Emily Is Away: Revisiting AOL Instant Messenger

emily is away AIM profile

Spending my teenage years in the country side meant I spent a lot of time when I was in high school on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). For me, it was the age of internet friends and online chat drama between school mates. For me and most of my friends, AIM was the way we kept in touch and communicated outside school, and sometimes it even meant more. When one classmate got his first girlfriend, who he had met on AIM, it became the talk of our (very) small school. They would soon break up, but her and I became good online friends, talking almost every day. I had a lot friends like that, people I would never meet, never know what they looked like, and honestly, I wasn’t even sure they were who they said they were. However, putting my trust in completely anonymous people allowed me to open up and helped me deal with feelings and in a safe space that I didn’t feel I had in the “real” world.

In university, it was all about the away message. The perfect away message would tell the world why you were too cool and busy to be online, while still being online. The away message was also the perfect platform for passive aggressiveness. I recall a particularly cringe inducing moment where I used an AIM away message to lash out at an ex without naming her directly. When confronted about it, I tried to play it cool and said it was about someone else but we both knew what it really meant.

Emily Is Away tells a story purely through the AIM window. It is more of a narrative experience than a game, since the choices you make don’t really affect how it ends. It was almost eerie how it made me relive aspects of my teenage years, from following people’s lives through their away messages and profile updates to the awkwardness that comes with trying to communicate serious feelings over instant message. Even the story hit home, echoing similar events from my own life.

Emily Is Away will probably not resonate for people who didn’t grow up with AIM. But for us who did, Emily Is Away lets us relive the awkward moments that defined our teenage years.

At least, it did for me, and although I was happy to experience nostalgia for something that I don’t think about, I am also happy that times have changed and those AIM days are behind me.


If you want to relive your AIM days, Emily Is Away is available on itch.io and Steam, for free.

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