With modern social media becoming progressively more toxic and miserable, it can be quite a culture shock to take a look at how things were like in the past. That was the point of the original Emily is Away, a pseudo-choose-your-own-adventure title from 2015 that recreated 2005 AIM and had you talking to your crush while dealing with school. It was an interesting little curio of a title that had a surprising gut-punch of an emotional narrative, though one that felt maybe a little underdeveloped.
Created by indie dev Kyle Seeley, the game quickly amassed praise across various websites and by fans, so it was followed up in 2017 with Emily is Away Too. Introducing a more thought-out plot and branching paths, the sequel allowed for more personal expression with your avatar while also recreating different websites from circa 2007’s internet that was nostalgic as hell to the right people. It felt like a time capsule of pre-social media days that had long passed us by, not to mention it was home to an even more devastating story.
Due to the legacy of those two games, the prospect of Emily is Away <3 sounded equal parts incredible and dreadful. With time flashing back to the beginning of Facebook’s popularity in 2008 (here remade as Facenook), it was a chance to relive those early days when no one quite knew what social media was going to evolve into. It was also another chance to have our hearts broken by misunderstood communication and tricky romantic situations. Was I ready to face emotional devastation again?
Spelling out the exact plot of Emily is Away <3 will rob you of its various twists and turns, so I’m only going to make a vague summary to describe its mechanics. Much like the previous title, this newest story features two women with whom you are interested. With AIM being dead and everyone moving over to a brand-new platform, you create a profile on the rapidly growing Facenook and get help from your friend Mat on setting things up. From there, you chat about your high school life, connect with some of your classmates, and generally act like a teenager.
The interface of Emily is Away <3 is a recreation of Facebook’s site design from its earlier days. You’ll see the familiar white background and bottom toolbar with links and advertisements on the side panels when scrolling through different profiles. Each character has a faceless pixel art profile picture so that you can project your own understanding of them as the story plays out and you’ll have the ability to friend request and poke people to your heart’s content. Just know that because Emily is Away <3 is heavily scripted, these touches are mostly cosmetic.
Early on, you’ll be able to decide on which girl you like better: the titular Emily or her ex-best friend Evelyn. Both names were used in the previous game, so I had a brief period where I thought this was actually a full-blown sequel instead of an original story. There are possibly slight references to the past games, but this is a fully self-contained title that doesn’t require past knowledge to understand.
Much like the original game, you’ll engage in instant messaging with your friends that requires you to pretend-type responses by hitting random keys. You can turn this feature off if it becomes annoying, but it does add a layer of authenticity to the game’s recreation of this specific era. For each interaction, you’ll be given three different options on how to respond and those choices can alter the story in small ways.
As should be obvious from the description, you’ll end up going on one of two main paths by selecting either Emily or Evelyn as your love interest. Sadly, this is where my main complaint with Emily is Away <3 stems from. In the previous game, both girls were a lot different from each other and represented unique scenarios if you went with one versus the other. In Emily is Away <3, you’ll notice slight differences in personality, but the plot plays out pretty much the same regardless of your choices. Again, I’m not going to spoil anything here, but my first playthrough felt very genuine while the second was kind of the same thing despite me trying my best to be a jerk.
Without going into specifics, you face the exact same scenarios despite which girl you go for. You’ll share playlists, talk about dating, console your grieving friend, and hit a roadblock in your relationship in a manner that just swaps names instead of altering the how and why. At one point, you’ll have both girls messaging you, but there is no impetus to answer one first. You can walk away from your computer for 15-20 minutes and nothing will happen to the conversation.
Learning from the past
This is an aspect that Emily is Away Too did better. There was a pulse-pounding moment in that game where you were forced between talking to both girls at once and not reacting fast enough would aggravate the other unintentionally. It not only felt more personal in its delivery but was an interesting usage of the whole AIM schtick that Emily is Away was built on. Nothing approaching that intensity is present in Emily is Away <3.
