women do with their lives and bodies”, and having played it, I can only conclude that such criticism comes from a place of contempt for the class of people likely to find themselves in the game’s situation. There is not, in fact, any aspect of entitlement expressed in the game. There’s just a young man who has feelings for his friend and is afraid to act on them until the point where doing so is complicated and destructive.

Another critique I’ve seen: [quote]Emily herself isn’t fortunate enough to get even that much characterization. If you’ve ever had a crush, you know that crushes have specificity to them; that people’s feelings reflect something they appreciate in one another — or, if you’re feeling cynical, some idealised feature they imagine one another to possess. The protagonist’s feelings for Emily seems less related to who she is, or even to whom the player character imagines her to be, than to the simple fact that she is there.

Emily is not someone with enough personality that someone might have a crush on her. And simultaneously, the protagonist does not have enough personality to have a crush on someone. And so their relationship is just vacuous; it doesn’t even rise to the height of pointless teenage infatuation. The story is clearly trying for wistfulness about their unrealized feelings, but it’s hard to be wistful for something so amorphous. A lot of care is given to the details of the period, but barely any thought is given to defining these characters.[/quote]
On the one hand, not much of that rings true for me. Do crushes necessarily have “specificity” to them? It seems widely acknowledged that, at least for teen guys, the answer is no: “she’s cute and friendly and sits next to me in English” really is enough to kindle the fire much of the time.

More importantly, the game isn’t about that. It’s not about being introduced to Emily and deciding whether you’re looking for a romantic relationship. It’s about taking control of the protagonist during a handful of interactions in the context of the relationship he already has with her, and the way he feels about her is pretty self-evident. The choices you get to make are largely (1) trivial ones that give you a chance to make the story slightly more familiar and (2) important ones about how tightly to bottle up your feelings of attraction and jealousy.

On the other hand, this criticism hints at what I think is the game’s glaring flaw: who is it for, and what are they supposed to get out of it?

For people who are predisposed to hate the protagonist and his feelings/actions, it’s just a chance to feel vindicated. They see a stereotypical “Nice Guy”, they interpret Emily’s visit in the worst possible light, and they complain that the game is just letting you role-play an asshole without ever pointing out that he’s an asshole.

For people who’ve experienced the events in the game, it’s a trip down memory lane and a chance to reflect, but not much else; the arc of your relationship with Emily is set in stone before the game starts. The game lets you know you’re not alone, but is that really such uncommon knowledge that there’s an audience for it? Maybe it mostly serves as a way for the author to talk about his own experiences, but if so, what’s up with the branching? Why is he so sure every path ends the same way?

For people who haven’t experienced the events in the game but still identify with the protagonist… not many seem to have gotten much insight from it, if the Steam comments are any indication.

The game takes the protagonist’s situation for granted, without setting up enough backstory or characterization to sell his reactions to someone who doesn’t immediately understand them. As a result, it doesn’t really work as a “My Life Simulator” like e.g. Cis Gaze: it doesn’t help outsiders get inside the protagonist’s head. Nor does it offer comfort, hope, advice, perspective, or anything beyond acknowledgement to people who are already there.

And maybe that’s fine. Personal stories don’t have to have morals or happy endings. It’s a good thing this was withdrawn from the comp, though.

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It’s interesting to read about this game. I’ll get to playing it, but I doubt I’ll get into it - I was never one for the sort of IM social interactions that used to be the norm when I was growing up (and which have taken to Facebook now), and I find the subject matter extremely uncomfortable.

Then again, if comfort were a requirement for art, we’d all be screwed.

Spamming the keyboard, though, is just not a good thing. Nice gimmick, at first, but it wears out its welcome reeeal quick.