The year is 1988, and you have just received a new computer: The Amie Workbench. As you set up your computer and read an introductory message preloaded into the computer, a calming tune washes over you, leaving you at peace. Next, you open a second message. This one is from George Wong, a computer salesman and friend of your father. Attached is a dialer that you can use to access BBSes through your phone line. You download the .exe file, and your adventure begins.
The game is called Digital: A Love Story, and it is one of the best experiences I have had for quite some time. Released as a freeware game available for download here, it starts out simply, and grows into an intriguing tale. Not a very long game, it can easily be beaten within a day or two, or possibly even a dedicated afternoon. Other than Cave Story, it’s the first freeware game that I’d recommend to a friend.
Throughout the entirety of the game, you will be interacting with the world through the Amie operating system, based off of the similarly named yet quite more real Amiga interface. This way of presenting the game is ingenious, and is the reason the game works so well- every single piece of action (on your end, at the least) happens on BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems, for those not in the know) or your own desktop.
Because the game takes place entirely on a computer screen, it goes without saying that the sense of immersion in this freeware title is vast. You don’t have to pretend that you’re a wandering swordsman or special operations soldier. You don’t press a single button to perform complicated tasks. At the very beginning of the game, you are required to enter your name and screen name, effectively placing yourself as the protagonist. The writing allows for anybody to jump in and feel that they are being addressed personally by others. Due to such design decisions, barriers between the world of the game and yours are smashed to smithereens so long as you really wish to enter the world of Digital.
After you install the dialer and enter a number for a local BBS you delve into a rich world, full of characters that seem fully human. I bonded differently with each character I encountered, big or small. For example, I was interested in, and slightly reverent towards Blue Sky, a user trying to compile and possibly publish a history of computer viruses. On the other hand, I decided to keep my distance from Tiberius, a rude and ranting Star Trek fan. Seriously, I hated that guy.
Because the story is so vital to the game, you never actually are able to read what you say to others- instead, you simply hit the reply button or message button and read their reactions. For that reason, I like to think of Digital as less of a game, and more of an interactive story. While this may sound like a negative, it works amazingly- different people would react somewhat differently to the conversations and posts in the game. Never once did I find a disconnect between the reactions to what “Rex” said and what I wanted to say.
Another aspect of the game that cannot be overlooked is the music. The first track you hear in the game, and the only for a while, provides a sense of mellow and peace, and I’ve come to associate it with a kind of serene happiness. However, the first time the music changes, it is an amazing moment, one that I won’t forget. The music in this game is used to an amazing effect, reflecting and amplifying the mood of the moment whenever a new song is triggered or introduced.
Even without the music to aid it, the experience is amazing, and the actual love story is one of the best I’ve ever encountered, let alone been the protagonist of. I rarely connect with video games on a deep emotional level where they have the ability to cause me grief as well as happiness, but I cared about the characters to the extent that there were some “decisions” that I found quite difficult to make.
The game, while amazing, is not perfect. Some of the interface decisions make navigation take a little while to get used to, for example. Also, it’s very easy to get confused and find yourself unable to progress- I know that it happened to me once or twice. However, I urge you not to give up.
So, go out and download Digital: A Love Story. Learn how to use a BBS. Unravel a mystery. Go ahead and smile, and don’t be afraid to cry. Digital has a story to tell, and it is definitely worth your time, but will you be willing to give your time to this love story of a modern era?