As I sit here trying to formulate my thoughts on Emily is Away, it’s hard for me ignore the tense pounding in my chest, the clammy feeling of my palms as I try to bring myself down from the half hour of nervous anxiety that I just went through. Perhaps it’s because the subject matter hits me a little too close to home, knowing a few too many girls just like Emily in my high school days. Or maybe it’s because I knew from the start how it would all end, despite my best efforts.
The most obvious feature of Emily is Away is the faux-AIM interface that it uses to tell its story, but the real strength of the experience is how authentic the interactions feel. For that brief time, I was transported back to Senior year, trying to be supportive of a friend I had unrequited feelings for; cluelessly attempting to find the right words. But the difference between it and most choose-your-own-adventure narratives is the fact that I didn’t want to revisit it again, no matter how strong that feeling was in the pit of my stomach that things may have gone differently if I’d just made better decisions. In a medium that thrives on disregarding and often laughing in the face of consequence, it’s a difficult emotion to stir up in the player, even considering how often it seems to come up in our real lives.
And maybe if I did go through it again, I’d learn an even harsher lesson; some situations are simply unwinnable when emotions are involved, no matter what you do. As it stands, my Emily was someone that I simply never had a chance with, whether it was because I was too much the dreaded “nice guy” or just because she never saw me that way. Even after realizing that, I wanted the best for her, but felt powerless to help. She was already too far gone, too distant.
It’s entirely possible that you could play Emily Is Away and never feel a thing, since it’s capturing, or should I say, recapturing a very specific experience, but one that most anyone has had at least once. As I try to find a clever way to cap off my thoughts, I can really only sit here reminded of those people in my life that stirred such similar feelings. Part of that is because I’m often sentimental to a point of self-sabotage, considering how often I’d already thought about those times, even before booting up the game. I can’t help but wonder what went wrong and never find myself closer to a solid answer.
And that’s the point. Sometimes things just end.