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  • Writer's pictureZack

Why You Should Teach With Emily is Away

Updated: May 9, 2020

What's going on everyone?

I recently led a professional development workshop where I was coaching other teachers how they can instructionally utilize video games in the classroom. One of the main pieces of feedback I received from them was to add more games that are short, accessible, and free in order to give beginners a way to "dip their toes in the water" before investing time and money into bigger games. Enter: Emily is Away. "Emily is Away is an interactive story set in a retro chat-client. Create a screen-name and choose your path through the branching narrative.” - Steam. The game is free to play and only takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete. It can be taught in 1-2 lessons and I believe it will be a fun and unique way to get our students to read. You can find the lesson plan for Emily is Away here.

AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) radically changed how people communicated with each other. It was really the first time that people communicated in real time over the internet. Email existed, but that was a much slower form of communication. You actually had to check to see if you received any emails. With AIM, your friends could actually see if you were online and a chat would automatically open if someone started a conversation with you. We no longer needed to be face-to-face with people in order to converse with one another. It laid the foundation for texting which is currently the most prevalent form of communication between adults in many countries.

Emily is Away takes this medium and turns it into a short story. It’s a visual novel where the player can interact with the story. While the plot of the game is mostly linear, the player does get to choose various dialogue options that will directly affect the relationship between the player and their friend Emily. The Aim for this lesson is for the students to examine how the dialogue choices in Emily is Away strengthen the overall narrative of the game.

It is a very poignant game that exemplifies just how we as a people, especially teenagers, have learned to communicate differently than the generations that came before us. It is also a story that cannot be told as a traditional text. The dialogue choices are necessary to help the player project themself into the game's story. There are visual cues that add to the story which simple text cannot accomplish. It is also fun interacting with a technology that I myself have not touched in almost 20 years.

When you enter the game you are greeted by that familiar sign-in tone from AIM. When I played it, a wave of nostalgia immediately rushed over me. I was about 9 years old when I first started using AIM and it was great relieving those memories of rushing home from school just so I could chat with my friends over the Internet. As the game continued on however, those fond memories quickly disappeared and turned into something significantly more cringey.

The basic plot of the game is about how you, the player, interact with your high school crush from your senior year through your college years. Each chapter pushes you forward another year in school. You get to create a screen name, read your friends personal profiles, and choose icons that were popular during that year. Instead of fond memories, I was reminded of the many awkward conversations my teenage self would have with people I had a crush on. The type of conversations that randomly keep you up at night because you know you could have said something so much better than what you had ultimately decided to say.

This game leans in hard to how teenager speak and interact with each other. So while it may make you feel uncomfortable, it is very realistic. Plus I'm excited to see which dialogue choices my students will make and I'm interested to see if they have similar feelings about the game. Their reactions may be completely different since they are teenagers and don't have the luxury of thinking back on these moments in their own lives.

Emily is Away is a great game to start with if you have never taught with a video game before. The only difficulty is in choosing dialogue you won't regret. It is short and free to play which make it a lot more accessible than some of the other video games I have taught with. Plus there are two sequels (although you need to pay for them) that build upon the idea of telling a story through older means of instant messaging. You can play the game on Steam, or you can download it directly to your computer here.

Thanks for reading,


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