A ‘new Emily.’ That’s what the spiritual successor to the AOL Instant Messenger emulator Emily is Away promises. For anyone who’s finished the first game, such materialistic language should leave a sour taste in the back of the mouth. For everyone else, be warned, I’m about to head into spoiler territory.
In Emily is Away, you’re the villain. You take advantage of Emily in a vulnerable state, treating her like an object to be won instead of an actual human being. Despite the ‘choices’ you’re presented with, there is no happy ending – and yet, there’s no real bad ending either, the way the game portrays it. Implications of rape are made abundantly clear, but the only real consequences are a couple of awkward conversations and Emily’s hurt feelings. Your abhorrent behavior is glossed over as if it were just a silly mistake, an all-too-common narrative that feeds into the misogynistic notion of men taking what they want, when they want, without recourse.
If you can’t tell, Emily is Away left me with no enthusiasm for a sequel. I never even expected there to be one, but if you’d asked me prior to its announcement, I would have hoped that a follow-up might learn from its predecessor’s mistakes and treat its relationships as more than just challenges to be overcome. Judging from the ‘new Emily’ tag-line, it seems my hope was as naïve as the game itself. By reducing Emily to an interchangeable quantity, a thing that can be swapped out for a new version after the first one didn’t meet expectations, Emily is Away Too dehumanizes its namesake, consigning her to a gameplay feature on par with new guns or new graphics. Emily is not a person but rather a toy to be played with, and in a game that deals with issues of consent and exploitation, this is especially heinous.
Perhaps Emily is Away Too will surprise me. Perhaps it will mature beyond its juvenile trappings by the time it releases next year. But if that’s its aim, it’s off to a terrible start. It doesn’t need a ‘new Emily’, it needs a new attitude towards women.