We’re living through a time that I don’t think any of us expected to see. It’s been so surreal to be alive at a time that’s going to be defined by before and after “the virus”, even if its ramifications were nothing like what you’d see from fiction. Like all defining moments in human civilisation it’s already begun to leave its mark on us but if I’m honest I didn’t think I’d see any games around the idea for quite some time. Enter Left on Read, an interactive fiction game that explores what it’s like to begin a relationship when the whole world is thrown out of balance and all you have left is this generations preferred means of communication: texting.
Left on Read initially caught my eye because of the interesting way it presented the text conversations. Rather than being your bog standard replica of a phone interface or just a screen of text it instead has you represented by a white block that bounces between parts of the conversation. This is apparently enough to earn it the “platformer” tag on Steam although realistically there’s no skill or anything involved in it, more it’s just a novel way to work your way through the game’s (rather brief) dialogue. However that’s only part of it, what it really nails down is what happens between bits of text.
Ever since the addition of features like sent/seen and the typing ellipses text conversation has become far more interactive than it once was and with it our habits have changed significantly. Instead of you just being presented with a couple different options to choose from Left on Read also shows you the process of your character revising what they’re going to say, often putting down their real thoughts are before quickly backtracking it to safer territory. The dialogue is only one part of the experience however as what I found truly interesting about it is how the game made me feel about what the main character was doing.
There were numerous dialogue choices I chose because I that was the path I wanted to follow however I knew it was likely the more riskier of the two options. To have the character up and change what they said after I’d made the choice was frustrating and looking at the text on the screen afterwards I felt a distinct sense of disappointment. Even better was when I chose one option and it didn’t turn out how I thought it would and I wanted to go back and change it. Thing is in real life you can’t do that and whilst I did end up restarting that part (something glitched out on me) I decided to keep the same options. I did go back later to see if the choice would make any difference and from what I can tell it didn’t (not that that should really matter).
The story is pretty light on though which shouldn’t be completely surprising given the brevity of the medium that it chooses to deliver itself in. There’s a lot of moments in there that I think will resonate with a lot of us, especially if you play the game anytime soon. Thinking about it more actually this is a game that likely is only going to be really relevant now as later on, when this whole situation finally resolves itself, the actual feelings of this time will start to rapidly fade as the world returns to some semblance of normalcy. From that perspective it’s an interesting game just for that factor alone as there’s not many titles that would have such a definitive end date on them.
Left on Read is an interesting exploration into what relationships mean when we’re all suffering through hard times. The gimmicks of how it tells the story were enough to get me through the door but what kept me going were the very real feelings it conjured up when I was waiting for someone to respond back to my txt. Had there been a little more meat to the story then I’d be putting it up there as one of 2020’s best experimental games but for now it just stands as a very solid proof of concept. I’d like to see this explored a little more, possibly with the story augmented with additional mechanics and content to deepen my emotional connection to the characters. All being said though Left on Read does well for its short play time and if you’ve got an hour to kill it’s worth the price of admission.
Left on Read is available on the PC right now for free. Total play time was 50 minutes with 53% of the achievements unlocked.