A Normal Lost Phone: Learning About Identity Through Objects

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“You have just found a phone. Find out the truth.” This is the only instruction I get on the demo for A Normal Lost Phone, a game that invites you to discover more about a lost phone’s owner by rummaging through its content. Its mechanics are simple, due to most people’s familiarity with smartphones interfaces: play it as you would use a phone. Start snooping.

Wearing its influences proudly on its sleeves, A Normal Lost Phone is heavily inspired by recent titles such as Gone Home, Life is Strange and Her Story. And just like Her Story, you were fed little nuggets of information initially, which would eventually lead you to the next clue, and so on. When I switched on the phone, a succession of text messages from a panic-stricken father appear, worriedly asking about the owner’s whereabouts. It turns out the phone’s owner, Sam, had went gone missing during his birthday, and his father’s concern had spurred me to find out more. Scrolling through their text messages, I spotted a recurring name—someone who has had a significant presence in Sam’s life. Naturally, I headed straight to their text conversations. Meanwhile, apps locked behind a password beg for attention, but could only be accessible when the correct passwords were keyed in.

A Normal Lost Phone has a fascinating premise; similar to what Gone Home has done with its setting, the game encourages exploration via interaction with the phone’s apps. Text messages reveal a tiff with a classmate, an encouraging note from a close friend, and even a failing relationship. The gallery showcases the owner’s happiest moments—intimate information I probably shouldn’t be privy to. I feel like I shouldn’t be reading all these, but I justify my actions by telling myself that these should probably help me find its owner.

Such lies.

But be it virtual or physical, objects and spaces can tell us so much about ourselves and others. A teenager’s messy room, filled with posters of punk bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, and with battered electric guitars and musical scores strewn across the floor, speaks volumes about the teenager’s aspirations to live his or her dream as a punk rock guitarist. Likewise, there is much to learn about the phone’s mysterious owner. For instance, his book club meetings, punctuated by multiple exclamation marks in his calendar, are obviously the highlights of his life in the past few weeks. Why is it about these meetings that he was looking forward to every week? Play and find out.

The game’s developers, Accidental Queens, had successfully raised funds for the complete game at Ulule, and it should be seeing a release next year. To be honest, I’m already waiting with bated breath. You can try the demo here.

Games, Life