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A small Steam game made me chat with a bot for 3 hours

It’s 2008 and the AOL Instant Messenger is dead. With these words the somewhat bizarre simulation Emily is Away <3 welcomes you and wants to move you to Facebook, because that's the hot trend in 2008, in which you find yourself from now on . MeinMMO author Mark Sellner dared to travel through time for you and is thrilled.

Emily is Away <3 is a strange game. To be able to make this statement, a quick look at the Steam page of the insider tip is enough. What greets me there is a very pixelated profile picture, a strange looking Facebook logo in a browser reminiscent of Windows XP days.

Paired with the game’s subtitle “It’s 2008 and AIM is Dead”. Explained for the younger generation: AIM stands for AOL Instant Messenger, it was something like WhatsApp before there were smartphones and less practical and beautiful, but a lot of people still used it. Then eventually Facebook got big.

And this is exactly where Emily is Away <3 takes you back to, because the entire game takes place in a Facebook interface from 2008. You're playing yourself in the final years of your high school career and you've just signed up on Facenook, much later than everyone else, as always.

Facenook is not a typo, that’s the name of the in-game version of the platform and therefore your game hub. Apart from that there are also playlists on YouToob and a lot of chats.

You can see that much from the screenshots on Steam and that much was enough to convince me to invest €8.19 and try Emily is Away <3.

Your political uncle is upset about vegans

The game starts and I see a Facebook timeline that looks pretty much like the one I have today. The title shows me postings from a “wine-drinking mother” and my political uncle, who doesn’t find vegans so gnarly. I can then respond to them with an emoji, as is the case on Facebook today.

Before I do that, I can even choose whether I want to play on a Windows or a Mac. This changes the default backgrounds and mouse pointer to perfect the time travel experience.

Once I have done that, I can display my memories, whereupon Emily is Away <3 jumps with me to 2008 and I can register with Facenook for the first time. So I choose a name and a profile picture, register and I'm right in the middle.

In front of me is Mark’s blank Facenook profile, still a bit desperate to figure out what the game actually wants from him now. A few seconds later I get a friend request from Mat Gursky, I accept and he texts me right away.

Today’s Facenook just isn’t as cool as it used to be

We seem to be good friends as he’s delighted with the charm of 2008 teen internet lingo that I’m finally on Facenook too. We chat for a while about school and our mutual friends Evelyn and Emily.

We’re obviously going to a party together, I just have to decide which one. Shortly thereafter, Mat has to go again, he logs off and is then no longer available. That’s how it was pre-WhatsApp in 2008. A reminder of a time that you’ve almost forgotten.

“Omgggggg you’re finally here”

I haven’t had time to wallow in nostalgia for a long time, because the next friend request is already fluttering in. Emily Singer wants to write with me. She’s throwing one of the parties I’m supposed to be invited to. At the same time, Evelyn, who’s throwing the other party, calls me.

There’s a noise I haven’t heard in years, but it still sounds strangely familiar. Evelyn nudged me. I nudge back and grin like an idiot at my screen. By the way, Emily writes me immediately and is happy to finally see me on Facenook.

Evelyn chooses the true 2008 path of first contact and writes me a happy “omgggggg Mark, you’re finally here”. I feel caught. In the chats with the different people in the game, I always have several options for an answer.

Rarely have I felt so taken back to my school days

But these always offer enough variety and are formulated in such a way that I hardly notice that I can’t type freely. The fact that I have to choose an answer, which is not simply there, also contributes to this. Much more I have to type random keys on my keyboard and thus enter the ready-made answer myself. What is still annoying at first provides a lot of immersion and is pretty great.

At the same time, I then chat with Evelyn and Emily. They ask me questions and I answer them well, just like 2008-Mark would have done. Again and again I catch myself clicking through the profiles of the two fictitious women in order to give the right answer. After all, you want to be liked in high school. The two also send me music, links on YouToob with great Windows Movie Maker lyric animations behind it. Of course I like Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire (Lyric Video) BRANDNEW, Evelyn. It’s my favorite song from now on.

We exchange chat messages, nudge each other and write to each other on the wall. Unfortunately, Emily has to leave at some point because her father has to use her computer. Here the nostalgia gets me again, wonderful. But she still asks me to fill out a questionnaire, which is very popular.

YouToob also looks the same as before. The site is also fully functional outside of the game (via emilyisaway.com).

Drama you never wanted to experience again

Since Emily was much more sympathetic to me than the rebellious Evelyn in the hours I’ve already written with both of them, I do that of course. I had to search a bit to even find the questionnaire. But Emily herself filled it out on her profile, so I copy it to my wall and fill it out.

In one of the questions I state that Evelyn and I are only “acquaintances”, not necessarily friends. A mistake, as I realized later. It was clear to me from the start that Evelyn would not like this statement, but it simply didn’t matter.

But even Emily asks me if I can’t stand Evelyn. A drama begins, which could have taken place in exactly the same way in my school days. Exactly one that made you glad you never actually have to experience it again. Evelyn annoys me, Emily is disappointed, my old buddy Mat doesn’t think the campaEsports Extrasis that great either, and I don’t understand why he has to get involved now.

If you do it right, your friends will do things with you too.

You guessed it, but by that point I was already so immersed in the world of Emily is Away <3 that there was no escape for me. I wanted to know what was going on, whether my advances to Emily would bear fruit, and whether Mat was breaking up with his girlfriend Kelly.

Without really realizing it, it was getting late at night in the real world. I’ve been chatting with bots for a whopping 3 hours and 18 minutes without even realizing it. I wasn’t bored for a second and didn’t want to stop, but had to get up early the next day.

Even from this, the game builds a mechanic. Because if I always play my chapters to the end, the day ends for me when the chapter ends. So I can just keep playing the next day and it feels even more real. Because an entire day has also passed for my new, virtual friends.

School, or work in my case, is over and you meet up on Facenook in the evenings and talk about your day. After all, you can’t do that while you’re on the go, because it’s 2008 and a click on the Internet button on your cell phone triggers nothing but pure panic.

The next day I write again with Evelyn, Emily and Mat. They show me music, tell me the latest gossip about fictional people I don’t even know. But I’m so involved that I hardly notice it. Later, Emily invites me to play Mario Kart at her place, but I can’t continue the conversation because I have a visitor in real life.

So sorry Emily, I have to be offline for today.

Conclusion: A journey through time that will also be really worthwhile in 2022

The best 8 euros of my gaming year

Emily is Away <3 is a touch of pure nostalgia. At least for me, who was born in 1995, the Facenook simulation pretty much exactly reflects the everyday life of my 18-year-old self. The characters and dialogues convince with depth and humor, while your decisions significantly influence the course of the game.

Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting anything from the game other than a fun jaunt into 2008’s Facebook. I was then surprised by an emotional story and terrific characters that kept me chatting with a bot for over 3 hours. And it was sad when the bot had to go offline.

The game may be an insider tip, but I can only agree with the 94% positive Steam ratings and recommend Emily is Away <3 to almost anyone who comes from around this time period. There really are hundreds of little touches that perfectly bring you back to the 2000s Facenook. But if you don't associate chatting with anything before WhatsApp, you might not have as much fun in the simulation.

Those who are still older can also try out the two predecessors Emily is Away and Emily is Away Too. They go back even further than 2008 and are based on the same concept.

Mark Sellner
Freelance author at MeinMMO

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