“Emily, who is Emily?
My mother would say she’s everyone.
Every girl, every boy, every person that anyone has ever loved”
This beautiful and insightful quote opens Emily is Away Too. This is the first thing you see and this is the seed that is planted in your mind as you play. Emily is Away Too works so powerfully, so wonderfully because of this idea, because of the striking nature with which developer Kyle Seeley crafts his story and those inhabiting it. The rush, exhilaration and promise of it all. The hope, fear, and blossoming potential of something new, of something altogether different. These are the feelings Emily is Away Too captures so wonderfully amidst its story of youth, nostalgia, and the first eager, yet tentative forays into romance.
Kyle Seeley delivered an unexpected and brilliant title with 2015’s Emily is Away, a breathtaking piece of nostalgia-fueled heartbreak set entirely in AOL Instant Messenger chat rooms. That game delivered a tale wrought with promise, hope, first love, and the fleeting nature of it all, of our youth, of the shifting sands of our first exciting but turmoil-filled years of adulthood.
That game was remarkable. Emily is Away Too bests it in nearly every way, attaches stakes and the promising dream of an actual good ending, it lures you in with it’s funny profile options and knock-off Facebook site, before it goes in for the kill with a story so brutally and emotionally pure that I was floored and left questioning what kind of person I am, of whether my image of myself is entirely earned.
The relationship between the player, the titular Emily, and new character Evelyn is astounding in how it approaches the soaring highs, soul-sucking lows, and beautiful chase of falling in love, of starting something new, something perhaps special.
The chemistry is pitch perfect. Emily and Evelyn are both so endlessly fascinating, so wondrously real in their complications that you can’t help but let your guard fall down and reveal a piece of your soul to these two girls.
This game differs in a fundamental way from it’s predecessor in it’s setting. Whereas Emily 1 took place over five years as you went from a senior in high school to a senior in college, Emily 2 all takes place over a single year. From the days just before you start your final year of high school to right after you graduate. This more focused and tight tale allows for the relationships and story between Emily, Evelyn, and you to slowly build and grow in an organic and refreshingly real way. There are no leaps and bounds in time, everything that happens grows out of past conversations and choices in ways that make sense and reflect the natural course of events of school age romance.
It happened immediately, from the second Evelyn messaged me a simple “hi” I was pulled back into this world of IM chat, Facebook drama, and the utterly bewildering and mystifying time of figuring out just what this person means, of what the two of you are, of the chase, of the promise of it all.
I was in high school at the time this game takes place, a few years younger than this cast of characters, but only just. This is my experience, these are my memories, my fears, rush, and hope.
I was just a silly dumb kid (not a lot has changed on that front) I didn’t know anything, but thought I knew it all. When Evelyn started messaging me I couldn’t believe how quickly I fell back into that time wrap, into that version of myself, or at least who I remembered me being. I realized how happy I am that I’ve grown up even a little since then.
The way that Emily is Away Too makes you question yourself, the way that it ultimately holds you to judgement for the conversations, decisions, and actions you take throughout this year is unforgiving, harsh, and beautifully honest.
I lied, made mistakes, didn’t understand, tried to be the best person I could, offered support, and both lifted people up and made them smile when they needed to most, and also utterly failed them, let them down in spectacular fashion. It was all me though, it was all Logan and Emily and Evelyn. Those relationships, those moments between me and these two girls… they were special, yet ultimately they were fleeting and that’s ok too.
There was a series of moments of such pure joy, of such unbridled happiness in Emily is Away Too, when everything finally worked out, where I finally got the girl, where I finally got what I had been chasing after for so long, and discovered that this was perfect. That my doubts, worries, and fears of not making the right choices, of not knowing what I was doing were knocked aside by the knowledge that this was right, that this was it, that this was all I had wanted. Making Evelyn laugh, making her happy felt so right, so viscerally perfect that I flashed back to every perfect moment making the women I’ve loved, or liked, or just cared about laugh, making them smile. It felt true to that, it felt like a brilliantly powerful moment of just two people connecting, it was joy, it was the first sun-splashed, late night seconds of something special happening.
I’ve thought about little else other than this game for the past few days now. The second the credits rolled and LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” started playing I was gutted, by myself, by what I had done. I had caused so much pain, so much hurt, and anger, and heartbreak; both to myself and to those near me. I was 17 again, but that meant I had forgotten the lessons of the last eight years. It was my fault I didn’t get the girl, it was my fault Emily got away, it was my fault Evelyn was crying, hell it was my fault I sat motionless, my stomach having plunged through the floor and to the earth’s core. It was all so real, I had been here before, I was stunned.
Emily is Away Too offers you the promise, the dream. It offers you the moment, the second when everything slows down and it’s all just perfect, you, her, and the space in between is perfect. The incandescence of you two could just light up the world. You can get a happy ending in this game, I didn’t. That feels real, that feels like how this should end. The promise is needed though, I have to believe I can make it work, that this early, exciting, young love story can get the happily-ever-after ending I so badly wanted. I had to grow up though. I needed these moments, the good and the bad.
Emily has flaws, sometimes the dialogue choices you’re given don’t match what you want to say, a few times after selecting one I hated how it was written out, the game misconstruing my true thoughts. In one case this had long-lasting and negative consequences. The Facenook profiles, the game’s version of Facebook is cool and neat to check out, but ultimately a little hollow and meaningless. It’s just window dressing, something new to offer that doesn’t add much to the larger experience.
Yet, still something special remains. It’s the music. Sharing music, bonding as the two of you listen to the likes of Snow Patrol, My Chemical Romance, and the best of mid 2000’s teen anthems. This soundtrack to an era resonates throughout Emily is Away and I constantly found myself just keeping the music playing in the background as me and Evelyn or Emily conversed. Our relationships and interactions being given a living beating orchestra. You can’t help but find yourself coming closer together via the musical touchstones of your youth.
Over the course of this stunning two hour journey Emily is Away Too left it’s mark on me. Few things hit me as hard as this games tiny little moments, the moments that define a relationship. Passing notes, giving advice on homework, the unsure flirting and perhaps tentative signs of interest. It’s all here, it’s all striking. I mentioned above the way the game nailed the emotional high of when everything finally clicks, it just as successfully nails the final outcome, the realization that nothing can be done, that you and you alone have failed this person, that it’s all slipped away right through your fingers.
Emily is Away Too marks a powerfully resonate capstone on a transformative and important time in the life of everyone. It teaches as it both lifts the heart and shines a light on the greatest parts of you and also smacks you in the gut as your worst faults and lies are laid under the spotlight of truth. It is a game of it’s era and yet also unmistakably timeless. It is a story pushing all of us to question, to reevaluate, and to reflect on the kinds of people we once were. Its story shines and rises with its brilliant co-leads in Emily and Evelyn and it’s heart lays in its truth and in its devotion to those remarkable, brilliant, and lovely characters. As joyous or as tragic as you make it and as uplifting, heartwarming, and crushing as you are willing to open yourself up to it.
Emily is Away Too is what I point too when I talk about how storytelling in games has evolved and splintered off in beautiful new directions. This is a story only capable of being told via games. This is a story given weight and power due to your own personal investment and control of events. Emily is Away Too is all of the loves who have left their mark, it’s all of the lessons learned and hard truths revealed, it is a story that can change you, if you’re only willing to let it.