Digital: A Love Story Review
I can remember the day I got the internet in my house; it was both glorious and slightly terrifying. I remember the first website I went on was a website for Harry Potter, in which you would fly a broomstick and dodge obstacles, the relevance of this?, well, to me the internet has always either been there, or not been there. I still to this day couldn’t easily explain to people how the early days of the internet operated, as I was never exposed to the technological updates in my youth, hell I was lucky i even got the SNES. In reality it can seem daunting how fast and diverse the internet is evolving, which makes the setting of "Digital: A Love Story" a truly inspiring stage.
The game opens with asking you a few questions, the fist is asking for your screen name, the second your real name, once both of these are done your ready to go. I would certainly recommend using the names you would use day to day, as the emotional payoff will be far greater (just don’t put like 5up3r n33rd... unless that’s your screen name..) The game is set "5 minutes into the future of 1988" (incidentally the year i was born) and follows you, yes you, sitting down at your computer, getting ready to venture out into the wonderful world of BBS'(bulletin board system), which are essentially the equivalent of a forum today, only a lot less.. functional. You start with a near enough empty computer screen and a few email messages, one of which is from a friend of your Dads, who includes an attachment of a dialer and a number of a local BBS so you can make some friends. That’s it, the set up is done, how simple was that?
The visual style of the game is that of an old computer interface, admittedly it could be an exact replica of an old system but for the purpose of the game the OS is called the "Amie Workbench". The screen entails a "blue screen of death" blue background and a lot of low resolution text and images, it’s hard to put a finger on as to why, but the style of this game just sucks you in. In the 3 hour sitting in which I played it, not once did i get bored of any of the visuals, mostly due to the fact that the game is almost entirely text driven.
The mechanics of the game are so unbelievably basic that a manual would be insulting the players’ intelligence. Apart from the fact that an early email explains the core functionality, the tools at your disposal are intuitive and easy to use. The dialer is the core piece of software, used to make calls to connect to the various BBS' in the game. It’s as simple as typing in a phone number and waiting for the glorious dial up modem to deliver its shriek of connectivity and display the new screen. Unfortunately making long distance calls can sometimes be a lengthy process as you have to input multiple number combinations in a row, some of which don’t work. Admittedly this contributed to a good portion of the play time, and can somewhat slow the game down a bit. Other than the dialer you can use a notepad for storing numbers, a dictionary hacker and get to play some above average music with your music player.
To talk even about the fist 5 minutes of the game is risking ruining it from a narrative point of view, the closest you could get to a spoiler free blub is pretty much the content of the 2nd paragraph, reworded to sound a little more poetic. It is safe to say that a large percentage of your game play time will be used making friends with people on message boards and reading a lot of what people have got to say. This game almost feels like an interactive novel, with the chapters of the book being expertly sliced into chunks that don’t necessarily present themselves in a linear fashion. Some posts will deem themselves more fit for your attention, even though they may not ultimately be a core beat in the initial story. Its giving players that personal standpoint that really helps set the overall tone for the game.
When replying to a message in the game, there is never an option to choose what to say, making you a silent protagonist of sorts. This design choice is well executed as the reply to your message often gives you an opportunity to fill in the blanks on a personal level, not being forced to think "what did I say" but more "what would have I said". It’s this open ended method of interaction that helps with the overall immersion of the game. The characters are well thought out and the story never misses a beat, though sometimes the game play did slow down the stories sense of urgency.
Overall, Digital: A Love Story is an extremely interesting game. Upon my completion of the game 2 days ago it is still in the forefront of my mind, trying to understand how it did what it did to me. It leaves me questioning how immersive a game can get past this, as there is nothing more relatable than you sitting down at a pc playing a game... of you sitting down at a pc. The story is wonderfully crafted and apart from a few design decisions, it really is an interesting experience.