I was in a weird place last night. I didn’t quite have the energy to dive into a completely new game, and nothing on the Monday Night Noob list was calling to me. I even poked around in a MUD for a bit but left soon after.
But a resolution is a resolution, and I knew I had to try something new. I spent a little time Googling “best free games” and ended up perusing a list of 20 titles that seemed interesting. Out of these I pulled Digital: A Love Story and went at it.
Like some of the best little indie titles, Digital is something we haven’t quite seen elsewhere because it had the freedom to try new things. In this case, it’s presenting a story — an interactive novel, really — in the form of old Bulletin Board Systems from 1988. Or an alternate version of 1988, as I soon found out.
The setup is kind of ingenious. You start out with a desktop of a late-80’s era computer (pre-Windows, I might add, but not DOS either) with a note from the guy who gave you the computer to check out a local BBS. Once you dial in — with authentic modem sounds and all — you start making connections with the various people on there… and a girl named Emilia.
There isn’t a whole lot you can do on the BBSes other than read messages and send notes to your connections (although you never see what you write, just what people send back in reply, which has you filling in the blanks with your own imagination). While it’s slow to ramp up, soon you’ve accumulated a few new BBS numbers, a couple free applications, and are indoctrinated into the wild and wooly world of 1988 hacking.
Eventually something happens — I’m not going to spoil what — and you’ll need to use all of your newly learned skills (and skillz) to get to the bottom of it. There’s a conspiracy afoot, and you’re out to figure it out while becoming a hacking legend in your own right.
There really isn’t much “game” here, per se, just a lot of things to do to advance the plot (which is fairly linear). Even so, it’s an engrossing experience. The second I had to start typing in phone numbers and heard the modem connect and the BBS screens come up, a tidal wave of nostalgia crashed over me. Even if you’re too young or weren’t into the BBS scene way back when, this is a captivating look at a pre-internet internet with a charming retro current pulling you along.
It was funny that I had a little notepad out and was scribbling down codes and phone numbers for a while, feeling as though I was back in time and checking all of this out for real. It definitely made me miss that feeling of adventure that logging into a single BBS could provide back when all this was new instead of taken for granted.
As for the story, it’s certainly worth your time and has a few twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting. As the title of the game suggests, it’s about love — and the connections that are formed online between lonely souls. It’s not a super-long game (about 1 to 2 hours in length), but is such a unique experience that it promises to stick in the brain for a while after you’re done.