Digital: A Love Story is a game that takes place entirely on a fictional operating system’s desktop with a simplistic interface and no real graphics to speak of but still manages to create a fresh and surprisingly moving exploration of the human condition. It’s quaint retro interface is endearing, if not a bit frustrating by today’s expectations but serves well as a stage on which a tale of cyberpunkery and ultimately tragedy are told.
This is a unique work of art that is not only a nostalgic look back at the birth of networked computing but of burgeoning love and becomes a commentary on the true nature of existence.
In Digital: A Love Story you play as a computer enthusiast in the year 1988 who has just purchased a new state-of-the-art Amie workstation (read: Amiga) — Whoa, 42 Kilobytes of Memory?!
You’re given instructions by the sales clerk to check out the local BBS, or Bulletin Board System, a dial-up precursor to internet forums. There you meet and begin a flirtation with a female known by the handle *Emilia.
At first the communiques between you and *Emilia are innocuous. You critique her poetry and wax intellectual yourself. Your exchanges are filled with the kind of angst and self doubt you might expect from a teenager’s fanfic but it’s clumsiness actually endears you to this faceless heroine and establishes a fondness for this naive but soulful young woman. However, after a few messages things begin to take a darker turn.
She begins to confide in you, expressing fears about her safety and a desire to run away. Then just as she professes her love for you and before you can even electronically reply to her confession the BBS system crashes and becomes hopelessly corrupted.
*Emilia is lost, possibly forever, to the anonymity of the pre-internet. Thus begins your search through the dial-up bulletin boards of yesteryear to find out who *Emilia was and what has become of her.
You would never guess the truth.
Digital: A Love Story is available for free and can be completed in under an hour. It was somewhat frustrating having to manually re-enter telephone numbers dozens of times into the GUI when connecting to various BBS and the inability to move windows was annoying.
Though it could be argued that the inhibiting interface makes for a more authenticcomputing experience circa 1988 and that keeping a list of numbers on an actual sheet of paper is a throwback to simpler days which adds to the game’s appeal and increases it’s emotional resonance. I was filled with dread and anxiety as I typed in the phone number to my local bulletin board only to find it shutdown by “technical issues” and my connection to a sweet girl severed by cruel happenstance.
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At certain times I became stuck and while manually logging into several BBS servers in order to suss out the next linear progression would have solved the problem I found it more entertaining to just be get the answer so I could continue the narrative.
Digital: A Love Story has a lovely soundtrack, very mellow and sweet with just a touch of melancholy.
You can skip the modem dial-up sound by clicking with your mouse or hitting enter.
You’re gonna be glad to know this because it’s as piercing as a banshee’s scream and caused my cat to freak out and run out of the room.