Better Than Cheap: Digital: A Love Story

Do you remember accessing bulletin board systems on the Amiga and Commodore 64? No, I don’t either. I’m a bit too young for that sort of thing. I wonder if it’s possible to feel nostalgic for something you never experienced.

Digital: A Love Story concerns itself with fictional hacker culture, the Neuromancer-influenced kind you see in The Matrix, but with a dash of childhood excitement and discovery. The entire game plays out in a fake desktop environment, and all you are tasked to do is read e-mails, message people and memorise phone numbers to access message boards. That’s all. The narrative is revealed as you explore. It can, admittedly, get a little tedious, but Christine Love’s knack for creating atmosphere with ropey visuals and sound, and allowing the story to unfold kept me intrigued enough to see it to the end.  I won’t spoil it for you, since this is one of those things you really need to experience with no preconceptions.

When I wrote about Super Crate Box, I mentioned the current argument over what a game is. Digital: A Love Story sits on the other side of the fence. There’s very little ‘game’ to play, no skill to improve or intriguing mechanics to speak of. It’s essentially a fairly linear narrative that you click through, but unlike an illustrated e-book, it takes advantage of its medium’s unique qualities. When people seriously argue that games should be considered art – not the kid playing Gears of War using the games-as-art argument to justify spending an unhealthy amount of time on his Xbox – this is what they’re talking about. Whether or not any current video game can be considered great art is a separate question, but Digital: A Love Story at least demonstrates that the medium can produce experiences that simply do not (and never will) exist in any other. That’s pretty exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas independent developers will present through their work when they leave behind old-fashioned notions of what a game ‘should’ be and embrace what they could be.

You won’t find it exciting or visceral, but if you fancy seeing what games are capable of besides explosions and conflict, check it out.

Digital: A Love Story is available as a free download for PC, Mac and Linux.

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