If the medium is the message, then AOL’s messaging software—at least for my generation—has the same sentimentality as whatever we talked about over it. That’s the pitch of Emily Is Away Too, a new visual novel that plays out in “EOL” Instant Messenger windows, away messages and personal profiles.
I played its predecessor, 2015’s Emily Is Away, in the backyard of my childhood home. On that visit, the house was crawling with workmen preparing the house for sale. I was instructed to stay out of their way. My parents were “greiging” the house, real estate agents’ term for painting over our kitchen’s loud yellow wallpaper with an inoffensive beige. That way, potential buyers could imagine their new life there without the burden of our old one.
Yes, I was feeling nostalgic, imaging my mom in the window waving to me with flour on her hands. I wasn’t quite feeling sentimental, though. My childhood was mostly spent online rather than in that kitchen. In that moment, Emily Is Away’s fake AIM interface was a more persuasive bid for my nostalgia than gazing into the kitchen window.
Two years later, Emily Is Away Too is still all about longing for the simple details of childhood—your AIM window’s customizable blue background, the choice Captain Picard YTMND meme in a buddy’s profile, the well-timed and enigmatic away message. Its fake interface is more convincing. After you install the game, a phony install window pops up for Emily Is Away Too’s EOL Instant Messenger software, circa 2006. I could choose a random screen name—GameOvergREGGY, Trello65—or my own, plus a buddy icon. When my buddy list popped up, I spent a minute perusing my NPC friends’ Senses Fail or Radiohead lyrics, which complemented their profiles alongside some motto to live by. To interact with a buddy, you can hit one of three text options and then type any keys on your computer—your message appears letter by letter.