*In this day and age, people tend to freak out when you spoil a game for them.  So allow me to warn you that I’m going to talk very candidly about Emily is Away.  I’ll likely spoil some plot points because I’m not gonna talk in code.  The game takes a half hour to play.  If you’re really scared about all the spoilers, take a half hour out of your ridiculous life and play it, then come back and read this.  Or be a grown human person and understand that you read at your own risk.  This is a long winded way to say: SPOILER WARNINGS.  I hope you’re happy.

 

The time frame of Emily is Away nearly mirrored my own life.  Ranging from 2002-2006 (ish), the game tells a story almost every millennial has experienced first hand since dating has uncomfortably shoved its way into our digital lives.  The internet has changed relationships in many ways over the last fifteen years.  It’s now easier to keep in touch with people we knew in high school and college, interact daily with our favorite celebrities, and get in touch with the wrong person at the wrong time.  That is why Emily is Away strikes a painful chord for so many.  The game captures the rollercoaster ride of digital love, a snapshot of the mishandled relationships that litter the personal history of so many people.  A lot of us know Emily; some of us still know her.  

My Emily was a girl named Kate.  Or is it Natalie?  There’s traces of Sasha in there as well.  Emily is an effective character because she fills the shoes of so many people.  She’s flirtatious, deep (in that college way, where “deep” means understanding Coldplay lyrics), she laughs at your dumb jokes, and opens up to you.  She can be the girl that you crushed on throughout high school, the girl you think about when you’re feeling painfully alone, or the girl you didn’t appreciate until it was too late.  The character of Emily is malleable, she fits into whatever painful high school/college relationship you have.  There are only two things indisputable about Emily and they are likely the reasons things don’t work out in the end.  Emily lives far away from you and she is in college.

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The late-teens/early-twenties is a terrible time to develop a relationship.  Many of us lack the emotional empathy, understanding, and patience that is so important to a relationship.  I have to confess, I really started to hate Emily about halfway through my second playthrough.  It was a frustration with repeated failure that I think only Phil the weatherman could know (please excuse my Groundhog Day reference).  I trudged through Emily’s emotional journey time and again, wondering if there was a perfect concoction of words to say or things to do that made her fall for you or at least allowed you to salvage the friendship after your inevitable falling out.  After numerous playthroughs and a quick internet search, I discovered there isn’t.  I also stumbled across a handful of people in the Steam discussion boards venting their frustration with Emily.

Someone apologized for girls like Emily ruining “nice guys”, a few boys vented their anger at “nice guys” finishing last, others remarked on how it was a game where the guy wasn’t supposed to get the girl.  For a moment I was right there with them.  Emily constantly lays the blame for your failed relationship at your feet with the cliched:  

“Why didn’t you kiss me?”

“Why didn’t you make your move?”

“It feels like you took advantage of my vulnerability.”

But you can’t harbor anymore resentment for Emily than you do for any other coming-of-age crush in your life.  Emily is Away represents the messy, ineloquent romance that many of us experience in high school and college.  We didn’t know enough about ourselves to say what we wanted and spent too much time running over people like emotional bulldozers.  To be fair, it’s not strictly a college thing, but it’s more prevalent – and a little more understandable – when you’re that age.

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Part of the frustration in Emily is Away comes from the climactic moment when Emily comes to visit after a painful break up with her boyfriend.  You can be the overly sensitive type and keep things strictly platonic or you can be the douche-bag type and hook up with her when she is emotionally vulnerable.  Surprise, surprise, neither option works out very well.

At first, I was upset that there wasn’t a better option.  I wanted to have the courage to make a move, but the biological restraint to realize that drunken sex might not be the most constructive idea.  The problem is that your character is too young to realize that.  Welcome to college: a world filled with uncertainties and hormonal miscues.  Sure, Emily tends to be an emotional rollercoaster who seems equally to blame in the failing of your friendship (it’s impossible to tell what really happens between these yearly online chats), but I found I hated myself as much as I hated Emily.  We both were the worst.  Instead of being honest and upfront about what we wanted and what we needed from a relationship, we engaged in emotional warfare, not really caring who got hurt in the end.

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I wish I could say that Emily is Away speaks to only a specific time and place, but it doesn’t.  Today there are even more ways for girls like Emily and more guys like the main character to engage each other in poor decisions.  As dating moves from bars and exchanged phone numbers to online dating sites and mobile phones apps, we open the door for people to forge their romance through emojis and typos.  Whether you’re crafting responses to a Facebook message from your ex, swiping right on Tinder, or drunk texting a friend who you wish was more than a friend, we’re tapping into a digital relationship similar to the one in Emily is Away.

Maybe that is the most haunting about the story of failed love and friendship.  Maybe it’s not only that I see an old version of myself that I am glad is long gone, but I see my future in Emily is Away.  I’d like to think I’m past the stages of drunken hookups or the fear of telling someone how I feel, but as a single dude in 2015 I’ll likely go through the familiar stages of digital romance before it’s all said and done.  I’ll probably have more conversations filled with the winky-faces and rewritten messages like those I sent to Emily.  Ah, dating in the 21st century, what a fucking nightmare.  

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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