Fantasy and video games go together like peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a tried-and-true combination, and we gamers keep coming back for more. As much as we like prancing around as elves with arcane and mystical powers, I think we can agree to the fact that the medium has the capacity to expand, to tell real, meaningful stories.
In Emily is Away, the player starts the game as high school senior who is about to leave for college. The entire game is comprised of experiencing key conversations with your best friend named Emily. The game takes place in the early 2000s so you won’t be video chatting on Skype or checking Emily’s Twitter feed. Instead, you speak to her through the (nearly-forgotten) AOL Instant Messenger. Every year brings a new conversation. But only one. Everything that has transpired over the entirety of the previous year is largely unknown to you. You only have your brief conversations to go on, which provide only snapshots of both of your lives.
As the years fly by, Emily changes, as do you. Player choice has little to do with their character arcs. This is one of the most interesting aspects of Emily is Away. Instead of shaping the characters, you mostly observe their reactions and changes. The tiny choices you make give you the illusion of agency over your character, but in reality, there are forces larger than Emily and yourself that bring about the real changes in your relationship. It’s oddly poignant yet retains a cuteness — possibly derived from its nostalgic elements and extremely personal feeling.
Depression Quest, of Gamergate fame, is a more literal take on tackling issues of the everyday. As the name suggests, you experience life as a person suffering from depression and help him navigate romantic relationships, professional obstacles and familial dysfunction. The developers were not kidding around about this game being depressing, and its not recommended for the faint of heart. It’s not a dryly humorous or an entertaining perspective on depression. It’s an “overpowering sadness is destroying my life and everything I love” kind of game. (Admittedly, this genre is not very popular for obvious reasons.)
While Depression Quest is not what we would call traditionally entertaining, it was immensely enlightening and, at times, fascinating. Most, if not all, of us have witnessed the havoc depression wreaks on someone’s personal life. Depression Quest provides the player the opportunity to gain a better understanding of depression by delving into the innermost thoughts of a person battling with the disease. The game is bleak and hard to play at times, but it transcends portraiture and leaves the player with a feeling of having learned something.
Emily is Away and Depression Quest may not be the most uplifting games, but they are emotionally empowering in their own unique ways. Evil empires, magical wizards and fearsome dragons are completely absent, but their impact remains just as strong as the best fantasy games out there. They assert that sometimes the mundane can be an adventure worth going on, too.
Thanks for reading! Tell me about your thoughts on games like Emily is Away and Depression Quest in the comments!