Digital: A Love Story is one of the few games in which the player assumes the very position they’re currently sitting in, using a computer interface to explore a game’s possibilities. Uplink is the obvious game to provide as an example of the potential, and while there is even less actual gameplay in Digital the way in which it tells its audience the story is quite effective. It’s a short game, perhaps half an hour long, and could be accurately described as a visual novel.
Upon receiving a message with an attachment allowing the user to dial out to Bulletin Board Systems, the tale begins. Quickly things turn shady, with an illegal usage of a calling card allowing for long distance connections to strange systems which, in their amalgamation, contain a somewhat rich culture. Replying to messages intriguingly remains a simple click, followed by responses appearing in the user’s private message collection. It’s interesting that we never actually see what the messages we are sending out are, although it is relatively easy to surmise what was said by the types of responses we receive. The silent narrator approach works well, although it is initially jarring and strange. We clearly have emotional outbursts as we try to find out who the girl on the other end of the line is. What starts as a simple poem on a message board blossoms into a tale of artificial intelligences, compilers and .bat files and code, and even some old-fashioned password hacking, all backed by the growing love between our character and the poet.
Often it is necessary to find new long distance codes at The Matrix to continue calling long distance to the key message systems where users hold valuable information, which was the dynamic that stays consistent throughout the game. I must say I felt quite at home reading The Matrix’s messages, it being a comfortable resource that seemed always to be available. Quickly things go awry with many of the message systems, and ominous error messages coupled with ominous background music create a really effective ambiance throughout the game. Nabbing code files here and there from various message attachments and utilizing them near the endgame is also a neat idea, and although the game’s mechanics are simple it’s a great attempt at interactive storytelling.
The only problem I have with the game is its moderately annoying interface issues, but it’s a small complaint, and perhaps even intentional and an important part of the game. The Amie Workbench’s speed issues also come up, if one opens too many windows, which was a very nice touch. Using the interface is a pleasure, small complaints aside, and it looks great. At a small resolution reading the text is no issue, but using a full-screen setting it can become difficult on the eyes. Dialing the numbers required to access the Bulletin Board Systems can become tedious, but the way in which the game establishes its senses of urgency make the more monotonous tasks suspenseful and meaningful, and crucial to the pace of the storytelling.
The messages in the game comprise the main content, and are sufficiently well-written. Even messages that may not directly relate to the main plot provide a familiar atmosphere, while the interface takes us back thirty years to the time in our technological history which makes the plot possible. It’s a complete experience, a perfect package which accomplishes exactly what it set out to do; this is a very solid game, simple, but realized beautifully. Your real name and user name are utilized very well to provide a good level of immersion, and between the accounts you create and the accounts you steal, the level of identity that is provided for the player is pretty impressive. A great personal history is established, and seeing other users talk about the main character is a very nice touch.
I would hope to see more games like this in the future, but it’s certain there won’t be many. Even though it’s not the first, Digital is part of a great innovation in what we can do with the novel, and much like Uplink it exercises the medium with many intricate touches that create a very impressive sense of immersion, not just displaying a world for us to look at, but putting us directly into it.