Conversely, the general writing is of much better quality here. I understand that the idea is to replicate how people speak as teenagers, which is in fragmented sentences and shorthand jargon. Still, Emily is Away <3 lets you respond like a mature adult and it better echoes your own personality. Instead of acting out a role that you only have limited input on, your character here can be a reflection of your present self. It’s weird to see an 18-year-old speaking like they’ve been alive for a few decades, but you’re almost given a chance to correct the stupid errors you made as a kid.
At this point in my life as a 33-year-old, I know who I am and what type of relationship I want. It was difficult to see my digital avatar make the same childish mistakes I did in both previous Emily games, but I didn’t have to be such a loser here. I could act maturely, allow the proper space between myself and my girlfriend, and walk away knowing I did the best I could. It’s maybe not as dramatic as before, but it also ends the story on a much more positive note.
You can also just act like an asshole and end things quicker, which is a neat touch. If you opt to be more impulsive and dismissive, you’ll still hit the same story beats, but then everyone will treat you like the tool you are by the conclusion. I’ve got to give props to that kind of design, but I would have liked to the various choices given more power to ultimately impact the storyline.
At least in terms of visual design, Emily is Away <3 is another homerun. Just like its predecessors, this latest game does a remarkable job in remaking the past. I don’t have as much fondness for early Facebook as I did AIM, but there was a rush of nostalgia that ran over me as I played through the adventure. I remember stupid interactions I had in college while exploring the vastness of Facebook and revisiting that era was both comforting and depressing.
Just like Emily is Away Too, this third installment relies on both the game’s interface and your internet browser to fully nail its era-specific story. When chatting with friends, you’ll be given links to YouToob playlists that load up songs from the actual YouTube. There are also some files the game loads in your browser to make it feel as if you’re looking at your class schedule online. It’s a nice bit of dedication to the gimmick that never feels tacky.
Time to water crops
Where Emily is Away <3 goes a step further is with its built-in mini-games. By clicking various links on your friends’ profiles, you’ll be able to access meme websites and small flash-like activities. One is a recreation of FarmVille, which is neat despite being anachronistic. There are a few I haven’t found yet, meaning I have more reason to dig back in for another playthrough. That extra playthrough is easily done with two save slots, as well, which is a great option for seeing different choices or going with another girl. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in a second sequel, improving on the past while not completely erasing the charm of the original. With that said, why didn’t I enjoy this as much?
I think a lot of Emily is Away’s appeal lies with its examination of the past and your ties to it. AIM was a massive part of my teenage years thanks to me being a dreaded millennial. I had a much easier time placing myself in the shoes of my digital character as I had a ton of personal experience to pull from. I’m not unfamiliar with Facebook, obviously, but I’ve been off the platform for roughly eight years now. As time has gone on, I don’t regret that decision one bit, and seeing its infancy recreated here just makes me sad that online discourse has become so awful to navigate.
It’s a lot to unpack for what is meant to be a breezy and easy-to-understand text-based adventure game. I give developer Kyle Seeley a ton of credit for how era-appropriate these three games have been and how far he went to integrate everything within a single exe. I’ll also sing the praises for how engaging these games can be even without any “traditional” gameplay aspects. I just don’t find myself gelling with Emily is Away <3 as much due to my own lack of connection to its setting.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give this game a go or that it’s somehow a lesser experience than before. We can’t always control how we’ll view a piece of media and expecting every person to either love or hate something is the kind of black and white judgment call that the internet thrives off of. I can separate my own feelings enough to tell you that Emily is Away <3 is worth your time, but I kind of fall somewhere in the middle on my personal evaluation of it.
There are areas where things can improve in the future and I do feel the story is maybe not as malleable as it could have been, but that doesn’t ruin what is another solid and emotional story of teenage love and angst set to the backdrop of early internet communication. If you have any memories of this era, you’re bound to find something to appreciate about Emily is Away <3. Just beware that you may end up smashing your head against the wall as you relive some of the stupid mistakes you made in your youth.
Techraptor reviewed Emily is Away <3 with a code provided by the publisher. The game available on PC via Steam.
- Excellent Recreation of 2008 Facebook
- Choices Allow for Surprising Amount of Personal Input
- A Plethora of Secrets to Uncover
- Branching Paths Don't Deviate Much
- Lack of High-Intensity Decisions