Normally, I envision this column being about evening-long initial play sessions of large games. However, this time I’m going to be going over a game that can be completed in an evening-long play session. It is also one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in awhile, and I’ll do my best to do it justice without spoiling any part of it. So my writeup might end up being shorter than normal. So, without further introduction…
Digital: A Love Story.
What is it?: A mystery story wrapped in the trappings of a 1980’s proto-internet bulletin board system.
No, really.: Okay. So, before the internet was the internet, computers were networked together locally (what we think of as a LAN), and each LAN could collect to each other over the telephone lines by actually dialing each other. And people created BBS’s on them because really, the network couldn’t handle much more than that at the time, and back in those days it was a really awesome thing to do. Even the game itself gives you a couple history lessons about ARPA-net, which is the project that eventually became the internet we know today.
Okay, history lesson learned, what’s the game actually about?: Um…. pretty much exactly that. You navigate various BBS’s using an interface resembling an old Amiga or Apple II. You talk to people. When you talk to the /right/ people, you start to discover that something is a little……..off, about the whole thing. And then it gets weird. So it’s basically a text-based adventure game, or a primitive dating sim, or a number of other terms that don’t accurately describe the experience. Also, it’s half in your head. Because when you click ‘reply’ or ‘send message’, you never actually see what the player has sent to someone. You just see the replies, and you can infer by context what’s been said.
So you’re a silent protagonist in the internet stone age?: Yep.
So the strength of this game is in the writing, then. How is it?: Exceptional. One of the best-written stories I’ve ever experienced. It draws you in and immediately makes you care about the various characters you run into, even though they, themselves, are just text on a screen. The game sets up this world in such a way that you think you know all the rules, and then immediately breaks them.
Okay, I’m sold. Where do I get this game, and for how much?: You can get it from here: http://scoutshonour.com/digital/, and you can get it for the low, low price of ABSOLUTELY FREE. Yes, free. All this experience costs you is your time, and it is time that is well, well worth it.
So who made this, and did they make other games, too?: Christine Love, who I will admit to never having heard of before, and yes. Specifically, she has two ‘spiritual successors’ to this game, the most recent of which (“Analogue: A Hate Story”) is available on Steam for $10. And I am now going to hunt down every single other game that she’s done, because this one has impressed me so very much.
[This review is reposted with my permission at Attack Initiative.]