I’ve often heard people say that high school is the best time of your life. Those people are liars. Deluded, denial-ridden liars. High school sucks. It sucks for everyone, just in different ways. Those who say otherwise are merely looking back through nostalgia lenses. You can’t go anywhere or do anything on your own. You have no choice about what classes you have to take. Your hormones are all over the place. You’re trying to find where you fit in the world, where you want to go, & even who you are to begin with. Every little problem is a crisis that the entire world knows about & is judging you on, even though you’re the only person in the history of all humanity to face such a trial. You waste your time trying to impress people you don’t actually care about.
So if you’re in high school & reading this, take heart that it gets a lot better.
When people say these inane things, they’re typically thinking about a time when they didn’t have any real problems or responsibilities. But for my money, the most carefree time in my life was when I was an undergrad in college. The perfect balance of independence & lack of responsibility. Looking back now that I’m starting the second-third of my life, I can see both the good & bad of those times. And a little game called Emily is Away got me thinking about it again.
Emily is Away is a little indie game on Steam that attempts to recapture snippets of younger days. Over the course of five years, it presents snapshots of a life told entirely through messages with Emily, the player’s friend. Through the short vignettes we watch a perfect recreation of what some of us may have experienced all too well… the growing distance between people over time.
This game made me think a lot about the past, for a variety of reasons. For one, the entire aesthetic was nostalgic for me. I was never big into AOL instant messenger, but I knew it well enough that the recreation in the game made me smile. I remembered the pixely icons & pretentious little blurbs people made in their profiles. Of course they were always lyrics from a song, because expecting a teenager to have an original thought or quote literature was laughable. (For the record, I’m not ragging on teens. I love ’em, I just find them hilarious.) Even the sounds were spot on. I can distinctly remember the door-closing sound when people signed out. For the longest time I thought someone was messing with my computer. I could see myself sitting in my crappy metal chair with the worn-out, squeaky white cushion wedged between the bed and dresser that functioned as a makeshift desk in the guestroom. It could’ve only been more nostalgia-inducing if they added the AOL dial-up sound.
But Emily is Away got me thinking about more than just the blessed advances in technology. It got me thinking about people.
At first, I was a little miffed about the game’s story. Not because the story was bad, because it’s not. I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but I hate when I’m playing a game, projecting myself into my character, when suddenly & uncontrollably I’m a lesbian. If I’m playing as myself, or myself as imagined in the realms of the game’s world, suddenly forcing me to have a sexual overture with another woman is such a radical change in direction that it’s a wonder I don’t have whiplash. If I’m playing as a character the developer created, it’s not an issue, because it’s their character & they can do as they please. But if the developer wants me to play Me, you can’t expect me to swallow out of character moments like this.
But, the more I thought about it, the less annoyed I became with this. And not just because I suspect this game was partly autobiographical. Although such action might be against my character, it does fit with the themes of the game.
Emily is Away is about how life doesn’t always go our way. We make plans, & sometimes they work. Or sometimes they fall through. And sometimes things just happen. Things we never expected & never planned for. I’m reminded of the quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And it’s very true. Life is the day to day occurrences. The things we usually take for granted or don’t think about. And sometimes we get so busy making plans that we forget to actually live.
It’s a concept I’ve… maybe not struggled with, but become very cognizant of recently. As a very reserved introvert (most of the times) & can fully empathize with the main character in Emily is Away, sexual orientation notwithstanding. While I can’t say I’ve ever really pinned after someone, there have been many times I’ve wondered what might have happened if I opened up to a guy I was interested in, usually when it’s too late to do anything about it. But it’s not in my nature to make the first move, & the few times I have always ended up with, “He’s nice, but…”. But I can’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to have someone I was crushing on that we could’ve had a shot had things played out differently.
I’m happy with who I am & where I am, & excited about the life I’m building for myself. But even the most content person will sometimes wonder what could have been. Where would I be if I’d done XYZ?
It doesn’t make a case for holding back or plunging forward. Without spoiling anything, neither choice ends up with the hoped outcome. No, at it’s core, I think the message of Emily is Away is about the inevitability of change. Change is neither good nor bad. It’s only different. It can draw us closer together or push us apart. Sometimes all we can do is react to the situations life throws our way.
I’d recommend everyone check out Emily is Away, even those too young to remember AIM. It’s a poignant reminder that technology isn’t a substitute for true interaction. I know that’s a foreign concept to most people nowadays. Thanks to social media, it feels like people keep putting their lives on display. But remember that those are only tiny snapshots into people’s lives. It’s cold & hollow in comparison to actually being in front of another human being. There’s no screen to protect us from the worst. Maybe one day technology will advance to a point where we can physically hug a grieving friend half a world away, or smack a troll in the face. But for now, the computer in front of me might as well be a bulletproof shield.
We are what our lives make of us.